Nairobi Expressway troubles not over yet

Artistic picture of the Nairobi Expressway.

The construction of the Nairobi Expressway might delay after environmentalists moved to National Environment Tribunal (NET) to oppose it for flouting sustainable development.

Under the auspices of Daima Coalition, Greenbelt Movement, Wangari Maathai Foundation, Dandora Community Justice Centre, Natural Justice and Katiba Institute said they were worried about the diminishing green spaces due to the increased felling of trees and grabbing of public green spaces in the name of development in the country.

The coalition said Kenya is committed to achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs), it is concerned that road designs and development plans seem to have little regard for green spaces, yet, green spaces are at the core of sustainable development.

The respondents in the matter include the National Environment Management Authority and China Roads and Bridge Cooperation (CRBC) and Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA).

The Daima coalition members have filed an appeal before the NET challenging the environmental license for the construction of the Nairobi Expressway on various grounds. They had first challenged the construction of the road in June this year.

The grounds include environmental impacts of road construction on environmentally sensitive areas and green spaces, adequacy of public engagement and consultation on the project.

Others are the issuance of an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) license in the absence of a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and failure to consider necessary factors that would substantively impact the environment and viability of the project.

“We are concerned that despite filing the Appeal, which requires a cessation of all project activity until the Appeal is decided, construction is still ongoing in complete violation of Section 129 of the Environment Management and Coordination Act (EMCA),” said Lawyer, Mark Odaga, one of the lead lawyers in the Nairobi Expressway case.

He continued: “In August this year, we celebrated 10 years since the inauguration of the new Constitution. A Constitution which represents our collective aspiration to be a country that respects and upholds the rule of law. The continued construction of the road in violation of clear provisions of the law calls into question our commitment to the rule of law.”

Cabinet Secretary Environment, Keriako Tobiko affirmed the government’s efforts to protect the green spaces. He said protecting greenspaces was in the ministry’s top agenda.

“We are demanding that for every tree that has been felled – if it must be felled, then you plant at another strategic place five additional trees,” Tobiko said.

UN-Habitat, Executive Director, Maimunah Mohd Sharif echoed similar sentiments arguing that investing in green and public spaces can also improve mobility and access to basic services, creating safer and crime-free environments.

“UN-Habitat experience shows that the inclusive public space is critical infrastructure for achieving sustainable development. We are acutely aware that Kenyans have had to become vigilant to protect public green spaces,” said Ms Sharif.

The Nairobi Expressway project is a four-lane, dual-carriage road that is being constructed along the middle section of the existing road between Mlolongo and Waiyaki way terminating at James Gichuru/Westlands Redhill road.

The expressway is 27 kilometre four-lane road. The route will have two traffic lanes in either direction and will feature 10 interchanges, with a considerable portion of the expressway being elevated.

The interchanges will be at Mlolongo, SGR terminus, Eastern and Southern bypasses, Capital Centre, Haille Selassie, Museum Hill, The Mall - Westlands and James Gichuru Road junction.

The project was first mooted in 2008 and was to be funded by the World Bank.

In 2013, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the creation of additional lanes for Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), Likoni and James Gichuru - Rironi road done. The project, however, was not implemented.

In 2018 China Roads and Bridge Company (CRBC) was given a 30-year concession under a public-private partnership (PPP) and President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the project in October last year.