The government has introduced user fees for Nairobi Arboretum, a popular city picnic spot, triggering outrage from the civil society.
From last month adults entering the park near State House are required to pay Sh50 while those below 18 years pay Sh20.
“Please note that from 1st September 2016, Nairobi Arboretum will be charging everyone for entrance,” read a message posted on the website of the arboretum.
The Green Belt Movement, founded by the late Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai, and the Kilimani Project Foundation have opposed the new fee, terming the move commercialisation and privatisation of public spaces.
They said it was a slap in the face of the urban poor who, faced with more pressing financial needs, don’t have the luxury of spending Sh50 to enjoy the facility.
Friends of Nairobi Arboretum (Fona), a non-government support organisation that runs the arboretum in conjunction with the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), argues the charges will help manage the park sustainably.
“Our admission fees go towards our efforts to protect and do physical improvement as well as carry a variety of educational and public awareness activities at the Arboretum. Your contribution will also help us fulfil our mission to build and maintain a unique place in the middle of Nairobi City which provides a green space for recreation and education on nature and environment,” its said.
But the lobbyists said the fee goes against the spirit of giving Kenyans unhindered access to public spaces and that further privatisation of public spaces must be avoided by all means .
“We cannot keep using the excuse of development or maintenance to commercialise and privatise public spaces which exist for public good. The fee will restrict people from enjoying the free park, so the KFS should look for other ways of financing,” said Green Belt Movement executive director Aisha Karanja.
Ms Karanja said the KFS should not abdicate its role and punish Kenyans for enjoying public spaces.
“They are custodians of this public space and should not penalise the public for use and enjoyment,” she said.
The Kilimani Project Foundation said that the park is one of the few spaces in the city that are frequented by an array of visitors across economic, social, religious and age barriers. But the introduction of the fee, it observed, would reverse this.
“At a time when Nairobi is experiencing diminishing public space, increased densification and increasing poverty levels the imposition of an entry fee is an injustice to the society,” said Irungu Houghton, chairperson of the Kilimani Project Foundation.
Mr Houghton said among those to be most affected are the working class who ordinarily walk through the Arboretum on their way to and from work and university students who use it for recreational activities.
The Foundation said it was willing to join hands with the Friends of Nairobi Arboretum to find other means of maintaining the public space.
“We believe that other alternative financing options could be explored to keep this important public space in Kilimani free to all.”
The Arboretum located three kilometres from the city centre is considered one of the ‘lungs’ of the city, important for the health and well-being of residents.
The lobbies cited the Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda to emphasise the need for public spaces for all.
“Goal 11, Target 7 states that: ‘By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities.’ Where does this place Nairobi and Kenya as whole with regard to Vision 2030?” it posed.
The KFS had not responded to our questions on the row by the time of going to press.