(Stieglers Gorge as seen from the air by www.africanbushpilot.blogspot.com / soon gone forever?)
The Tanzanian government will remain under the spotlight over their planned assaults on the environment even after the cabinet reshuffle last Friday, which amongst others also saw Energy and Minerals minister William Ngeleja sacked from his position alongside 6 other cabinet and two deputy ministers. Only the day prior did he during a visit to Rufiji Valley Development Authority reaffirm his previous stand that the Stieglers Gorge project would go ahead by hook or crook, notwithstanding the fact that the Selous Game Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, requires consultations and approvals from UNESCO before any commercial activity can commence. Notably is the same ministry also on the warpath with the environment over plans to mine for Uranium inside the Selous Game Reserve, equally subject to UNESCO granting approvals. The story was first told here early last year, prompting vehement denials from official Tanzania, only to be exposed as a pack of misleading statements when later in March the truth emerged in full, after the ministry of energy and minerals owned up to the fact that plans from the 1970s had indeed been revived and that discussions with project consultants from Brazil had advanced considerably at the time already.
Tanzanias energy sector has an appalling record over maintenance of the nationwide grid network and the existing hydro electric power stations, where past omissions of upgrading the equipment in time, and keeping it in operating order, have come to haunt the entire country with frequent power cuts and the notorious load shedding a phrase invented by the power companies in East Africa to belittle and gloss over their inability to keep supply constant. Analysts in Tanzania claim that if the existing plants would undergo regular heavy maintenance and turbine upgrades, the additional power generated from the existing stations would be enough to keep the country lit up. The same sources also claim that the country has done far too little to explore and exploit geothermal energy, where in comparison neighbouring Kenya is set to exponentially increase this ultra green and carbon neutral source of energy by great multiples in coming years. Wind-power too has not found its way into any serious implementation stage nor have the significant gas deposits found in Tanzania been translated into cheap energy production, largely according to energy analysts because the sector is riddled with massive corruption and lacks vision and leadership, probably one of several reasons the minister was sacked following pressure by parliamentary committees which had exposed the rot in government.
(Architectural impression of the proposed Stieglers Gorge Dam and Power Station)
The planned power station, set right in the heart of the photographic zone of the Selous Game Reserve, would cause extensive flooding behind the proposed dam and the impact on the game reserves core tourism area is feared to be of such proportions that the expected benefits will be largely outstripped by the negative impact the power station will have on the environment. In average about 100 metres deep and over 8 kilometres long the Stieglers Gorge, in particular at the lower sections, is a popular area with tourists taking boat excursions on the Rufiji river, or else come there for picnic meals within the spectacular setting seen only from the bottom of the gorge itself. Lodge operators, several of which have put up costly investments by constructing lodges and safari camps along the gorge, but also the safari operators are understandably concerned about the governments plans. Yet, non have until now openly opposed the Tanzanian government, known for its vicious backlashing against all and sundry perceived as anti government when voicing opposition to the official positions taken, then turning on the heat with accusations of being anti development, anti Tanzania and going as far as referring to such critics as a fifth column funded by foreign interests.
It is now wait and see if the new minister for energy and minerals Prof. Sospeter Muhongo will take a fresh look at the entire complex question of how Tanzania can, and more importantly should stay powered up, by using renewable and sustainable sources of energy, repairing and upgrading the existing grid and power stations of else remaining on the warpath with the environment the same way his sacked predecessor went about.
Watch this space for the next chapter of this long running saga as the battle of the Selous continues.
(Two maps showing the location and extend of the planned flooding areas behind the proposed dam)