SERENGETI HIGHWAY BACK ON TANZANIA’S AGENDA AS BUDGET SET ASIDE FOR PLANNING
(Posted 27th June 2013)
Words like ‘deception’ but also the undiplomatic word ‘lies’ were used in comments sent to this correspondent when news emerged that the Tanzanian government, in the face of past protests and boycott threats, and in neglect of more viable alternative routes, seems to have gone back to their much disputed position of building a highway across the Serengeti’s main migration routes.
The proposed budget for the financial year 2013/14 appears to contain a dedicated allocation of funds to advance the planning of the highway and prepare the design of it, inspite of both the German government and the World Bank having offered to pay for exactly those components should the government consider to look at the Southern route, bypassing the Serengeti and, for that matter, reaching substantially more people than a route directly through the park.
Powerful mining interests, some of which reportedly ‘donated’ heavily to the last election campaign, are said to be behind this route, among other bedfellows intent on wrecking Tanzania’s environment and prime park for profits, as the highway would open up Lake Natron for soda ash extraction while offering the most direct route for mining concessions given out already or pending between the Serengeti and Lake Victoria. Tanzania’s works minister in fact was quoted that once those studies were completed, and notably there was not a word said about a detailed environmental impact assessment on the likely displacement of the great herds of wildebeest and zebras, construction would commence just as soon as the results were available. With plans also on the drawing board to build a new railway between Tanga and Musoma on Lake Victoria, places where in fact even new ports would need constructing, one of them right inside the Coelacanth marine national park, it has never been completely and categorically ruled out that a railway would not run parallel to the planned highway to save mileage AND to allow for the bulk export by rail of soda ash, like done from neighbouring Kenya’s Lake Magadi to the port of Mombasa.
Already have calls emerged for US President Barrack Obama to speak out against the massive upswing in poaching in Tanzania, a country fingered as the one with the most elephant killed in 2012 anywhere in the world, and these environmental crimes in the making too in fact should be on his agenda when speaking to President Kikwete. Considering though the backing Tanzania has been getting from China, the leading ‘importer’ of blood ivory from Africa, it is unlikely that other than platitudes substantive responses can be expected when the two meet and then answer the questions of the international media.
The evidence found in the budget proposals for the intent to push ahead with this highway, by hook or crook, will however very likely result in re-invigorating the ‘Save the Serengeti’ campaign, where anti poaching lobbyists can now, armed with the facts and statistics of poaching in 2012 at hand, join with their counterparts from the anti highway lobby and renew global pressure on Tanzania.
Past threats of a tourism boycott have so far remained in the domain of mere words, at least while a case is pending before the East African Court of Justice, in which the opponents of the project are seeking a permanent injunction on the Tanzanian government. The aim of the case is to prohibit government from starting any form of construction or alterations of tracks and existing ‘roads’ inside the Serengeti towards the end of serving as a highway. How the court will decide is not clear at present, though going by past experience it is likely they might grant the plaintiff’s request, but if not, for sure a massive anti Tanzania campaign would be unleashed around the world, no doubt making the heads of bureaucrats in Dar es Salaam and Dodoma spin as they are not used at home to find such levels of open dissent and opposition, and unable to unleash their goons on protestors outside Embassies and High Commissions, which would be the primary targets under such circumstances. Time to remain vigilant and watchful and keep raising voices around the globe that ‘Serengeti Must Not Die’.