Mwambani port plans would spell the end of the Coelacanth habitat


(Posted 30th March 2014)

He is just another wolf in sheepskin and our environment and conservation of natural, wildlife and marine resources is his prey’ blasted a regular conservation source from Arusha, understandably on condition of strictest anonymity, following news that Tanzania’s President Kikwete continued to promote the Mwambani port project instead of opting for the more viable expansion of the existing Tanga port. ‘Like with the Serengeti highway he got it completely wrong again. The global conservation community should not be fooled at all about his soothing words uttered at the London conference a few weeks ago. I can only say that we in Tanzania measure him by his actions and not his words and the actions are completely the other way from what he says. Mwambani is a marine park where the prehistoric Coelacanth fish is found. Mwambani bay is very shallow and totally unsuitable for a deep sea port unless the entire bay is dredged up and that will destroy the Coelacanth habitat.

Like with his pet project at Lake Natron where he wants a soda ash factory, he conveniently ignores that it will destroy the breeding grounds for the entire East African flamingo population. Does he care, no he does not. Many of Tanzania’s prime resources like the Selous’ Stiegler’s Gorge are under threat and make no mistake, all of that originates from State House in Dar es Salaam.

Since his big words in London not a single poaching ringleader was arrested and charged. He got the list and he is sitting on it. Mwambani is just another very sad example how our environment is raped. Local people have been literally thrown off their land and where can they go if at all they got peanuts for compensation. He talks of the railway to connect Mwambani to Musoma and to Uganda. He is daydreaming. The Ugandans are in bed with Rwanda and Kenya to build a new fast railway from Mombasa. Over 90 percent of Ugandan imports and exports transact through Mombasa. There is no port worth speaking of in Musoma and there is no port on the Ugandan side other than Port Bell or the pier in Jinja. And yet he wants to build a railway to run along the highway across the Serengeti because if he cannot allow the road to use the southern route why would he not also run the railway from Arusha via Lake Natron to Musoma. Soda ash can only be viably exported by train from the mining site to the port. Believe me, it is a very evil scheme and when you wrote two years ago about the corridor of destruction you apparently saw way ahead of what was happening here. Those opposed to such schemes, those who point out that Mwambani is worth more as a tourism site in the long run, are easily criminalized and our media are not allowed to report on our concerns. I am almost shedding tears for my country’s future because the environment is now a football and no longer has equal priority’ communicated the source further.

Tanzania has several key railway projects under consideration, which include the central line which is due for upgrade to standard gauge, and a joint extension from Isaka to Kigali. The latter though has, inspite of major advances in the past towards raising the finance, gone rather quiet since Tanzania’s president rocked the boat in relations with Rwanda, after telling the government in Kigali to negotiate with the killer militias of the FDLR for a political settlement, something entirely unthinkable of course.

Additionally did the imposition of higher fees on transit trucks from Rwanda ruffle feathers in Kigali and prompted a tit for tat while the expulsion, under inhuman circumstances of thousands of people from Western Tanzania to Rwanda damaged bilateral relations some more.

Hence are two key rail projects already in doubt, the link to Uganda across the lake and the link to Kigali. Yet there are other rail projects under consideration, including a major refurbishment of the TAZARA line to Zambia, which all need financing. Considering that Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and of late South Sudan also need to tap into the same pool of financiers for their ambitious rail projects, the Mombasa to Nairobi to Kampala to Kigali railway and the LAPSSET project which is to connect the new port of Lamu to South Sudan and to Ethiopia, those financiers will be very carefully examining where they can get a payback from vis a vis expected tonnages carried on those railways. Such financiers are now also open to pressure from global conservation groups which will no doubt mobilize the same way against a port in Mwambani as they did against the Serengeti highway and rather than having their global image painted as environmental pariahs they might just silently walk away as did TATA some years ago when it became apparent that the Lake Natron project would earn them more barbs and give them more headaches in the international arena than any potential profits would make it worth their while.

For now though has President Kikwete expressed his desire to see this controversial project to go ahead and only time will tell if the funds can be raised to make this a reality or if the absence of international support will have the plans stall and go back into the bottom drawers.

Added another conservation source from Dar es Salaam in closing: ‘The plans for Bagamoyo port are more advanced than those for Mwambani. Fact is that it would be easier to expand Tanga because it has deep sea berths. But when Bagamoyo goes underway, there may just no longer be the demand for another port towards the border with Kenya and perhaps our government should consider what can be financed and gainfully employed when complete. Too many ports and too many railways just make no sense at all’.

True that is and as future developments will no doubt be watched with hawk eyes by the conservation community, in Tanzania, in the region and across the world.

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