UNESCO ISSUES CHALLENGE OVER SELOUS
One of Tanzania’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Selous Game Reserve, may be declared a ‘World Heritage Site in Danger’, should the Tanzanian government continue to recklessly pursue plans to open up a Uranium mine and build a dam at Stiegler’s Gorge it was learned yesterday. This will be the second major run in Tanzania is provoking with the world’s foremost heritage protection agency after going through a very similar situation over the status of the Serengeti, when it became known that government was intending to build a highway across some of the most fragile landscapes of the national park, cutting off the migration routes of the great herds of wildebeest and zebras.
Tourism stakeholders and conservationists have joined hands with international conservation and environmental bodies, NGO’s and individuals once again in building another coalition similar to the ‘Save the Serengeti’ movement, this time for the Selous, one of the last great wilderness areas in Eastern Africa spread over 50.000 square kilometres.
The Serengeti highway plans by the Kikwete regime, going hand in hand with a range of other mega projects in what this author has named the ‘corridor of destruction’ soiled Tanzania’s reputation abroad at a time when the Tanzania Tourist Board is attempting to re-brand the destination in order to attract more visitors to the country, but irresponsible broadsides like by the country’s tourism minister Ezekiel Maige, who recently called the UNESCO World Heritage Committee an ‘insignificant entity’ have not helped and only exposed the complete U-turn from the environmental and conservation policies under founding father ‘Mwalimu’ Julius Nyerere.
Plans dating back into the 70’s to build a hydro electric dam at Stiegler’s Gorge were ‘dusted’ and revived to generate electricity, admittedly much needed in Tanzania where the energy sector however is riddled with corruption, inefficiencies and mismanagement. Stiegler’s Gorge is one of the Selous’ most spectacular sights and rich in biodiversity, something a dam would irreversibly destroy, while Uranium mining, as seen at many of the former Soviet Union’s mining sites, holds enormous risks of polluting the immediate environment around the mine and water sources all the way from the mine itself to the Indian Ocean.
Said a regular source from Dar es Salaam overnight: ‘Tourism is potentially the most important sustainable economic sector for Tanzania. We can make more money over a longer term, and create more jobs, earn more forex and introduce more investment than mining Uranium in the Selous. The mine might last maybe 25 or 30 years and the environmental damage will be huge. Once the resource has been plundered, I have really no other description, it will be the same like with our gold deposits. The ‘investors’ will move on and leave us with giant holes in the ground and massive destruction. We need to build a green coalition, show government how big the dangers are but we are also dealing with very stubborn people who do not listen very well, who do not absorb lessons learned in other parts of the world and only look at short term profit, benefitting a few who live from one election term to the next. This year we will commemorate 50 years of independence but for wananchi things have only gone from bad to worse. At least Nyerere was honest, wrong in many way in his economic policies but honest and incorruptible, but those politicians of today are plainly ruining our heritage. Today it is the Selous, tomorrow the Tanga Marine National Park, the next day Lake Natron and the list is long and growing. Development must be in harmony with the environment, consider long term effects on our living conditions and must be broadly agreed and not dictated by a clique of dictators.’
Watch this space as the next big environmental battle looms in Tanzania, and how it unfolds, progresses and eventually ends.