‘By hook or crook – that soda ash plant at Lake Natron must come’ suggests NDC official


The refusal by the National Development Corporation last week to declare the names of as many as 6 bidders for one of the country’s most controversial projects, a soda ash extraction plant at Lake Natron, has brought immediate strong condemnation by local, regional and international conservation groups for failing transparency standards and continuing a policy of concealment, covert operations and outright deception.

India’s TATA Corporation had withdrawn from the project when it became apparent that they would be turned into a global punching bag by conservation NGO’s, high profile individuals and the world’s green lobby, had they persisted with the project, which at the time was in any case shut down by the environmental watch dogs in Tanzania. It appears though that the Tanzanian government is seeking a new environmental impact assessment and there is the strongest suspicion that the selection of the consulting company will be loaded with clear marching orders what the outcome is supposed to be. This would not be the first time the ‘inconvenient’ consultants input would be evaded, audited from final reports or simply ignored, as was the case for the case study and EIA’s for the planned new port in the middle of the Coelacanth marine national park near Tanga. Here, as there, will matters no doubt come to a head soon and local activists have already made preparations for a campaign of political discreditation by government bodies and their mouthpieces, intimidation and worse as has become almost a norm in the Tanzania of today when opposing even the most hair brained projects.

We are ready for their countermeasures when we put this in the global domain. They cannot stop the internet from spreading our news and when they arrest us and charge us with trumped up charges that too will be written by our supporters abroad and explained. This government has learned absolutely nothing. Two months ago they had to withdraw their ill considered application to CITES to sell ivory in the face of the worst poaching crisis we ever had. Openly they say they could not meet license conditions for now but behind closed doors they are mad about being shut down by a growing coalition of opponents inside and outside Tanzania. The world has been made aware about fork tongue announcements by our government. The case about the Serengeti Highway is now starting in Arusha at the East African Court of Justice. We are ready, and so are our partners, to take more complaints to the EACJ. Lake Natron is a transboundary eco system, so EAC rules permit to take a case to the court in Arusha. And when we find the names of those 6 bidders we will immediately expose them in the public arena so that their shareholders can be told what their company management plans to do. Ecozide, plain and simple, crimes against birdlife, against nature, against our natural heritage’ said a regular source from conservation circles in Tanzania, expressing fears for personal persecution as well as hope for concerted action.

Lake Natron is the single breeding ground for the millions of the lesser Flamingos which adorn at non breeding times the shores of East Africa’s soda lakes, providing a breathtaking spectacle for tourists who come from across the world to admire these often million strong congregations.

In an article two years ago were the dots linked and a Corridor of Destruction began to take shape, reaching from the Coelacanth marine park at Tanga over the Eastern Arc Mountains to Lake Natron and across the Serengeti to Lake Victoria. Added issues for Tanzania arose over plans to mine highly toxic Uranium in an area of the Selous Game Reserve, plans to irrevocably alter the fabric of the Selous’ tourism core area with a hydro electric plant at Stiegler’s Gorge, which would flood a large part of the plains behind the dam and make wildlife based tourism all but impossible in this part of the world’s largest game reserve and plans for the Stone Town of Zanzibar to put up high rise buildings. What most of these areas have in common is UN World Heritage Site status or in the case of the Eastern Arc Mountains the last minute withdrawal of an application in order to ‘tap into the rich resources without needing permission from anyone’ as a senior government official was overheard saying at the time the withdrawal became public knowledge.

Gideon Nassari, the Director of the National Development Corporation has been singled out as being one of the hardliners of such unsustainable ‘progress’ and being a willing tool in the hands of his political masters who have already resorted as branding opponents as ‘anti patriotic’ which normally opens the doors for swift and comprehensive retribution by government bodies and the security apparatus, not shy of using ultimate means as the deaths of a journalist, singled out earlier that day by a senior police officer for covering an opposition rally last year goes to demonstrate.

International organizations have since learned to see through the PR schmooze the government is trying to use to make itself appear nature friendly, and have left no doubt that even decampaigning the country as a tourism destination is an option, should reasoning not help.

Kikwete still wants the Serengeti highway and has ignored offers to finance studies for a Southern route around the park. It is clear to us that he may have made promises to mining companies before the last elections and now is under pressure to deliver. That road would open up Lake Natron and the mining concessions between the park and Lake Victoria. There has also never been an absolute NO to the planned railway from Tanga to Musoma not running across the Serengeti too. That line would link the planned soda ash plant which can only export with a railway line running to the coast for loading and shipping. There is too much circumstantial evidence piling up to ignore that there is some evil genius mind behind all these destructive projects which will benefit few and leave the rest of Tanzania to deal with holes in the ground and poisoned earth in a few decades’ said another source this morning when discussing the matter.

Watch this space as yet another monumental battle for the environment appears to unfold in front of our eyes.

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