Locals between Tanga, via Mwambani to Pangani are up in arms since it became known that TANAPA is clandestinely scheming for the expansion of the Tanga Marine National Park right into the heart of Tanga before then incorporating swathes of inland locations, including villas and existing properties into a revised geographical area aimed to extort park entrance fees for anybody entering villages or residences or restaurants / resorts, be it family members, friends or acquaintances.
Intriguingly this is happening at a time when the Tanzanian government seems hellbent to construct a new port inside the same marine national park, where the Coelacanth prehistoric fish has its habitat. No amount of logical argument has yet moved the cast in concrete position by government, which insists that the new port must be built inside the marine park, instead of expanding the existing port in Tanga, reportedly much underutilized. The new traffic axis between Tanga to Uganda the two countries have signed an MoU just before Christmas last year to develop a rail corridor from Tanga to the Lake Victoria town of Musoma from where rail ferries would take the wagons across to Uganda is to develop two ports, one in Mwambani / Indian Ocean and another in Musoma / Lake Victoria, linked by a standard gauge railway and a vaguely mentioned routing which could see the railway take the most direct route across the most sensitive and fragile part of the Serengeti, after also linking Lake Natron where a soda ash factory is planned.
Looking at the two developments side by side it would appear that the various organs of government are clearly either NOT talking to each other, or in a worst case scenario attempting to dupe the public into believing that a protected area exists while major construction would be planned inside the marine park with very likely devastating consequences. While that is more distant in the future, though going by government mouthpieces about to happen any time from now, the threat to the locals by TANAPAs imperial ambitions to incorporate extra territorial land claims into their off shore marine park, is much more real. Said a regular reader and commenter in a direct message: We have been told to apply in advance for any relatives, friends or acquaintances wishing to visit us or else they have to pay park entrance, even though they may not have the least interest of going down to the ocean itself or enter the present marina park. It smacks of desperation by TANAPA to extort money from the public. They claim there are not enough visitors to the marine park but that is all due to the constant rumours about a port being built right in the middle of it. In fact that is why no further tourist investments have come so far because if the area is spoiled by a harbour, there is no way tourists want to visit a national park here and therefore no big hotel groups will invest. But for now we are battling with a TANAPA gone wild, like they did last year when they held tourists and vehicles hostage at the northern parks trying to extort camp concession fees directly from tourists. It gave Tanzania a lot of very negative publicity and with Twitter and Facebook these days, tourists see something bad and it goes instantly on Twitter or they even take pictures of bad scenes and post them. There is no more hiding, it comes out like it or not. TANAPA has to sit down with stakeholders, not give 2 days notice of meetings and then try steamroll over everyone. They might do a lot of good about conservation somewhere else but here, they are the enemy number one now for trying to steal our land. Already the port area has displaced people with little or no adequate compensation, and now this? Where is it going to end, can government organs just decide behind closed doors about grabbing land rights and make our friends pay for visiting? This will go to court for sure and if the Tanzanian courts do not uphold the law, the East African Court of Justice will for sure.
The dramas in Tanzania surrounding terrestrial national parks and now even marine national parks just never seem to end and it explains why so many questions about the current governments commitment to uphold the principles of founding father Julius Mwalimu Nyerere are circulating in the international arena and have brought vocal opposition to life like the Stop the Serengeti Highway group on Facebook, which now is over 45.000 members strong, united in their desire to save the Serengeti from irreparable harm and destruction.
Watch this space as a new front is opening up in Tanzania, beyond the already known hotspots in the Serengeti, Lake Natron, the Selous, the Eastern Arc Mountains and now the Coelacanth habitat.