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Politics And The Environment

Serengeti must not die or must it

Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN  Aug 31, 2010

(eTN) - Stroking top politicians’ egos is a favorite pastime of sycophants in the run up to any election, but Tanzania is taking it to a completely new level now by stubbornly sticking to a road project right across the Northern Serengeti, in spite of having a much more feasible route around the southern end of the national park, which would serve substantially more people but is being dismissed, as the boss had spoken on it and pronounced his verdict, in the face of competent advice and a firestorm of negative publicity now unfolding across the globe.

The full extent of his relentless march towards this highway is only becoming clear, when information so far not published in the public domain is considered.

A recent meeting between leading tourism association, TATO, and consultants working for the road project lent credibility to allegations that governmental organizations have been muzzled, while even the consultants themselves showed little interest in the stakeholder discussions and consultations when one of two teams did not even show up, later claiming to have missed their flight.

TANAPA was apparently not permitted to participate in the stakeholder consultations and remained AWOL, as did other bodies under governmental control. Yet it is these very consultants which are responsible to prepare the road design and formulate an Environmental Impact Assessment with emphasis on the social component and impact of these plans.

It is the latter which makes their attitude ever more intriguing as the alternate southern route reaches probably in excess of 2 million more people while tapping into a rich agricultural area with presently little access to key markets, denying the farmers there an opportunity to turn their lives around by starting to earn some real money, could their produce only reach places like Arusha, Mwanza, or beyond.

A further dead giveaway for the allegation that the consultants had made up their mind already in favor of their political paymasters was that they gave the assembled tourism stakeholder a full 7 days, yes seven whole days, to produce detailed scientific data in support of their claims, with one of them being overheard to have stated "the FZS document is based on hearsay, politicized and of no consequence," yet it is the Frankfurt Zoological Society with the longest research programs and data at hand and, therefore, without argument in the mind of many, though not apparently in the mind of some of the consultants’ staff, the most competent body to offer empirical data, gathered over decades and presented in a format which in any other forum would stand scrutiny of other experts.

It also emerged that sections of the road, namely the western part of it, were already sanctioned several years ago without any apparent involvement of stakeholders from the tourism and conservation fraternities, making the process of the present ongoing consultations a mere window dressing if not a face altogether.

Giving a 7-day deadline before they were to report back in full to their masters, the consultants made a mockery out of the process of public hearing, the filing of objections, and a process of reviews on such objections, and counterproposals like the southern route, and exposes the system in Tanzania for what it is: "Once the boss has spoken and given his directives, all other views and voices must fall silent, voluntarily or else be made to fall silent by other means" to achieve the declared objectives, in this case the proposed highway.

The projected decrease in the number of wildebeest, zebras, and other species, contained in the published study by the Frankfurt Zoological Society’ paints a stark picture on the proverbial wall and to dismiss it out of a false sense of political loyalty or political sycophancy is just one more reminder how far the founding fathers’ principals and ideals are now being shoved aside and trampled upon for the sake of short-sighted and questionable projects ultimately not beneficial to the majority of the people of Tanzania.

No one is suggesting – as has the pro-project propaganda tried to portray – that those people should not have a road, and they would be condemned to eternal poverty by foreigners; to the contrary, the southern route would give access to over 2 million more people and still link the very communities to the rest of the country. But that is clearly not how leading politicians feel, as allegations over campaign funding by the key beneficiaries of this road routing keep lingering and those concerned have at no time been dispelled to disproven.

The anti northern route highway coalition is now embarked on lobbying such institutions as the World Bank, the African Development Bank, European financial institutions, and their respective home governments in America, Europe, and the rest of the world to lean on the Tanzanian government to halt any decision in favor of the presently proposed routing until a fundamental new review has been conducted by independent consultants free of the pressures by their paymasters, while at the same time re-opening the discussion about the southern route in earnest.

Serengeti must not die or must it
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