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Transboundary Ecosystems Management Bill Postponed

Cross border sentiments to come to a head in November East African Community Summit

Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN Uganda  Sep 14, 2011

(eTN) - Disturbing news has reached from Arusha that the debate on the "Transboundary Ecosystems Management Bill," which was introduced in 2010 to the East African Community (EAC) Legislative Assembly, has upon substantial pressure by the Tanzanian government been postponed to allow the forthcoming Head of State Summit in November to discuss it and its recently discovered additional implications first.

The true sentiments of the Tanzanian government’s push to delay further debate on this groundbreaking bill became known when the current Chair of the Council of Ministers let it slip that the bill was not catering to any issues arising between member states when one would wish to engage in "development projects," which may impact on the ecosystems and environment of the neighbors. This is the clearest signal yet about just how angry Tanzania’s political establishment is with the recent ruling of the East African Court of Justice. A court case brought by environmental activists was given the go-ahead when objections and an application to have the court rule against the plaintiffs was kicked out, though an appeal is almost certain to be launched shortly.

It is now abundantly clear that the entire political smokescreen put up over the delay of the debate of the bill was singularly created over the hugely controversial plan to build a highway across the main migration route of the big herds in the Serengeti, which according to the most reputable wildlife research organizations and global conservation groups, would do irreparable harm to the transboundary ecosystem and decimate the approximately 1.5 million wildebeest and zebras to a fraction of their present numbers.

Conservationists and environmental activists immediately smelled the proverbial "rat" and are blaming the Tanzanian government to use political pressure to bring down the ruling of the EACJ by changing the rules in their favor, or as one regular source from Arusha put it: "…They are trying to change goal posts during the match. We have spotted this immediately and will lobby across the region to make sure the other member states understand what exactly Kikwete’s regime is up to. They have often made it clear that Kenya’s Masai Mara can go to hell and is not their concern, belying the spirit of the EAC. They are stuck in the 70s mind-set still and see Kenya as an enemy, not an ally.

"Many of their actions, like keeping the Bologonja border shut, treating safari operators and safari airlines as ‘foreign’ are examples of this. In this case, they insist to build a highway across the Serengeti as payback to the mining companies. We know all about campaign contributions and such stuff, and now they have to deliver.

"If the EAC stops the project, or if the court sides with the plaintiffs over the enormous impact this road would have, Kikwete is in a fix, he promised and cannot deliver. So this diversion to use the summit to change the rules is just a desperate act by him and shows exactly what is going on in his mind."

A source within the EAC Secretariat in Arusha, on condition of strictest anonymity, had this to add: "The Tanzanian government has a right to refer this matter to the summit. If they think that the Heads of State will agree with their position, that is to be seen. Citing overlapping responsibilities now introduced by the new bill with the existing provisions of the Lake Victoria Basin Commission is also not a big obstacle, but their main cause is that they claim sole ownership and sole decision rights over what they do with their own land, in their own country.

"That said, there are provisions, however, on the fallout, the consequences of projects near the borders, which impact on other member states and the two positions need to be harmonized, the partners need to discuss this matter and find a compromise, a solution. It is in the nature of the EAC that some issues are very emotional and are used for domestic politics, but in the end, the concept of a common market and growing together politically too cannot be stopped."

Cross border sentiments to come to a head in November East African Community Summit
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