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conservation fraternity in Tanzania alarmed

Serengeti conservation and highway do not mix

Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN Uganda  Sep 20, 2011

(eTN) - Comments made over the weekend by Tanzania’s Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda did not go down well with the conservation fraternity in Tanzania at all it appears, as comments and broadsides came flooding in to this correspondent’s mailboxes once again. The politician reportedly made his contradictory comments when visiting Musoma, where he reaffirmed the Tanzanian government's intention to tarmac new roads right to the boundary of the Serengeti National Park, from Mto Wa Mbu along Lake Natron on one side and linking Lake Victoria from both Mwanza and Musoma to the Serengeti from the other side of the park.

Such investments, of course, make no sense at all unless the crucial link across the national park is eventually established, too, and with the expected traffic, it is only a matter of time before the strictly gravel road will be upgraded to bitumen standards. Development partners from around the world have tried to persuade the Tanzanian government to seek a routing for the road around the southern edge of the Serengeti/Ngorongoro ecosystem, but just how deep that has registered within the Tanzanian establishment seem more and more uncertain now, especially as global mining giants insist that they will only invest in the region between Lake Victoria and the Serengeti if a highway links their areas of operation with the rest of the country.

The Tanzanian government is now caught in a web of lies and deception, trying to downplay their secret plans for the highway in the public arena while, however, comments made by politicians unable to control their utterances paint a clearer picture. Controversial Tourism Minister Maige earlier in the year wrote a soothing letter to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, assuring them that no highway would be built across the park, which was in danger of being listed as a World Heritage Site under Threat, not something even the most stubborn politicians in Tanzania could have wanted when gearing up for the 50th anniversary of independence. This event was to be a trigger for the Tanzanian Tourist Board to roll out a fresh campaign to attract tourists to the country, but a wave of industrial and infrastructure projects has tainted the destination’s image in the global arena, where conservation and environmental issues play ever bigger roles in tourists’ decisions where to go and spend their money. Maige gained notoriety soon after writing the letter to UNESCO when he publicly called them an "inconsequential entity" only to cause more controversy when downplaying the massive environmental risks of uranium mining in the Selous Game Reserve, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As President Kikwete departed over the weekend to New York to attend the UN’s General Assembly and other meetings, he can be certain that these controversial statements by his Prime Minister will bring the Serengeti issue, and many other similarly controversial projects, on the agenda again of the green lobby once more, and he will be faced with uncomfortable questions as to upholding the credo of the founding father of Tanzania, the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, for whom conservation was an unmovable cornerstone of his political vision for the country. Betrayed by his political offspring he must be turning in his grave surely.

Serengeti conservation and highway do not mix
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