Serengeti highway plans raise more controversy


(eTN) A government minister waded into the Serengeti highway debate last week, when the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism – supposed to protect ecosystems – claimed the new road routing was a “must” as it stemmed from a campaign promise made by incumbent president Kikwete during his election campaign five years ago. Claiming “government is obliged to build the road,” the minister conveniently ignored the option of a routing around the Serengeti, and stubbornly defended the undefendable, when expert opinions, including from the highly-respected Frankfurt Zoological Society – condemned the routing as the most severe threat ever to the Serengeti/Masai Mara border transcending ecosystem.

She was then quoted in the Tanzanian media to have said verbatim: “Those criticizing the road construction know nothing about what we’ve planned… We’re all keen to preserve our natural resources… We’ll never compromise on that,” yet ignoring advice from experts from around the world to the contrary.

It was the late Prof. Dr. Bernhard Grzimek who in the 1950s and 1960s made the Serengeti world famous with his TV serialization of his book “Serengeti must not die.” After the Second World War, Prof. Grzimek became the Zoo director and p resident of the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), which has been a constant major donor to Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) and the Tanzanian government to maintain the biodiversity of the Serengeti.

Global NGOs, wildlife conservation bodies, development partners and donors, besides thousands of former visitors to the park, have mobilized now and are bound to exert pressure also on the World Bank – which had previously denied loans already for this road as a result of a devastating Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) – and other multilateral bodies whose goodwill Tanzania urgently needs, to prevail upon the responsible government departments to route the highway around the park instead of through it via some of the most crucial migration routes of the big herds.

The negative publicity comes hot on the heels of Tanzania also suffering a major blow to plans to sell dozens of tons of ivory stocks, when the last Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting in Doha refused the Tanzanian application – following which official sources in Dar es Salaam started to blame all and sundry for this development without absorbing the main lesson from it, that ivory sales in past years have ALWAYS resulted in intensified poaching – a crime for which Tanzania is also relatively ill prepared to fight, as is the transit of illicit ivory, birds, reptiles, and other animals through Tanzania due to lax enforcement.

Sources close to wildlife conservation in Tanzania, including some based at the East African Wildlife College in Mweka outside Moshi, have quietly indicated to this correspondent that they too think their government is wrong. These sources also pointed out that this being a pre-election year in Tanzania, much – maybe far too much – is being uttered in public by politicians and aspirants to seek votes without donning the proverbial thinking caps first, suggesting that much nonsense is being said and unsustainable promises being made.