Zanzibar stone town World Heritage status under threat


(eTN) – News broke last week that Kempinski Hotels were given a site in the old stone town of Zanzibar for re-development into a 5-star hotel. It is understood from a source in Dar es Salaam that government appeared less than amused over the prospect of UNESCO taking another issue with a Tanzanian World Heritage Site, after the plans for the controversial Serengeti Highway have already raised the possibility of UNESCO striking out that world-renowned national park from its listings.

The old stone town in Zanzibar is unique, in as far as its history and preservation is concerned, and attempts to build high-rise office blocks have in the past been almost unanimously defeated in the respective planning offices. A former cabinet minister is now implicated, together with some other officials, to have used influence peddling to give the site to Kempinski, and the hotel company is loathe to the idea of getting into the conservation bad books, more so as their Bilila Lodge in the heart of the Serengeti has already drawn sustained criticism over its alleged negative impact on the ecosystem.

The Stone Town site, located on the Forodhani ocean front, has so far accommodated a number of government offices which will be required to move elsewhere first before anything much can happen on site, and other relevant government departments have already rushed into the controversy claiming that prerequisite permissions have also not been obtained as yet by Kempinski, raising the spectrum of the project being delayed for long periods of time, made substantially more expensive or shelved altogether – conservationists of course would prefer the latter option.

While discussing the issue with a regular source in Tanzania the issue of a similar project of Serena Hotels was also raised. East Africa’s leading hotel group had in the past restored and meticulously maintained the outer appearances of initially rundown buildings, and in their unique fashion not only restored them externally but ‘inserted’ a fully functioning top hotel into the location without affecting the character of the neighbourhood. The project has won several global awards in the past, a sign that careful planning and working hand in hand with the local community can actually produce stunning results. In contrast, the same cannot be said at this time about the Kempinski project, more so as regular sources were reportedly given the cold shoulder by Kempinski over an issue where stonewalling is the last thing one would want to do, considering the sensitivities of the Zanzibari population and their pride of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, now under ‘threat’ by the new project. Watch this space as more information becomes available.