Serengeti village leaders accuse government of spreading falsehoods


(eTN) – It was learned over the weekend that political leaders at the village grass-roots level near the Serengeti National Park have protested claims that they had allegedly advocated for the removal of the Serengeti as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This story has been peddled in the local media by proponents of the hugely controversial Serengeti highway project, which the Tanzanian government is presently advancing.

The pro-highway lobby has been introducing testimonies from affected villages in regard of needing and wanting the highway to be built, but their questionable campaign has once again been exposed when people from one particular area adjoining the park stood up and claimed that they benefited from the park and its status, and they should be left alone and not be used as a political football.

To the contrary, the anti-highway lobby now takes fresh hope that many of the statements peddled by government’s mouthpieces, allegedly speaking for the highway’s construction, may, in fact, be false and manufactured to serve to sway public opinion, although they concede that some village officials may have made statements to that effect after being induced to do so and without the knowledge of those they claim to represent.

Since the news on the highway broke, the Tanzanian government has been accused of being insensitive to conservation needs and the devastating impact a highway across the key migration route from the Serengeti into the Masai Mara would have for the great herds of wildebeest and zebra, threatening their very survival.

The murky waters were even more muddied when – and this is based on hearsay by someone who claimed to have inadvertently heard the discussion, something which could not be independently verified – a government official in Dar es Salaam was overheard discussing the issue with someone and allegedly saying: “We will have this highway, the president wants it, and the people want it, so it will be built,” before in the context of the exchange also saying: “Let the Kenyans lament as they like, they are exploiting Lake Magadi, and they only want to protect their monopoly on soda ash, so we will not take that serious at all” and then at a later stage adding “The so-called conservationists are in truth only Kenyans who are worried they are missing a bit on the animals which go there for a short time, but this will not stop our plans; we are sovereign and [do] not have to ask for their permission to build a road anywhere in our own country.”

It is again stressed that this narrative of an alleged conversation in Dar es Salaam recently was overheard by a regular and usually reliable source, clearly not wishing to be named for fear of personal safety, but it must also be pointed out that such sentiments by Tanzanian officials have been reported on and off for a while now when the issue of the highway was discussed among them.