(eTN) – The Tanzania Minister for Education and Vocational Training, and notably not the Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism, earlier this week launched a 7-member national “World Heritage Committee,” causing both applause and bafflement among regular pundits. Led by Prof. Kabuli, the committee is tasked to, among other things, promote the UNESCO sites internally and work hand in hand with the Tanzania Tourist Board and other related statutory bodies, supposedly including TANAPA and the national museums.
The minister was quoted at the launch of the committee to have said: “Experience has shown that there are tourists who specifically visit countries that have World Heritage sites. Without mentioning them when we publicize the attractions of our country, chances of generating the full potential of revenue is slim.” This, however, seems in stark contrast with other actions of the Tanzanian government, frequently written about here, where ambiguity and outright deception seems the order of the day when it comes to maintaining some of the most prized World Heritage sites among the many UNESCO has on its list.
Tanzania presently has 7 UNESCO recognized World Heritage sites, some of them under threat to be declared “endangered.” Recent spats by Tourism Minister Maige, who had in some anger called UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee an “inconsequential entity,” have not done much to restore friendly relations. Under founder father of the nation, the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, conservation was a cornerstone of Tanzania’s political credo, but sadly this level of commitment has long since been discarded.
On direction of the country’s President, an application for a new site, the Eastern Arc Mountains, was withdrawn by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, ostensibly to permit mining and logging without “external meddling,” as senior figures within the current political establishment in Dar es Salaam seem to think. The controversial Serengeti Highway plans, the intention to commence Uranium mining in the Selous Game Reserve, plans to build a now port right in the middle of the Tanga Marine National Park where the long thought extinct coelacanth fish was discovered, prompting the inauguration of that area as a marine park in the first place just a few years ago, the intent to harvest soda ash at Lake Natron threatening the sole breeding ground of the lesser flamingos of Eastern Africa, and rejuvenated plans to build a hydro-electric dam at Stiegler’s Gorge in the Selous have all cast serious doubts on the overall policy direction of the Tanzanian government.
A regular source from Arusha, understandably concerned for their own safety and economic wellbeing demanding strict anonymity, had this to say: “On one side it is a welcome development. Having our own committee tasked to be responsible for such sites is very good. But immediately the contradictions are coming to the fore.
“The tourism minister has it in for UNESCO, that much is clear from his past comments and reactions. Several of our sites are risking being listed endangered, like the old Stone Town of Zanzibar over a high-rise hotel development, the Selous over mining and damming, Serengeti over the highway where our government is using deception if not lies to conceal their real intentions. I think Tanzania could easily have a few more UNESCO sites but that would not allow the exploitation of such areas for mining and other exploitative measures.
“I think, and some of my colleagues think this also, this might just be a window dress to calm the storm of outrage ahead of our 50th Independence anniversary. The anti-highway coalition has rained on that parade already and more opposition is forming over the other cases you have often written about. TTB [Tanzania Tourist Board] is struggling to come to terms with these issues and cannot explain the controversies away, and it affects our standing, our ability to sell based on strict conservation commitments.
“So forgive us for being skeptical. Just ask why this was done by the Education Minister and not the Tourism Minister. That alone tells its own story.”
In a related development, the recent announcement about the construction of a new railway line from Tanga to Lake Victoria made during a state visit by Ugandan President Museveni to Tanzania last week, has caused added concern in the absence of a clear commitment that the routing of the planned railway would not go through the Serengeti National Park but follow the present routing to Mwanza around the southern side of the Serengeti/Ngorongoro ecosystem.