(eTN) – Information came to light over the weekend that the Director of Environment in the office of the Vice President has, for all practical purposes, declared the Lake Natron Soda Ash Project as dead in the water in the absence of clearance by NEMC, Tanzania’s National Environmental Management Council, which raised serious concerns way back in 2008. This, together with a vocal international campaign against the project, said to destroy the single one breeding ground available for the East African over 2.5 million “lesser flamingo,” eventually lead to the withdrawal of interest by project promoters TATA of India. The company was set to invest about US$400 million to create a rival to Kenya’s Magadi Soda Company, which is operating a similar plant just cross the border at Lake Magadi.
Earlier in the year, President Kikwete issued a directive to fast track the project, and the statements made by Dr. Julius Ningu last week appear to be in direct contradiction with the wishes of the President. “When we talk of sustainable use of natural resources, we mean for the benefit of current and future generation; now extraction of soda ash for sure can’t be beneficial to the future generation,” was one of the statements made by Dr. Ningu and quoted in the media. Observers are now closely monitoring the reaction from the powers that be and what fate may befall Dr. Ningu for contradicting his masters.
Several voices have already spoken out about this latest development, close on the heels of Tanzania forming its own World Heritage Site Committee last week, claiming that this was a predictable reaction aimed solely to divert attention from the true extent of government plans to push such controversial projects through, ahead of the celebration of Tanzania’s 50th year of independence in a couple of weeks.
“They have come to realize that there is a lot of opposition growing around the world over the plans to build a highway across the Serengeti, about the Lake Natron plans, about converting the Tanga Marine National Park into a deep sea port, about mining of uranium in the Selous Game Reserve, and they fear that this will impact on the celebrations, attendance, and international profile and standing of Tanzania at this crucial time. And they are right, it will affect Tanzania’s reputation and it already has.
“We will not let this opportunity go but continue to press for the government in Dar to abandon such plans like uranium mining in the Selous, building a dam at Stiegler’s Gorge, and uncontrolled foreign mining for our resources across the country at the expense of the environment,” said a regular contributor from Arusha, closely involved in the campaign to draw attention to what he termed “environmental sins of the highest order.”
Others were cautiously optimistic, though, and were taking hope that government could indeed see sense in the arguments advanced by environmentalists. Having followed these events now for several years, it may be wise to adopt a wait-and-see stand and let things unfold first before rendering final judgment.