Stung by criticism, Tanzania president lays into tourism ministry


(eTN) – During the customary post-election visit to all the government ministries, Tanzania President Kikwete on Wednesday visited the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism. According to reports, the ministry was then promptly subjected to several broad side attacks by the president. He accused them of not doing enough to stop poaching and safeguard the country’s wildlife.

The president went on to say if the ministry and subordinate organizations are not capable of carrying out such duties, other security bodies, including the army, may have to be drafted in to support TANAPA’s (Tanzania National Parks) ranger force. He was quoted as saying, “Gangsters are killing wild animals” before continuing, “the gravity of criminal acts in our game reserves is quite alarming.” He went on to say, “We have to stop the massive poaching, otherwise we will spoil our reputation in wildlife conservation.”

A source in Dar es Salaam reported that the president appeared quite unsettled over the issue. He rejected explanations given by the tourism minister, under whose responsibility anti-poaching and conservation ultimately falls, demanding the use of latest technology in combating poachers and stiffer laws with higher fines and longer prison terms for offenders.

Notably, no mention was made over the president’s directive to cancel an application made by the ministry to UNESCO for recognition of a new World Heritage Site, nor was mention made – or probably allowed – over the hugely controversial plans to build a highway across the Serengeti’s migration routes or “tap into hydro power” at Stiegler’s Gorge in the Selous Game Reserve. The third World Heritage Site (WHS) controversy over the planned development of a major hotel in the protected Stone Town in Zanzibar was apparently off limits for public discussions as well.

The contradictions are becoming clearer still, when it was learned that Tanzania is reportedly preparing another application to the CITES Secretariat in Lusaka to be tabled at the next CITES General Assembly. This application is to allow the country to sell stored ivory stocks including confiscated blood ivory from within and outside Tanzania.

It is clear that conservation cannot succeed or take place in isolation. This type of piecemeal and “when it suits us” approach is clearly not helpful in the medium and long term to protect Tanzania’s biodiversity and natural resources, and the country’s reputation abroad. It seems for pet projects, conservation is pushed aside as a nuisance only to be revisited when funding is at stake or when the pressure from conservation groups becomes too strong or when politically convenient while addressing a specific audience. So while the president’s sentiments are appreciated and should be fully supported, the circumstances and wider context under which his comments were made, does make one more than a little suspicious about the timing, location, and background prompting the comments in the first place.