(eTN) – “The survival of our wildlife is a matter of grave concern to all of us in Africa. These wild creatures amid the wild places they inhabit are not only important as a source of wonder and inspiration, but are an integral part of our natural resources and our future livelihood and well being.
“In accepting the trusteeship of our wildlife we solemnly declare that we will do everything in our power to make sure that our children’s grand-children will be able to enjoy this rich and precious inheritance.
“The conservation of wildlife and wild places calls for specialist knowledge, trained manpower and money, and we look to other nations to cooperate with us in this important task – the success or failure of which not only affects the continent of Africa but the rest of the world as well.”
This is a quote from Julius K. Nyerere, father of the Tanzanian nation and founder president of the United Republic of Tanzania, in his pre-independence Arusha Manifesto, 1961.
The announcement by President Kikwete during a campaign speech last weekend, that “the Serengeti road will go ahead” was a hard slap in the face of the legacy left by founding father Julius Mwalimu Nyerere, who had immediately prior to Independence in his Arusha Manifesto vowed to protect the Serengeti and recognized its importance as a world heritage, belonging to all of mankind. It is also a stark departure from not only these but other “teachings” of Nyerere, too, whom Kikwete has often described as his political mentor and inspiration.
Plans to build the hugely controversial highway across the sprawling wilderness, home of the one of the last of the world’s great herds of migrating wildlife, have repeatedly been defeated in the past, but industrial mining interests, allegedly combined with huge campaign donations, are hard at work to succeed this time around. International financing institutions like the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the East African Development Bank, the European Investment Bank, and others will be reluctant though to fund such a project, as their own environmental guidelines prohibit them from touching such follies and as opposition is already forming on their own doorsteps by conservation NGOs, civil society, and an unfolding letter and email campaign by thousands of individuals from around the world. Such concerted efforts ordinarily swiftly throw a spanner in the work of assessing loan and grant applications and these bi- and multi-lateral institutions are not likely to incur the wrath of influential NGOs in their own back yards when an alternative route is available.
That alternative route would benefit millions more people with access to markets and urban centrer than the Northern route but has been dismissed as not viable by some Tanzanian governmental politicians. Yet, much of official Tanzania certainly ignores if not outright disowns that alternative route option in the face of expert advice available to them. The Southern Route, as can be seen on websites advocating against the route through the park, is meeting the access needs of more villages and productive agricultural areas and still connects the very parts of Tanzania the present park road proposal seems to secure. The minor climb down by government last week, “not to tarmac” the park section, is minimalist in its nature as a commercial road, even if only constructed with murram, will still attract thundering trucks, since at both ends of the park tarmac is beckoning for them. Other government officials are pointing to “existing roads through the Serengeti,” conveniently mixing the term “road” with the type of tracks established and maintained by the park authorities. These tracks are narrow, often causing even safari 4x4s to pass each other at walking speed, while the proposed commercial road would be of standard width to permit heavy traffic to pass each other or overtake with ease.
It has been established that countries applying lesser standards for loans and known to habitually ignore the issues of environmental protection, are likely to step forward and offer funding against securing concessions and the hope of huge profits, leaving Tanzania in the end with deep holes in the ground, a wrecked and poisoned environment, and the loss of biodiversity and the big herds in the Serengeti, bled dry of natural resources and likely left in greater poverty rather than less. Intriguing enough, it is one of those “usual suspect” countries, which is constantly in the news when the smuggling of ivory and rhino horn is mentioned in the media and many citizens from that country in the Far East have been arrested for their involvement in smuggling blood ivory and poaching operations, not just in Eastern Africa but also further down south on the continent, where the problem is even more acute.
It has become evident now that the Save the Serengeti coalition needs to shift their focus to lobby their respective home governments and global institutions and have Tanzanian plans exposed, so that at least a temporary status can be attached to the country until the route for the road is shifted to the Southern side of the Serengeti, where according to information at hand, a great multiple of a population would benefit from the road links – but, of course, lengthening the access route for the future miners, their equipment, and supplies.
The mention by the president last week, when he pointed to opposition to the road coming mostly from outside Tanzania, is – while technically correct – also an affirmation of having successfully muzzled dissent to the project within Tanzania, leaving only web-based media to give information to the Tanzanian people as their own media continues to let them down. Even media contacts, known to this correspondent for many years, have become shy to even discuss the issue by phone or exchange emails on the matter, with two giving almost identical responses: “you know how things are, this is election time, don’t put me at risk please. We see what is written on the Internet and appreciate [it], but Tanzanians really cannot speak up against it. Just remember what happened to the former TANAPA chief who was completely opposed to this road.”
Serengeti Shall Not Die for the last nearly 60 years was the slogan the world listened to, attracting huge funding and a huger following by friends of the Serengeti, and of Tanzania, from abroad, but for how much longer that will continue, should this project go ahead?
The project is, according to the available projections and studies carried out before, a certain death sentence for the Serengeti herds’ migration pattern.
In a related, and under the circumstances truly ironic development, last week the Ngorongoro Conservation area, including the Olduvai Gorge, was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site alongside the Serengeti, a status the latter will surely lose if indeed the road project goes ahead as presently suggested.
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