Tanzania: Serengeti road controversy takes a turn

The controversy surrounding the proposed tarmac road across the Serengeti National Park, took a new turn yesterday when Tanzanian tour operators strongly opposed it. The Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO), a powerful lobby group for tour companies, said the road would impact negatively on the tourism industry. ATTA, which has been active in distributing concerns on this matter for months, pledged to “support any action to find a workable solution to avoid the senseless desecration of this famous National Park.”

TATO proposes an alternative route for the highway through the southern fringes of the Serengeti, the most famous game park in the country, whose protection, it insists, should not be compromised. TATO Executive Secretary Mustapha Akunaay, said in a statement issued yesterday that they were opposed to the construction of the paved road through the park on ecological grounds.

“The proposed road would pass through the ecologically fragile section of the park, which is also a migratory route for animals,” he said.

Akunaay, who is also the Mbulu MP on a Chadema ticket, faulted the government for ordering an environmental impact assessment of the project after a decision had been reached to go ahead with it.

He stated that a tarmac road across the Serengeti would lead to increased human activities in the park which is also a World Heritage Site. Confusion still reigns whether or not, there are plans to tarmac the section which goes through the national park. However, the government has insisted that the 53km portion across the Serengeti would not be paved.

“Tarmacing the section, could impact severely on the wild animals habitats and eventually lead to the Serengeti losing the ecological niche it is famous for in the world,” said Akunaay.

“There was also a likelihood of increased poaching of wild animals in the area, which has been a matter of concern for conservation experts, despite sustained efforts to contain the menace. This will eventually lead to a drop in the number of tourists visiting the area, which will certainly impact on the economy,”

Akunaay, on behalf of TATO, implored the government to “find an alternative route to construct a tarmac road that will link Arusha with Mara region instead of the one through the northern section of the Serengeti”.

TATO and other conservation stakeholders have suggested the intended road should start from Karatu and pass through Mbulu and Haydom, link up to Meatu in Shinyanga and eventually to Musoma. The route TATO is proposing would not only avoid environmental degradation of the Serengeti, but also open up the remote areas of Karatu, Mbulu, Iramba (Singida) and Meatu for development.

The statement by the tourism lobby group comes only days after the World Bank said it was ready to help Tanzania in financing the alternative route for the road to link Arusha and Mara regions. There have been fears that the country’s resolve to build the road could deny the country substantial foreign aid from development partners which are also supporting conservation programmes.

The German government recently expressed concern on the project and warned the Tanzanian government that construction of the road could make Serengeti National Park lose its outstanding universal value.

President Jakaya Kikwete has consistently stated that the construction of the controversial road would go ahead despite opposition from environmental activists and wildlife scientists.

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