The government has stressed that plans for construction of the proposed 480-km Arusha-Musoma highway through the Serengeti National Park are still on despite mounting pressures from local and international activists.
Speaking here exclusively after inspecting the construction of the Arusha-Namanga highway, minister for Works, Dr John Magufuli explained: “There is no way we can stop constructing this important road.”
Construction of the Serengeti highway is set to begin in 2012. The corridor will run from Mto-wa-Mbu, to Engaruka on to Lake Natron shores, Loliondo, Serengeti and finally Musoma.
He said the road was important both socially and economically as it linked people in the northern tourists’ circuits with other Tanzanians as well as boosting the tourist industry in the country.
Dr Magufuli noted that for years, thousands of people in Loliondo and Serengeti areas were denied proper road networks.
He wondered why the pressure was coming from environmental activists in neighbouring countries like Kenya.
“I wonder as why these pressures come from Kenya? This road will benefit our people and the development of our country, so we need to be firm on this,” he said, adding: “I have visited different national parks like those in South Africa and Botwana, and there are tarmac roads, yet the wild animals are still there.”
According to the outspoken minister, the Tanzania National Parks Authority (Tanapa) had carried out its own survey and found that the road will have no negative impacts on the Serengeti national park.
“So, I don’t know where these noises are coming from,” he said, stressing that the road will ease movement of goods and people in the northern regions and the neighbouring countries.
He however, agreed with the proposal by Tanzania’s non-governmental organizations engaged in environmental issues not to tarmac a section between Kleins gate and Tabora B area of the Serengeti National Park.
A network of 56 environmental organisations recently argued that the 53-km section of the proposed road is an important corridor for seasonal migration of wildebeest.
The network’s representatives made the call recently after working on people’s views on the controversial project, which has drawn the attention of activists from around the world.
An official from Serengeti Environmental Protection and Development Association (SEPDA) Joseph Masina said the majority of people backed the project due to its socio-economic importance.
Deo Mfugale, chairman of the Journalists Environmental Association of Tanzania (JET) said the Serengeti National Park needs to maintain its status, as the World Heritage Site by keeping its environment natural.
About a month ago hundreds of people living along the proposed Arusha-Musoma highway rallied behind the plan, citing economic importance to the local communities and the entire nation.
For almost six months, green activists have been rallying against the proposed road, citing potential disruption to the world’s greatest migration route of wildebeest which was likely to collapse.
The government of Tanzania has maintained its determination to construct the road, estimated to cost USD480million, saying it had taken the necessary precaution not to disrupt the environment.
During his election campaign trail, President Jakaya Kikwete maintained that the planned road would not disturb the ecosystem of Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
He said the project had taken into consideration all necessary precautions regarding environmental conservation.
“The road will not pass through the conservation area in the first place and all precautions have been taken to make sure that the wildlife is not affected,” the president explained.