Nairobi — The international green activists’ campaign against construction of a highway in the Serengeti National Park has suffered a major blow – the head of state says the project will go on.
This is despite recommendations by conservationists, who say the road should be routed through the southern end of the park, through Karatu-Meatu-Mugumu, instead of through the narrow northern part of the Serengeti.
President Jakaya Kikwete, for the first time, said Tanzania would not stop the construction of a commercial highway linking Arusha and Musoma town through Serengeti National Park.
In his end-of-July speech to the nation, President Kikwete said the best the government could do is to leave the 50km stretch crossing through the wildebeest migration route untarmacked.
“The 50km portion through Serengeti National Park will be built to gravel level only, unlike other roads which run across the parks,” he said.
The proposed highway is likely to be the busiest in northern Tanzania.
It will be a $480 million freeway, stretching from Mto-wa-Mbujunction to Engaruka-Engaresero area, Lake Natron’s shores, Loliondo and Serengeti’s Kleins Corner en-route to Musoma town.
Critics say the commercial road will put at risk the spectacular annual migration of wildlife between Serengeti National Park and Kenya’s Maasai Mara Game Reserve.
“I am also a conservation ally and I assure you I’m not going to allow something that will ruin the ecosystem to be built,” said President Kikwete.
He said people residing in areas through which the road will pass through deserve better social services like improved infrastructure.
Local and international conservationists say the highway will run through the heart of Serengeti, putting the spectacular wildebeest migration at risk.
Three experts – Prof Antony Siclair of British Colombia Canada University, Dr Marcus Borner and Gerald Bigurube of Frankfurt Zoological Society – say increased traffic “will pose a great threat to the wildebeest migration and the integrity of the Serengeti as the number one natural wonder of the world, upon which Tanzania’s tourism depends.”
The Serengeti attracts hundreds of tourists every year, generating millions of dollars in revenue.
In 2007/2008, more than 202 animals were killed on various roads in the park.
The regional manager of the Tanzania Roads Agency, Deusdedit Kakoko, said the project will cost about $480 million, out of which $260 million will cover the Arusha-Serengeti section and $220 million the Serengeti-Musoma segment.
He said the real work will begin in early 2012, after a full-feasibility study this year.
In January 2011, the national roads agency will mobilise resources for the project and float tenders for consultants.