behind the headlines

The public outcry over the Serengeti Highway Project

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 · Category Environment · comments 0

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On July 31, Tanzania's President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete announced that the planned highway would move forward if he was to be elected for a new term. Now that he is, a public cryout is taking place concerning the commercial highway running from east to west straight through the Serengeti National Park. Right or wrong?

The truth about the Serengeti National Park

Every spring the Great Migration takes places of more than two million wildebeest, zebras, gazelles and other grazers marching north to the Kenyan National Park of Masai Mara in search of greener pastures. It is one of the most spectacular migrations of animal life on our planet if not the most spectacular. It's one of the reasons tourist come to see this magnificent scenery and one of the only Wild parks without any heavy traffic passing true till date. I have seen it in 1989 and it is truely amazing.

Why the new road is necessary?

Populations TanzaniaPopulations TanzaniaThere is no doubt among the supporters and the scientific (!) opponents, that a new road connection needs to be build between the Eastern ocean and the Western part of Tanzania. Why? More than 5 million inhabitants of Tanzania are currently living in the Western provinces south of the Serengeti National Park and another half million on the Western part of Serengeti Park close to or at the shores of Lake Victoria.

Most villages here are in favour of the road. The only roads out there right now are spine-crunching gravel tracks. People have been praying for it for years.” The most important reasons: cheaper goods; getting to the hospital faster; being better connected to towns; and having a higher chance of someday getting electricity and cellphone service. Things we Western people take for granted!

Rwanda, Burundi and Eastern DR Congo have no rail links and are dependent on the northern road link from Mombasa and the southern link from Dar es Salaam. Once a tarmac road is built that links the existing tarmac Musoma – Mwanza Road to Arusha it will be the best and easiest link between Mombasa Port with Rwanda, Burundi and Eastern Congo and it will almost certainly attract large amounts of heavy long-haul traffic.

So we are basically looking at a true Economy versus Ecology dilemna. When such a dilemna crosses our path in the West, we always have some opposition but mostly we keep our months shut in favour of economic growth. The new connection will bring great traffic of goods and economic growth to the African nation of Tanzania. So a better connection, tarmac road and new railroad are a must have. Besides, it's not like tourist over the past 30 years went beyond themselves to also bring some of those dollars to the villages and poor Tanzanians in the West, is it? Or did anybody ever talk or think about the Masai, who have been evicted from their lands due to policies dating back to Colonial times. They cannot enter nor use the grasslands of the Serengeti national park.

The proposed Northern road

Northern road Serengeti ParkNorthern road Serengeti Park“The decision’s been made,” said Salvator Rweyemamu, the president’s spokesman. He said Tanzania had done more to protect wildlife than most countries, and he added, with clear frustration at outsiders, that “you guys always talk about animals, but we need to think about people.” Fifty-three kilometers of the planned 480 kilometer highway would cross the northern section of the park - a critical area for the wildebeest, which use it as a refuge for much of the year and migrate north into Kenya's Masai Mara Reserve.

The increase in traffic will also increase the development of the Liliondo Provinces and create bigger cities with more inhabitants. Famed conservationist Richard Leakey suggests alternatively, that any road crossing the Serengeti be elevated so as to allow for animals freely moving below it, and as a way of increasing tourism revenues. Elevating the road would be an option for the Northern route, because fencing has proved to be a killer for both mankind and animals.

An elevated road is much more costly though and quit ridiculous if you come to think of it. Has anybody ever seen the highspeed railway system build in Italy? It's not nice. It's a concrete shame.

The alternative Southern road

Southern alternative Serengeti parkSouthern alternative Serengeti parkWestern scientists have recently come up with an alternative route south of the park, which they say will link up more towns and spare the wildlife. As you can see in the map alternate routes have been proposed, which though more expensive in that they would be longer to travel and construct.

Opponents from the Northern Route like the Frankfurt Zoological Society are trying to convince the general public that the Southern route would serve 5 times more inhabitants than the Northern route, but they aren't telling the whole truth. They somply bypass the fact that connecting people and villages is not even half the story as far as the economy is concerned. It's the trade between the Central African Republics and the East African ports that will eventually generate most of the extra revenues.

So what about the Southern route?

  • Plan and build the south road tarmac connection from Karatu to join the existing Shinyanga - Musoma Road at Meatu.
  • Upgrade the existing Murram road to Tarmac from Meatu to Lamadi
  • Upgrade the Arusha - Loliondo Road
  • Close the existing murram National Park Road through Seronera for commercial through-traffic and designate it for tourism access only
  • Improve the Musoma – Mugumu access road

My Conclusion

What hits me the most is that the suggested route by Tanzania's president arrouses a public outcry mostly from people not living in Tanzania and even people who never visited the country let alone the Serengeti National Park. For most of us this is a far off place. At home we complain about traffic jams each day. In our own western societies we have build numerous roads across our countries out of economic reasons and we have virtually destroyed every form of wildlife. But, this is some poor African country and of course we all know what is best for Tanzania. Why don't we stop writing letters and signing petitions. Offer something concrete. Gather some 1 mln people and let's all contribute about a $ 100 and than say to the Tanzanian government; Look we raised a $ 100 mln which would be enough to build the Southern route. In short: Offer a solution and the means to the solution and don't stand at the side crying out loud.

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