Tanzania loses Serengeti road case

Saturday June 21 2014
zebraz

Zebras cross the Serengeti highway. The East African Court of Justice ruled yesterday that the planned tarmacked road from Loliondo-Kleins Gate/Tabora B to Mugumu/Natta would damage the Serengeti National Park’s ecosystem. PHOTO | FILE

Arusha. Tanzania has lost a case on the proposed highway across the Serengeti National Park filed by a Nairobi-based animal welfare organisation. The First Instance Division of the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) ruled yesterday that the planned tarmacked road from Loliondo-Kleins Gate/Tabora B to Mugumu/Natta would damage the park’s ecosystem.

The decision is a big blow to Tanzania, which had vowed to continue with its plans to build the road to tarmac level despite growing pressure from environmentalists and wildlife conservationists.

President Jakaya Kikwete had earlier promised supporters a commercial highway across the Serengeti--a pledge greeted with strong international protest on the grounds that it posed a great threat to the World Heritage site. The government has been reiterating its position on the highway, which was meant to ease transport problems of the poor communities in the neighbourhood of the park, saying it will go ahead and build the road.

The President once accused groups lobbying against the planned highway of distorting the facts. He said the highway would not be built through the Serengeti, which is acclaimed internationally as a World Heritage Site. He said then that his government only sought to reduce the length of the current road passing through the Serengenti.

Reading the judgment, Deputy Principal Judge Isaac Lenaola said that, given the ecological concerns, the plan to build the bitumen standard road across the park was unlawful.

The action would also infringe the East African Community (EAC) Treaty under which member countries are compelled to respect protocols on conservation, protection and management of natural resources. The court, therefore, restrained the government from going ahead with the project because it had the potential to inflict “irreparable and irreversible” damage to the environment.  “We have already ruled on that subject based on the evidence before us and no more,” Judge Lenaola said. He noted that although building the road may be a popular decision by policy makers, the  environment is rarely ever repaired once damaged.

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The case was filed in December 2010 by the African Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW), a charitable Pan African animal welfare and community-centred organisation registered in Kenya.

The Tanzania government intended to build and maintain the Natta/Mugumu-Tabora B/Kleins Gate-Loliondo road across the Serengeti.

In its submission, ANAW had argued that the proposed highway would have “deleterious environmental and ecological effects” on the delicate Serengeti ecosystem and the adjoining protected areas such as the Maasai Mara game reserve in Kenya. These would include disruption of animal migration. The Serengeti/Maasai-Mara ecosystem is famous the world over for the spectacular annual wildbeest migration and draws thousands of tourists and nature lovers from overseas.