Government: Conservationists missed the point on Selous status

Wednesday July 21 2021
Selous pic
By Gadiosa Lamtey

Dar es Salaam. The government said yesterday that there was no way it could fail to defend the Selous Game Reserve after the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) had violated the guidelines and procedures in its proposal to delete the protected area from the list of world heritage sites.

Unesco, the government said, banked its point on a lopsided argument.

This, according to Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism Dr Allan Kijazi, made it easy for the government’s experts to shoot down Unesco’s proposal to delist the Selous Game Reserve from the list of world heritage sites.

Dr Kijazi’s utterance comes shortly after the government effectively shot down a proposal to delist the Selous Game Reserve as advanced during the ongoing meeting of the world heritage committee of the Unesco continues in China.

At the meeting, the world heritage committee of the Unesco is examining the state of conservation of around 250 sites that are on world heritage list.

AFP news agency reported earlier this week that nearly 50 new sites could be added to the over 1,100 listed worldwide by the Unesco as world heritage sites during the two-week long virtual meetings hosted by China.


About 53 of the 250 sites are on the committee’s “List of World Heritage in Danger” -- a move meant to prod officials into taking corrective action.

Those at risky list includes the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania - one of Africa’s biggest remaining wilderness expanses.

Unesco experts say rampant elephant poaching, as well as the sale of logging rights and a dam project on the Rufiji river could cause “irreversible damage.”

However, Dr Kijazi said yesterday that the government’s experts had effectively defended the fact that the area taken for the hydropower project was very small, covering only 1.8 percent of the massive heritage site.

“The remaining 98.2 percent of the area left for wildlife is larger than Uganda and Switzerland where wildlife and other ecosystems are safe. This tells you how unjust the information that had been supplied to Unesco was,” he said.

The government’s experts said there were a number of heritage issues hidden in the Selous and that one of the tasks of experts was to ensure that those issues were known so that any decision to be taken must be one that takes into account the real situation.

“So we proved to the International Union for Conservation of Nature that the construction of the dam was not a threat to the game reserve.”

Dr Kijazi showered praise on Tanzanian experts with regard to how they worked to explain the facts about the game reserve and how they informed the conference that the procedures were violated and that the information they had was misleading.

Why the ruling matters

The prestigious World Heritage label can be a boon for tourism while encouraging governments to protect cultural or environmental treasures, under the watchful eye of Unesco advisers.

But addition isn’t permanent, and sites can also be stripped of their status or be warned they are at risk. The agenda for this year is particularly heavy after last year’s meeting was cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Selous was established in 1922, and in 1982 it was declared a Unesco world heritage site thanks to its rich diversity of wildlife and uninterrupted nature.

Large numbers of elephants, black rhinoceroses, cheetahs, giraffes, hippopotamuses and crocodiles live in this immense sanctuary, which measures 50,000 square kilometres.

Tanapa in 2019 proposed and declared a change of identity of the reserve to be known as The Nyerere National Park as a way of honouring the first president of Tanzania Julius Nyerere.

Tanzania is home to several Unesco heritage sites, including: Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and Ruins of Songo Mnara, Serengeti National Park, Selous Game Reserve, Kilimanjaro National Park, Stone Town of Zanzibar and Kondoa Rock-Art Sites.