Cable cars on Mount Kilimanjaro trigger debate

Tourism Players believe that a huge chunk of revenues will go to investors, thus denying the government and other stakeholders income. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Debate over the introduction of a cable car service on Mount Kilimanjaro has resurfaced with increasing mixed views over the project and its impact on tourism

Dar es Salaam. Debate over the introduction of a cable car service on Mount Kilimanjaro resurfaced yesterday as some stakeholders now call for President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s intervention on the matter.

The group says the reality on tourists wanting to climb Africa’s tallest mountain and a world heritage site will vanish, making the latter lack the reason to travel for the exercise.

They thus seek intervention of President Hassan and open a room for dialogue involving all stakeholders.

This comes at a time some stakeholders including the government feel that the venture would be a way of boosting the number of visitors to the fabled peak, cater to the physically disabled, the elderly and children as well as help tourists get up the mountain faster.

Introducing the idea back in 2019, the then minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Dr Hamisi Kigwangalla said running cable cars will increase tourist numbers by 50 percent by providing easier access to the mountain.

But, even at this time, Dr Kigwangalla was faced with a tough reaction from the then minister for Environment, Mr January Makamba who said it would be his department responsible for issuing a permit for the cable car after examining its potential risks.

“We will conduct studies to determine what the environmental risks are and what measures can be taken to mitigate them,” a post to Mr Makamba’s nearly 700,000 followers Twitter page says.

This prompted a string of rebukes from Dr Kigwangalla, who questioned Mr Makamba’s motivations and priorities as a minister.

“Do you think we can set up a project without taking into account laws for the protection of the environment?” he fired back at his colleague, also from the ruling CCM.

But, on Tuesday, November 30, 2021, deputy minister for Natural Resources and tourism, Ms Mary Masanja insisted the project was on track and would begin soon.

Ms Masanja said in a press conference held at the capital in Dodoma that cable cars would mostly be used by tourists and other climbers who cannot hike the mountain’s peak on foot.

However, in as much as the government believes there are significant benefits to the country, some stakeholders consider the venture would be a disaster to the world’s tallest freest mountain and its environs.

They argue that the first attempt to install a cable car on the mountain was rebuked in 1968 when a French team of technicians came to explore the possibilities of erecting cable cars on Kilimanjaro to avoid spoiling the natural beauty of the mountain and to leave it pristine.

“The matter was laid to rest, but now 52 years later, the mountain in all its glory is the subject of yet another attack from cable car investors,” said Mr Merwyn Nunes, chairman Voice of Kilimanjaro and Tato Trustee.

Mr Nunes says that one cannot use the cable car to climb the mountain but rather he/she will sit in a cable car, like he would sit in a taxi.

This, according to him, will reduce the number of people who intend to climb the mountain without using the cable route.

The conservationist states that the amount paid by the ride will go to the investor and expenditure in restaurants will also go to the investor.

“What will the government gain from the $15 million investment? He queries, adding that, “the one person who can save this mountain is ‘Mama Samia’.”

In terms of environment he says that the glaciers on the mountain have receded by 80 percent and the mountain streams drying up, “the presence of the cable car will add to the water problem becoming worse, as they will require water to wash the 20 cars daily and top use in the restaurant… ”

“We would like all stakeholders to meet with ‘Mama Samia’ so that we can advise from an expertise point of view and see who will benefit from this step between cable car investors or our country,” he says, adding.

“Otherwise, we will find ourselves ruining the reality of people wanting to climb the mountain.”

However, the project will not be the first of its kind; with similar projects having been carried out in South Africa, Italy, Sweden and the Himalayas.

Mount Kilimanjaro, a leading tourist destination, is about 5,895 metres above sea level, with roughly 50,000 climbers from across the world attempting to reach the mountain’s summit annually.

While the idea is great for adding more revenue to the financial growth of the country, Dr Ibrahim Jumbe, a tourist expert says the decision should have been made out of inclusive consultation from all stakeholders.

He says that the porters, guides, and cooks of Kilimanjaro must have been dissatisfied with the decision.

He notes that one mountaineer needs at least five to six staff to climb the mountain, including one to two guides, three to four porters, and one cook.

“Therefore, the government must decide to have both options to give people the opportunity to choose the route of use, although most people may choose to rent a cable car instead of following traditional methods.”

Meanwhile, the government regulation on tourism No. 11 of 2008, chapter 58 (2) states that only Tanzanians are allowed to do the business of mountain climbing.