Today I was alerted by my good friend and Kenya Elephant Forum fellow member, @aworipat of a rather candid letter to the president of Tanzania, His Excellency Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, from Bipin Vishani, a concerned citizen concerning the government’s plan to construct a highway cutting through the Serengeti. This is the original unedited version. An edited version of the letter was published on the Tanzanian Daily, The Citizen. Unfortunately, the Citizen website seems to have crushed or something [AllAfrica.com seems to have picked the piece before this happened]… but this is probably a better expression of the writers sentiments than the edited version.
It is rather lengthy but I suggest you take the time to read this brilliant letter…
In danger: One of the natural wonders of the world
OPEN LETTER TO HIS EXCELLENCY THE PRESIDENT OF UNITED REPUBLIC OF TANZANIA
His Excellency Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete,
The President: United Republic of Tanzania;
Re: THE ROAD CONSTRUCTION PROJECT MTO WA MBU – LOLIONDO – MUGUMU:
With respect and humility, I request you to grant me audience through this esteemed paper while I am aware that you have a very busy schedule. Since we just finished commemorating the 11th Mwalimu Nyerere Day 2010 on October 14th, I feel apt that in view of Mwalimu’s legacy; these concerns of mine be shared; both as my humble opinion as well as my contribution as your loyal subject.
Leaving the Environmental Impact Assessment Report that Your Excellency re-ordered and are awaiting for aside; many pleas that were directed against the project concentrated on the Tourism industry (which contributes to a significant share in employment opportunities as well as towards the National Revenue); and Environmental damage – two subjects that are very close to Your Excellency – since you have personally been a promoter of Tanzania overseas during your travels; and the fact that Tanzania as well as you personally are well regarded locally and internationally as an Environmental-friendly.
Therefore, I would put my emphasis on how the Commercial road construction (Highway) would impact on the LOCAL RURAL COMMUNITIES it is supposed to serve; both on the western side of SENAPA and its eastern counterpart.
Your Excellency, at least 90% of Humankind believes that its own specie (HomoSapien) is; by virtue of its existence – superior to ALL other living things on planet Earth; except their Maker. Considering this statement, it therefore makes sense that all non-human living things in NCA and SENAPA are subject to the demands of human activity and settlement if and when it becomes necessary for the sake of ECONOMIC PROGRESS, COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT and NATIONAL SELF-RELIANCE. These form just a basis towards FUNDANMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS.
Therefore, in the opinion of most Tanzanians, Government and CCM leaders, activists AGAINST the project have NOT justifiably satisfied Your Excellency as to their grounds of protest. I can sympathize with the Government’s sentiments to some extent on this issue. But let us consider the pros, the cons and the suggested alternative choice which might provide a ‘win-win’ situation.
Your Excellency, very senior Government and CCM officials have vehemently supported this project for the same above reasons (LOCAL RURAL COMMUNITIES and infrastructure development) and other justifiable reasons as well. Some other ‘patriotic Tanzanians’ went as far as to comment that our Nation is an Independent State and therefore not subject to the whims and directives of foreign (and former colonial) powers as on to how we plan and execute our own economic progress according to our own will.
The Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) had carried out a research on the SENAPA for more that 50 years, and according to their research the (estimated) human population to the North East of SENAPA around the year 2009 was less than 1,000,000. The area comprises Game Reserves, clusters of villages and towns including Loliondo and environs to as far as southern parts of Lake Natron. FZS is just one of many institutions involved in various fields of interests concerning SENAPA.
These LOCAL RURAL COMMUNITIES mainly depend on subsistence agriculture and others are traditional pastoralists. From their harvest of crops, dairy products and meat, what is not consumed in the immediate vicinities would find its way towards Arusha city or a neighboring country. To date, there has not been a substantiated concern that produce is destroyed in godowns/holding facilities due to lack of markets or ready buyers.
Karatu, Mto wa Mbu and their respective environs are the ‘fruit and vegetable baskets’ for Arusha City consumers; if not the whole Arusha region and beyond. Again, we have not yet received substantive reports that their local produce is rotting in farms, warehouses or other storage facilities due to lack of markets or buyers. In fact, I am reliably informed that there are times when even their whole stocks are depleted, the demand for more supplies is there.
My point here is: the LOCAL RURAL COMMUNITIES of these areas East of the Serengeti really do not have JUSTIFIABLE need or requirement for a NEW Commercial Highwayfor their current infrastructure needs. If the existing infrastructure funds would be utilized to IMPROVE existing roads and other facilities, a lot of revenue would be saved. This similar situation is prevalent in the Western Side of SENAPA. Instead of introducing a NEW Commercial Highway, let the Government employ available funds for major improvements on existing roads and other societal services.
With the above having been mentioned, it is therefore my HUMBLE opinion that there is really no JUSTIFIABLE reason to build a NEW COMMERCIAL HIGHWAY between Mugumu – Loliondo – Mto wa Mbu.
But let us say that the Government will go ahead with its plans and implement the project- what next?
- There will arise the need to establish permanent maintenance and service camps along the Commercial Highway, (Permanent Human Activities)
- There will arise the need to install service stations, rest points, human activity facilities etc between Mugumu and Loliondo; and between Loliondo and Mto wa Mbu,
- The above will necessitate emergence of ‘satellite villages’ along the whole stretch from Mto wa Mbu to Loliondo; as well as from Loliondo to Mugumu – within the ‘conservation, reserve and park boundaries’ contrary to existing and current regulations governing similar lands,
- The speed limits applicable to Park regulations will not be applicable to the Commercial Highway, thus being an imminent threat to life and limb,
- The standard ‘Commercial Highway’ two way lane is at least 10 Meters wide, with a ‘service area of about 5 meters each side, making the width of the road about 20 Meters. Which means we end up with a ‘belt’ 20Meters wide from Mto wa Mbu to Mugumu
- As per the Kiswahili adage ‘Aendapo Mamba, Kenge Hufuata’ (Where the Crocodile Goes, the Monitor Lizard will Follow’): The 1.5 million or so wildebeest migration is also joined by other species of grazing wildlife e.g. zebra, impala etc; and they in turn are followed by the predator animals like lions, hyena, cheetahs etc – this cycle will be severely disturbed.
Your Excellency, already there exists complaints (imaginary and real) concerning Land Disputes in the areas East of SENAPA, within the NCA and nearby environs. According to various media, NGOs, Human Rights groups etc – events of violence, bloodshed, brutality and various Human Rights abuses have been mentioned. These have not yet been COMPLETELY AND AMICABLY RESOLVED. The Commercial Highway project would possibly aggravate more such misunderstandings between LOCAL RURAL COMMUNITIES and the authorities. I humbly propose solving the existing issues first before commencing on a new project of such magnitude as this Commercial Highway.
The Commercial Highway will OPEN THE FLOODGATES of various greedy land grabbers in the guise of ‘investors’ – both local and foreign based. It COULD get out of hand, and the result would be catastrophic for our Nation’s peace and stability. Similar to the Berlin Meeting after WWII when ‘conquerors’ gathered for the ‘PARTITIONING OF AFRICA’, the Commercial Highway is likely going to be the ‘conference table’ for the ‘PARTITIONING OF SERENGETI!!’.
If we are to honour our Father of the Nation, Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere – who had made a solemn promise to preserve and upkeep wildlife and nature sanctuaries for posterity; then we must maintain our National Pride, refuse to sell our values and seek the maximum good for the majority citizens, which is the LOCAL RURAL COMMUNITY throughout the Nation.
Your Excellency, an alternative; a ‘win-win’ route has been proposed. This is the southern route, which will end up serving FIVE times the number of LOCAL RURAL COMMUNITIES the so-called Serengeti Highway is envisaged to serve. All the information I have mentioned above regarding the whole issue is available on the website ‘http://www.savetheserengeti.org’ and its links. The information regarding Land Disputes is available in various Tanzanian Human Rights websites as well.
Please consider the above with due attention, Your Excellency; and decide with your known wisdom, discernment and farsightedness. Let the footprints you will leave your successor come 2015 be a legacy of Honour, Pride and Admiration not only of your Tanzanian subjects; but to the World as well.
It my ardent wish that the SERENGETI SYMPHONY OF NATURE – WILL NOT BECOME A SERENGETI TRAGEDY OF HUMAN FOLLY!!
Thanking you for bearing with me for such a long duration, I wish to assure you of my best intentions and total cooperation at all times, and in the meantime
WISHING YOU PERSONALLY CONTINUED GOOD HEALTH, STRENGTH AND WISDOM AS YOU LEAD AND GUIDE OUR NATION TOWARDS A PEACEFUL 2015!!
Mungu Ibariki Tanzania
Mungu Ibariki Africa