First “International Serengeti Day” launched to halt controversial road plan
Dar es Salaam. The opposition to the road planned through the northern part of Serengeti National Park took a new dimension yesterday with organisations holding various activities all over the world against the project.
Called the 1st International Serengeti Day, its coordinators said the activities were both a celebration of the remarkable Serengeti ecosystem and an appeal to the world community to come to its aid. According to them, the commercial route through the park will not only devastate the ecosystem and the great wildlife migration, but also hurt the people of Tanzania by destroying tourism revenues, tens of thousands of jobs, and a proud legacy of conservation.
"Many countries have their own organisers who are coordinating Serengeti Day activities," noted a statement on the MyTanzaniaInfo.com website, which is part of the MyDestinationInfo.com network, a global network of sites created in 2006 by two young entrepreneurs, James Street and Neil Waller, to provide travel and business information of various countries.
An organisation spearheading the movement, Serengeti Watch, said thousands of people around the world took part in activities such as lectures and film shows, and also published magazine and newspaper articles to demonstrate their alliance in opposing the project.
The organisation is an outgrowth of SaveTheSerengeti.org, which was spontaneously formed by people opposed to the planned highway. It said the campaigners donned "Save the Serengeti" T-shirts and put up posters, among other things to express their concerns and fears over the menace against the future of the world heritage.
"The objective of International Serengeti Day is to bring awareness and information about the Serengeti road proposal. It is an attempt to create a bridge between people of the world, including East Africa, to help stop this plan. The activities launched by Serengeti Day will continue through the week and beyond," the organisation noted, adding that in Tanzania debates and seminars were held in some schools, while others marked the day by planting trees.
"A Facebook page, called Stop the Serengeti Highway, is approaching 40,000 people from many countries, including Tanzania, Kenya, and other African nations. All of these activities are intended to bring awareness about the great heritage of conservation in Tanzania, and about the planned commercial route through the Serengeti that threatens the ecosystem," it added.
The government's plan to build the road through the Serengeti has raised the hackles of environmentalists, conservationists, tourists, and wildlife-lovers all over the world. However, some experts argue that the proposed road is only the most recent in a wide variety of threats to the Serengeti ecosystem.
According to author Jafari Kideghesho, the Serengeti National Park also faces threats from illegal hunting and human encroachment due to "rapid human population growth, poverty, and failure of conservation authorities to offer compensation for losses that local people suffer as a result of conservation," as well as development projects such as the proposed road.
Despite local, regional and international pleas, the government has been adamant to keep the project. It has even refused funding by the World Bank and the German government for construction of an alternative route, saying the proposed road would be pivotal for the development of the country's northern areas.
According to Mr David Blanton of Serengeti Watch, the cost of the proposed alternative road has not been made public, but many sections of the southern route are already in place and others are about to be completed.
"So it may just mean constructing some segments of the new road to link these," he told The Citizen on Sunday this week via email.
He added: "The alternate southern route offers huge advantages, both for the Serengeti and the people of Tanzania. A southern route will preserve the Serengeti ecosystem. It will preserve the Serengeti's Unesco World Heritage status. A southern route will preserve Tanzania's heritage as a world leader in conservation. This heritage, which began with President Nyerere's wise leadership, has served the country well."
Mr Blanton also said that many observers point out that a southern route will better connect Lake Victoria region with markets in central Tanzania and Dar es Salaam. He noted that a southern route will as well preserve Tanzania's tourism industry.
"Tourism is a huge part of the economy, more than many people understand. It provides one fourth of the country's entire foreign income. Moreover, the World Travel and Tourism Council reports that it 'is expected to generate 377,000 jobs directly in 2011.' This is an enormous number and is expected to rise...
"However, a commercial route across the Serengeti will change all that. A recent survey of international tour operators predicted a huge decline in tourism if the highway is built. The big questions are: How will that income be replaced for the country? Where will those who lose their jobs go?" he observed.