Environmentalists in particular but basically a broad cross-section of the East African business community and civil society promptly condemned Tanzania when news emerged that the country refused to sign the East African Community’s environmental and natural resource management protocol. The move was seen to weasel out of handing the community a say in environmental issues, particularly along trans-boundary ecosystems like the Masai Mara – Serengeti protected areas, where Tanzania seems hell bent to construct a highway across the most sensitive parts of the migration routes of the great herds.
A recently launched appeal against a ruling by the East African Court of Justice, preventing Tanzania from constructing a highway, already at the time made observers conclude that worse was yet to come, and the refusal to sign on to the protocol now affirms those fears as entirely correct.
The decision by Tanzania also puts in doubt the formal, coordinated cooperation over the much needed cleanup of Lake Victoria, which was to be dealt with under this very protocol too.
Demands by Tanzania to remove tourism from the protocol was in particular in Kenyan circles seen as yet another slap in the face, underscoring long pending sentiments across the East African Community that protectionist backward thinking in Tanzania’s leading political circles was holding back regional developments and again cast doubts over the country’s true commitment of remaining in the trade bloc, especially after repeated threats in the more recent past that the country could ditch the EAC in favor of SADC.
Tanzania tried hard to feign surprise last year and turned into the proverbial cry baby when fellow EAC members Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda decided that enough was enough and closed ranks to fast track a number of infrastructure projects, earning themselves the title ‘Coalition of the Willing’. A joint standard gauge railway, linking the port of Mombasa with the hinterland via Kampala and Kigali was one of the key elements of the new deal, then quickly expanded into a common customs administration’s area where the main clearance of goods destined for the hinterland countries was done at the port, cutting down on red tape and saving on time it took to deliver cargo to Uganda and Rwanda. The idea of a common tourist Visa, dismissed by Tanzanian government mouthpieces as a ‘security risk’ has since been implemented by Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya, again leaving Tanzania out of a concerted effort to promote wider travel by international visitors across the entire region.
Tanzania, though invited, declined to be part of the group and initially even succeeded to keep Burundi out of the meetings, though of late has that changed as Burundi has now after all decided to send regular observers to the summits of the three with plans to decide on joining hands with them as early as the first quarter of 2015.
Environmentalists and NGO’s which supported the legal case before the East African Court of Justice about the Serengeti Highway are presently engaged in a renewed major fundraising exercise to collect enough money for the upcoming appeals process and this latest decision by Tanzania, not to be part of the environmental protocol the EAC has developed, will only strengthen the existing sentiments and distrust that the Serengeti Highway was still very much on the drawing board.
Tanzania’s recent record over wildlife conservation and environmental protection has come under sustained criticism as numerous projects promoted and sanctioned by the current government are in direct collision with best green practices and may irreversibly destroy fragile habitats, with the plans to build a port in the very centre of the Coelacanth’s habitat at Mwambani being a prime case in point. But there is much more, from the withdrawal of the request to recognize the Eastern Arc Mountains as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, when the organization put its foot down about the early stages of plans of a highway across the Serengeti, to the ongoing plans to destroy the only breeding grounds of East Africa’s flamingos in favour of soda ash mining, to carving out 200 square kilometres from the Selous for Uranium mining besides plans to flood much of the core tourism area of the Selous by putting up a hydroelectric plant and dam at Stiegler’s Gorge.
All this and more was touched upon in the past here, and the links for the relevant articles are once again shown for the benefit of readers. Quo Vadis Tanzania is the question now, in regard of environmental protection as well as wildlife conservation, where the present day government has presided over the largest elephant slaughter in the recent history.
Given these connections, it is of little wonder for the more informed observers that the Tanzanian government was determined not to hand the region a tool like the protocol on the environment and management of natural resources, which could have impacted in any way or form on their own plans to, by hook or crook, go ahead and do as the present leadership pleases.
Main Photo: Tanzanian elephant (Nevit Dilmen)