Tanzania has vowed to go ahead with plans to construct a $480-million highway through the Serengeti National Park, despite worldwide protests from conservationist groups.
Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Shamsa Mwangunga told The EastAfrican in Arusha that the proposed 480km highway through the heart of the wildebeest migration route is still on course.
“The project will not interfere with the Serengeti eco-system and the spectacular annual wildlife migration as green activists claim,” said Ms Mwangunga.
She said the road was a major pledge made to Lake Victoria voters, and the government was obliged to fulfil the Chama cha Mapinduzi 2005 general election manifesto, which brought President Jakaya Kikwete into power.
Tanzania will go to the polls in October and political pundits say the highway is a matter of life and death for the government.
Green associations, including Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST), are working over time to raise petitions to pressurise the state to take an alternative route around the park.
WCST said it is soliciting support from environmental NGOs to form a coalition against the commercial highway through this fragile part of the Serengeti.
The group argues that there is no alternative to the Serengeti National Park, but there are many alternative areas for building an effective road system.
James Lembeli, a Member of Parliament (CCM-Kahama) who worked as a conservationist for 12 years before joining politics in 2005, said the 50 km stretch through the Serengeti would have horrendous consequences for the ecosystem.
Mr Lembeli said apart from disrupting the migration, the road would lead to a rise in poaching as it would be easy for criminal elements to access the area.
The Serengeti park attracts thousands of tourists every year who come to witness the wildebeest migration, generating millions of dollars for Tanzania.
Deusdedit Kakoko, the regional manager for Tanzania Roads Agency, told The EastAfrican in Arusha last week that out of the project’s total cost, $260 million will cover the Arusha-Serengeti section and $220 million the Serengeti-Musoma segment.
Mr Kakoko said work will begin early 2012, after a full feasibility study has been conducted by the end of this year and anticipated impacts dealt with.
“In January next year, Tanroads will mobilise resources for the project and float tenders for consultants to pave the way for the real work,” he said.
The freeway, which is projected to be one of the busiest highways in the northern zone, will run from Mto-wa-Mbu junction-Engaruka-Engaresero area, Lake Natron shores, Loliondo and Serengeti’s Kleins Corner en-route to Musoma town.