Tanzania has been barred from constructing a road across the Serengeti National Park by the East African Court of Justice.
The judges permanently restrained Tanzania from putting up the road, terming the construction plan “unlawful”.
However, in a brief statement reacting to the ruling, the Natural Resources and Tourism Minister Lazaro Nyalandu, said the decision did not mean anything to Tanzania “because the government had long decided not to build the road across the Serengeti”.
The ruling — in a case instituted by the Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW) in 2010 — affirms the East African Community Treaty’s role in protecting the region’s environment from injurious actions of member states.
The Kenyan non-governmental organisation had argued that the famous Serengeti ecosystem was an invaluable site that deserved full protection.
The NGO said it feared that by deciding to put up the road, Tanzania was removing itself from its Unesco obligations with respect to the Serengeti.
Unesco declared Serengeti a world heritage site of outstanding universal value. It argued that a road going through the park would have serious negative effects on its environment.
It also argued that the herds of animals in the park were a trans-boundary resource.
The NGO backed its decision to go to court with Article 30(1) of the EAC Treaty, which gives individuals and organisations the right to refer to the court matters that they feel are unlawful or infringe on the provisions of the Treaty.
ANAW’s action followed a June 2010 announcement by a communications officer with the Tanzania National Parks that the country intended to build a 452km road as part of Tanzania’s Transport Sector Improvement Programme.
“By instituting a permanent injunction, the court, in essence, ruled that the construction of the road as was planned by Tanzania was in violation of the Treaty as far as the protection of the Serengeti-Mara Ecosystem is concerned,” said Saitabao Ole Kanchory, the lawyer who represented ANAW.
Kahindi Lekalhaile, a wildlife scientist based in Nairobi, said a road through the park would have interfered with the ecosystem.
During the case, some people termed the action by ANAW as interfering with Tanzania’s sovereignty.
However, ANAW’s executive director Josphat Ngonyo said the organisation respected Tanzania’s sovereignty, besides recognising its need for national development.
“By taking the matter before EACJ, ANAW was protecting a resource that would be of future benefit not only to Tanzanians but also the entire humanity,” said Mr Ngonyo.
The ruling confirmed an earlier win by ANAW following an appeal by Tanzania’s Attorney General, who claimed that the Court did not have jurisdiction over such matters.
His case was thrown out by EACJ’s appellate division on October 19, 2011, with the court ruling that the EACJ had the mandate to hear and decide on the case.
“If the judges had given Tanzania the go-ahead to construct the road, the action would have adversely affected the movement of millions of animals particularly wildebeest and zebra, which undertake an annual migration,” said John Kuloba, an environmental impact assessment expert who had presented a witness statement during the proceedings.
Mr Kuloba also said that by restraining Tanzania, the EACJ judges had contributed to maintaining Serengeti’s ecological integrity, besides protecting a resource shared between Kenya and Tanzania.
But Samuel Nangiria, co-ordinator of Ngorongoro NGOs’ network, was not pleased with the ruling, which, he said, would mostly affect the Maasai people who had hoped the road would open up their land to the nearby towns.
“The decision will affect us. Residents of Loliondo and Mugumu don’t have good roads to access nearby towns,” he said.
Additional reporting by Erick Kabendera