Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve saved from Unesco delisting

Wednesday July 21 2021
Selous Game Reserve.

Aerial view of the river and wetlands in Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania. PHOTO | FILE


Unesco Tuesday announced it would retain Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve on the list of the World Heritage sites.

This is after Tanzania managed to convince the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (Unesco) World Heritage Committee not to delist Selous Game Reserve.

The decision to keep Selous in the list was reached Tuesday during the committee’s 44th meeting held in China.

“Tanzania has won in its defense against the Unesco which sought to remove the Selous Game Reserve from the World Heritage List due to the implementation of the Julius Nyerere Dam project on the Rufiji River (Stiegler's Gorge),” wrote Gerson Msigwa, Government Chief Spokesperson.

“The Selous Game Reserve will remain on the World Heritage List and our 2,115 megawatt generating project is progressing well. It has reached 54 percent and will be completed by June 2022.”

Dam in Tanzania.

The Julius Nyerere Hydro-Power Project, popularly known as Stiegler's project, along Rufiji River basin in the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania. PHOTO | COURTESY | ENERGY MINISTRY


In a tweet, the government spokesperson described the decision as a victory for the country and for President Samia Suluhu Hasan.

“Another great victory for Tanzania; Congratulations to President Samia Suluhu Hasan and congratulations to all Tanzanians.”

Sources in the Zanzibar Stone Town Conservation and Development Authority (ZSTCDA) told The EastAfrican Tuesday that “after heavy lobbying” the country’s delegation managed to retain the Reserve’s status.

ZSTCDA’s boss Madina Haji Hamisi was part of the country’s representatives in the meeting held in China.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) had called on the World Heritage Committee to strip the internationally famous Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania of its status as a World Heritage Site, arguing that the dam construction would cause significant and irreversible damage to the reserve’s ecosystem.

However, strong arguments and amendments to the decision presented by the Tanzanian delegation supported by the members of the World Heritage Committee (Uganda, Ethiopia, South Africa, Nigeria and Mali) received support from the members of the committee.

The Selous Game Reserve is the largest protected game reserve on the African continent covering an area of 54,600 square kilometres comprised of a vast wilderness with forests, grassy plains, mountains and open woodlands.

Selous Game Reserve.

Giraffes at the Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania. PHOTO | FILE

Selous was one of seven sites that was at risk of being added to the UN body's 'Danger List' following a decision by former President John Magufuli to construct the Stiegler’s Gorge dam, officially known as the Rufiji Hydropower Project.

Apart from the dam, the game reserve remains relatively undisturbed by human activity.

Unesco Director General Audrey Azoulay expressed concern about the threat the dam would pose.

“We’re concerned that a decision to go forward with the construction of the Stiegler’s dam is likely to have a devastating and irreversible impact on Selous’ unique ecosystem, and that it will jeopardise the potential of the site to contribute to sustainable development,” she explained.

During the 41st World Heritage Committee session in Poland in July 2017, the Tanzanian government’s delegation argued that the dam has been on its agenda since the 1960s, before the Selous Game Reserve was included in the World Heritage List.

The reserve was established in 1922, and in 1982 it was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site due to its rich diversity of wildlife and uninterrupted nature.

This reserve was named after Frederick Selous Courtney who was a great hunter and explorer.

In size, Selous is as large as eSwatini, twice the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and three times Kruger National Park in South Africa.

The World Heritage List includes both natural and cultural sites that are judged to have outstanding value for the whole of humanity.

The other six sites under consideration for the Danger List are Venice and its lagoon, which is being damaged from over-tourism; the Volcanoes of Kamchatka in Russia; Budapest, including the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue; the Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Ohrid region in Albania and North Macedonia; the W-Arly-Pendjari Complex in West Africa; and Kathmandu Valley in Nepal.


Additional information

  • The Tanzanian National Park Authority (TANAPA) in 2019 proposed and declared a change of identity of the northern sector of this reserve, which is now known as The Nyerere National Park.
  • According to the authorities, the hydroelectric structure on River Rufiji will be 130 metres high and 700 metres wide, covering an area of 1,350 square kilometres and with the capacity to hold back 34 billion cubic metres of water.
  • The project, estimated to boost the country’s erratic electricity generation capacity by 2,115 megawatts, has been awarded to two Egyptian companies, El Sewedy Electric Co. and Arab Contractors via a contract worth a $3.6 billion.