Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Observer Reporter's Rejoinder on Serengeti

Following Tracy McVeigh's article Serengeti highway threatens national park's wildbeest migration that was published in guardian.co.uk/TheObserver on Sunday, 27 March 2011, a brief response was posted in Wanazuoni's webpage alongside Navaya ole Ndaskoi's earlier critique on a more or less similar proposal against the highway. Fortunately Tracy has presented a brief response below. For those who are concerned this is another space for all those who really care, not only about the animals in Serengeti and beyond, but also about the people of Tanzania and the world at large, to jointly chip in and come up with the best possible alternative.

Re: The Article that Attacks My Piece in The Observer

Firstly can I say that yes, the lack of African names on that letter was noticeable. I don't know why that was the case.

But I do know that it is impossible in today's world to argue that individual state's should be able to make decisions about big environmental issues in isolation and without intense scrutiny from the rest of the world. They hold resources within their man-made borders only as part of the bigger environmental jigsaw that is this planet.

The rest of the world, including Tanzania, is perfectly entitled to make strong demands on Japan at the moment to be reassured about its nuclear safety. Equally it was reasonable for the international community to protest at China's appallingly levels of pollution. The citizens of those countries would expect no less than total support from outside.

It is hard for a continent like Africa, plundered, raped and forcibly reshaped by European colonialists for so much of recent history, to accept the international voice. Why should it? Too often there is someone who wants to make money behind it. But it is a cheap shot to encourage resentments - as valid as they are - to colour the environmental picture. The Serengeti has been one of the most scientifically studied areas in the world.

Increasingly, those scientists will be African, but at the moment many are or were American, Scandanavian, or wherever. What matters is the science they have collected and the model that there is a collective belief in. Surely that knowledge has to be listened to? It is Africans who will feel the crushing impact.

The effects of climate change is already destroying lives in Kenya and Tanzania, lengthening drought cycles.

Roads are key, why should Tanzania not have good roads, of course it should - but careful planning of roads is vital. And be careful too about what the roads will be used for - there is clearly an enormous interest from companies who could make big money by being able to whisk Tanzania's mineral and other resources straight out of the country in their raw form, to be processed, bring jobs and wealth, elsewhere.

Then tourism - does anyone not know what the Serengeti is most famous for? That wildebeest and its zebra outriders are beyond iconography!

Tourists have many, many places to choose from in the world now. And fuel costs mean flights are increasingly expensive so people will get more and more picky about where they go. To even risk damaging one of the country's biggest tourist attractions is, what any young business student can tell you, mad.

Yes there is not enough Tanzanian ownership of the hotels etc, but the international hotel chains stretch across the world not just on the Indian Ocean, and there is employment - and training on offer to locals who should be then be being encouraged by government to go on and invest in their own businesses and their own tourism projects. Look to your government to answer questions of fairness in ownership - many countries have stricter rules on foreign ownership.

Just because scientists are foreign, and you don't like what they are saying, is not I'm afraid, to the rest of the world, including the rest of Africa, a good enough argument to allow Tanzania to shoot the messengers and go ahead with this controversial project.


Susanna March 30, 2011 at 6:46 PM  

The article Tracy McVeigh is responding to here was not a response to her own article, but to an opinion piece written by various scientists in Nature magazine months ago. I’d say that Navaya ole Ndaskoi’s response is an urgent reaction putting the Nature opinion piece in a historical context of conservationists, without knowledge about or even concern for the situation of people in Tanzania, telling the Tanzanian government what to do – and being listened to. The scientists seem oblivious to the fact that the “southern route” – that will have its own environmental impacts that it does not seem like they have looked into – does not benefit the very people that have been promised the road through the Serengeti NP. Navaya’s response is not really a reply to scientific reasons voiced against these road plans. It strikes me that the arguments of the Nature opinion piece are based on fences and not on a road. On the other hand the Tanzanian government’s own EIA does mention very high figures for expected traffic on the Serengeti road. I don’t know how they got these figures, but they certainly suggest that there would be a very serious impact on the migration even without fences.

Partly because of the serious impact on wildlife Navaya himself has actually for months been proposing a road into Kenya and around the Maasai Mara. He even mentions this proposal a bit further down on this blog in a Swahili article about the international campaign against the Serengeti road. http://udadisi.blogspot.com/2011/03/vuta-nikuvute-sakata-la-kujenga.html

Regarding the Observer article itself, it’s just one in the bunch, and not the worst one, though a mix of some recent news and some quite dated information. Like most articles, I’d say the information mostly comes from the international Stop the Serengeti Highway/Serengeti Watch movement, which isn’t that strange, as the Serengeti road seems to be a non-issue for the great majority of Tanzanians (with Navaya as a shining exception). What is stranger is that so little is heard from the directly affected people in Ngorongoro and Serengeti Districts. I, as an in this regard quite clueless person from Sweden, have certainly expressed myself more on-line than all Serengeti District people combined. My impression from the little I’ve heard about views on the ground is that those who are now speaking on behalf of these people are hugely understating the popularity of the government proposal (among those that have heard of it) and overstating the importance of tourism. Even if the percentage is low, there is a considerable number of people in Ngorongoro and Serengeti that know English and have access to the internet. I think it’s the job of those people to get into the debate about how to secure the rights to decent infrastructure without serious environmental consequences.

Chambi Chachage March 30, 2011 at 9:50 PM  


Was this response written by a scientist? In my view, from a scientific point of view, this is a no response. The criticism of the critique of the proposal for the Serengeti Higway was not so much that the critics did not like what the 'scientists' had to say, but that the science of those particular 'scientists' was brought to question. Their methods and conclusions are thoroughly questionable and hence raising suspicion that is further rendered valid by the seeming dance of the 'scientist' to the tune of he who paid the piper ... For me, it does not matter the nationality of the scientist, what matters is the quality of the empirical evidence on which the scientist bases their arguement. The gist of Tracy's response does not seem to show any consideration for the peoples of Tanzania who are prohibited to 'develop' where they live and are forced to live in 'unchanging' or detoriating conditions of squalor just so that the foreign tourist gets to see the wild beasts? I am incensed by this kind of attitude and worse still the sanctimonious discourse, such as exhibited in Tracy's response.

Good morning and you can quote me on this ....

Norah Owaraga (BA, MSc.)
Website: www.owaraganorah.net
Olap lo Okwang (when children become white in dust), Ekaru 2011
The month of March, the Year 2011

Tracy April 9, 2011 at 3:04 PM  

Dear Norah, thats not really a fair summary of what I said. I don't think Tanzanians should be prohibited to develop - I think every nation in the world should be prohibited to develop if it damages the environment. There are alternatives to this road that would let man and animal live together - why shouldn't Tanzania try to strive for that?
best wishes,

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