I am back in Dar es Salaam. But the dust has not settled in Arusha. Loliondo’s road is still busy.
Coincidentally, the road that patients use on their way to get ‘cure’ from Ambilikile Mwasapile, alias Babu, is the controversial proposed Serengeti highway. As I narrated in ‘Healing a Sick Nation the Loliondo Way’ (The Citizen 17/03/2011), it took us 12 hours to reach Babu’s Samunge village via that road. In fact I saw at least 10 vehicles that broke down along the way. The quest to construct the Serengeti highway has pitted the high echelons of powers in Tanzania against erstwhile donors and conservation experts. As I type this article the new media is splashed with news on new pressures to halt the plan. Deutche Welle’s coverage is quite telling.
Originally, the German radio’s online text dated 21/03/2011 notes, “it was environmental groups and scientists who were vocal in their opposition to Tanzania's proposal to build a highway through the vast Serengeti national park - home to the biggest animal migration found on earth”.
Now, this radio further notes, “heavyweights like the German government and the World Bank are making it clear that they also oppose the plans, which threaten to disrupt the annual migration of more than one million wildebeest, plus thousands of zebras, gazelles and other herbivores”.
A keen observer cannot help but wonder why they are stepping up the pressure now when Babu has stole the show. In fact just before I travelled to Loliondo a colleague showed me a press statement in the Daily News (11/03/2011) issued by the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO) and signed by Mustapha Akunaay who happens to be Mbulu’s Member of Parliament (MP). Expectedly, it virtually regurgitated the concerns of those opposed to the government plan.
Degradation of the Serengeti ecosystem and interference with migration of animals which will lead to “declassification by UNESCO World Heritage Commission” are some of their concerns.
As an alternative the statement recommended “to the Government that in order to link the districts north of the Serengeti to the existing road network without crossing the Serengeti i.e. the road should pass on the southern borders of Serengeti or to build the tarmac road from Karatu-Mbulu-Haydom-Sibiti River -Meatu and branch to Shinyanga, Singida and Musoma from Meatu - this will serve greater number of people than the proposed one”. What about Loliondo people? Those who are currently crisscrossing to Samunge village via Mto wa Mbu, Engaruka and Ngaresero do not even get to see the famed Serengeti national park as the road branches off just before Loliondo. The best they can see is a few zebras, giraffes, monkeys and antelopes near the volcanic Ol Doinyo Lengai (Mountain of God) and the fabled Shimo la Mungu (God’s Crater).
All they need is a better and shorter road. They don’t want to take the longer route via Serengeti when it gets rainy as it is now. But even peasants and pastoralists in the area need a better road regardless of whether it serves the interest of the government and its investors who are eyeing the soda ash in Lake Natron. As the Samunge elders I recently talked to indicated, they need a road that will reach their village. In fact that is the cry of many a remote villages across our country.
By the way, not so long ago the then MP for Ngorongoro, Moringe Parkipuny, came up with an alternative road that is now publicized by Navaya ole Ndaskoi. Interestingly, he dubs it the ideal East African Community (EAC) Highway.
Mind you I even saw a bus that came all the way to Loliondo from Nairobi via Dodoma, a journey that could be cut short by this proposed highway.
The proposed road starts at Lengijape and pass through Ngaresero as it connects to Naan on the eastern side of Loliondo. It then goes all the way to Kenya and pass through Narok and Lemek; it continues to Lolgorien and connects back to Sirari at the border and goes all the way to Musoma. It thus avoids interfering with the Tarangrire-Manyara and Serengeti-Maasai Mara ‘ungulate’ animal migrations. In contrast to the proposal of international conservationists, this road would not affect the rights of those who reside on the sides of Serengeti to access roads nor does it affect the environment of the hunter-gatherer community residing on the southern tip of the park.
So, when Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO) pursues their position “in collaboration with Tourism Confederation of Tanzania (TCT)” and in line with international conservationists one wonders in whose interest are they doing so. Is it in the interest of animals at the expense of people for the sake of tourist investments? Or is it in the interest of the people? It is in this regard the emergence of Babu and the government’s alleged interest in promoting ‘medical tourism’ could actually prove to be a cure to the Serengeti highway, nay, Loliondo road.
We can go on and debate whether a 53 kilometers tarmac road should cut the Serengeti park or not. But we can surely not argue against constructing a road that will reach the capital of Ngorongoro i.e. Loliondo. After all Tanzania’s rural and urban areas ought to be interconnected.
© Chambi Chachage
The Citizen 26/03/2011