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September 25, 2017

Tanzania stops plan for 'killer' Serengeti road after activists protest

An outline of the proposed road shows it would have cut off Serengeti from the Masai Mara, Kenya's most prized national reserve. /COURTESY
An outline of the proposed road shows it would have cut off Serengeti from the Masai Mara, Kenya's most prized national reserve. /COURTESY

Tanzania has abandoned its latest attempt to build a highway through Serengeti after a round of condemnation.

The 55-kilometre road close to Kenya could have killed the annual wildebeest migration to Masai Mara, effectively neutering Kenya's most prized wildlife park.

The road was initially planned for by former President Jakaya Kikwete in 2010 but activists moved to court and stopped it.

The plans were revived two weeks ago after President John Pombe Magufuli visited Kenya and ceremonially opened the Southern Bypass road, a controversial highway that was partly built inside Nairobi National Park, destroying about 150 acres.

Read: After leaving Kenya, Magufuli orders highway that may cripple Masai Mara

Also read: Activists pledge to stop Uganda-Tanzania pipeline to save Serengeti park

Environment activists in Kenya and the Serengeti Watch in Tanzania had promised to move to court to stop the construction of the road.

Kenyan conservationists warned Narok county would be hardest hit as the highway would block wildebeests coming to Kenya, killing the annual migration.The spectacle is Kenya's biggest annual tourist attraction.

The entire commercial road covers 385 kilometres but only 55km would have passed through the park.

“The public bid for constructing a paved highway across the Serengeti was a mistake and this section across the Serengeti will not be paved,” Patrick Mfugale, Tanzania National Roads Agency chief executive engineer, said last week.

The road is important to more than five million Tanzanians living on both sides of the park. They use the 55-kilometre unpaved road across the Serengeti to reach neighbouring towns but it is impassable during rainy seasons.

When it rains they have to travel a whole day to cover the more than 300km around the extensive park.

The Tanzanian government contracted a team from US Cornell University in 2011 to review its Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) and the Serengeti ten-year management plan.

Lead researcher Professor Stephan Schmidt noted that the road would link two key economic hubs in the Arusha and Lake Zone regions.

“Locals along the route might have more access to markets for selling agricultural produce and livestock as well,” he said.

But the analysis noted the road would also kill the great wildebeest migration especially in Kenya.

Schmidt said the animals, which migrate to Kenya every year looking for water, would be forced to remain in Tanzania without water.

“Fences put up for safety as mitigation would bring about the end to the great migration and leave animals with no access to water. The population of 1.3 million wildebeests could be reduced to 200,000,” he noted.

“This 85 per cent reduction in the wildebeest population could cause the end of the famous migration.”

Tanzania could still revive plans to tarmac the road in future.

Documents from Tanroads show the first phase will go up to Tabora B Gate at the park boundary.The next phase will extend this highway across the park to Loliondo, then presumably continue south. Construction will take 36 months.

“The works consist of upgrading the existing unpaved road to Bitumen standard, with a 6.5m wide carriageway and 1.5m wide shoulders on each side, for a total length of 59.65 km between Natta and Tabora B Gate,” tender documents from the Ministry of Works state.

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