21st June 2014
Major victory for wildlife conservation in Africa as the Serengeti Highway is ruled unlawful
A highway cutting directly through the world famous Serengeti National Park has been ruled unlawful by the East African Court of Justice.
Long-time readers of this blog may remember an almost unbelievable story we reported in September 2012 about an asphalt highway planned to cut directly through the Serengeti National Park. This was proposed by the Tanzanian government to boost economic growth and improve transport links to neighbouring regions. The plans caused international outrage when first announced, with scientists warning of an "environmental disaster" that would severely degrade animal populations, diminish the quality of grazing, trigger more grass fires and turn the ecosystem into a net source of CO2.
While Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete vowed to proceed with the project, the African Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW) began a legal challenge. For months, the plans were in legal limbo and news remained sketchy. Yesterday, however, the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) – a treaty-based judicial body of the East African Community – ruled in favour of the Serengeti. It has officially banned the government of Tanzania from constructing a paved road across the northern Serengeti.
The ANAW, after winning its case, has issued the following statement: "In a milestone development, the East African Court of Justice has declared in its ruling today, 20th June 2014, that constructing a bitumen road across the world famous Serengeti National Park is unlawful. The Judges have restrained the Tanzanian Government from constructing the road. ANAW fully respects Tanzania's sovereignty and its need for national development. However, by taking up this matter, ANAW was in actual fact protecting a resource that would be of future benefit not only to Tanzanians or East Africans but also the entire humanity."
Josphat Ngonyo, Executive Director of ANAW, comments as follows: "This was not a win for ANAW, not for our lawyer, Saitabao Ole Kanchory, not for Serengeti Watch, not for our expert witness John Kuloba – but for the millions of animals in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. It is a win for nature and God's creation. Nature has won today. We send congratulatory messages to all our partners in Serengeti Watch and all who walked with us over the entire period that the case was in court."
This news is a major victory for wildlife conservation. Sadly, the battle is not over yet. A longer term threat still exists, as reported by Serengeti Watch: "There are still plans for road construction in migration areas in the north, outside of the park boundary but well within the larger Serengeti ecosystem. While the court has barred Tanzania from building a paved road, the government still plans to upgrade the existing seasonal dirt track to gravel, even though it lies in a designated wilderness zone where public traffic is not allowed. There will be increased traffic and continued pressure to connect the paved roads with a commercial link through the park."
In addition, a pair of soda ash factories will be constructed in the Lake Natron area, bordering the Serengeti ecosystem. This is despite a new study showing that soda ash mining will wipe out almost the entire population of Africa's lesser flamingos and despite local opposition to it.
Meanwhile, two other developments causing major international concern right now are the dumping ground in the Great Barrier Reef and the oil drilling planned for Yasuni National Park. This week, UNESCO expressed alarm at the former, warning that the reef could be added to the World Heritage in Danger list at its next meeting in 2015.
“The world heritage committee has resisted intense pressure from the Australian and Queensland governments to water down its decision on the reef,” said WWF campaigner Richard Leck. “Instead, the committee has put Australia firmly on notice to take stronger action to protect the Great Barrier Reef."