Tanzanian president cancels application for another UNESCO site
True to his form of putting reckless exploitation before careful conservation has Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete reportedly cancelled an application filed by his own ministry of natural resources and tourism, to have the area comprising two more recently established forest national parks – Mkomazi and Udzungwa – recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
Clearly stung by the growing opposition around the world over Kikwete’s plans to have a highway constructed across the main migration route of the wildebeest and zebra in the Serengeti, and more recent developments in the Zanzibar Stone Town and the Stiegler’s Gorge / Selous, it seems clear that the Tanzanian president is loath to have more UNESCO World Heritage Sites to deal with when they threaten his plans for floating valuable concessions and exploration rights to the highest bidders.
Only recently did a GEF – Global Environmental Facility – sponsored project conclude which according to reports from usually reliable conservation sources helped to safeguard thousands of hectares of prime tropical mountain forests, a prospect which obviously did not please the president and prompted him to cancel the UNESCO application before kindling another raging conservation firestorm, yet by doing so achieving exactly this.
Kikwete has been accused by his political opponents to having formed close alliances with mining groups where promises of mining concessions for gold and other valuable minerals, including a hugely controversial soda ash plant at Lake Natron, were to be awarded and roads to be build to the areas ‘in consideration’ – a phrase normally used to describe less than kosher practice in politics.
His obstinate refusal to entertain an alternative route for the Serengeti highway has earned him the title ‘Serengeti Killer’ from amongst lobbyists and the conservation fraternity and his latest slap in the face of more conservation measures by directing the cancellation of the application for World Heritage Status reveals a frame of mind hell bent to make the most out of his final five year term as president, even if it means to trample the principles and ideals of Tanzania’s founding father Mwalimu Julius Nyerere into the dust.
Sources close to UNESCO expressed their surprise over the move, calling it ‘most unusual’ that a pending application from a government ministry would be cancelled by presidential decree, suggesting the media should delve into the background of this action and unearth the true reasons behind Kikwete’s change of mind.
Tanzania is getting increasingly into the bad books of global conservation efforts, considering their official stand a year ago at the CITES meeting, when the country broke rank with her East African neighbours by applying for permission to sell ivory stocks, and when being denied attempting a blatant scheme to ‘auction’ confiscated ‘processed and semiprocessed’ ivory by the customs department, claiming such was not subject to a CITES ban on sale of ivory. Increased poaching and trafficking of birds and blood ivory through Tanzania too have cast doubts on the government’s true intent to promote wildlife based tourism, where nature and biodiversity could be sustained for generations instead of advocating the reckless exploitation in the short term of resources, which when gone will arguably have left not much behind for the people of Tanzania.
Only re-elected last year for a final 5 year term of office, this term already reeks of wanton destruction and one can only wait and see what else Kikwete will do to further discredit himself and expose his machinations against conservation.
A weekly roundup of reports, travel stories and opinions by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
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