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Serengeti Watch

is a project of the

Earth Island Institute




Tanzania Appeals

 Serengeti Highway Court Ban


The appeal seeks to reverse the recent decision by the East African Court of Justice which bars a paved highway across the Serengeti. 



It is evident that the current Tanzanian government wants the freedom to do whatever it wishes in the Serengeti, including the building of a paved commercial highway across the critical northern wilderness zone. 


By contesting the recent court decision, the government has chosen to ignore the international scientific community, the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, donor governments, and the considered judgement of the East African Court of Justice, which represents the interests of neighboring states. 


But going it alone is not in Tanzania's 

self interest. Here's why...


Tanzania Needs Partners 


The East African Community (Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, and Burundi) was formed to build mutual cooperation and economic benefit for its members and to prevent one member's unilateral actions from harming its neighbors. It is for this reason that the EAC proposed and passed a Transboundary Ecosystem Bill that would ensure sustainable use of shared natural resources. 


The EAC Assembly overwhelmingly passed the bill and, in order for it to take effect, all EAC heads of state signed it, except one - President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania.

It is ironic and baffling that the
Tanzanian government opposed this bill.  
Its citizens stand to lose mightily by unilateral actions 
of other East African Community members.


Mara River Threat


Decreasing water levels in the Mara River is 

as real a threat as a paved highway across the Serengeti. 


The Mara, which originates in Kenya's Mau Forest and flows into the Tanzanian side of Lake Victoria, is the lifeblood of the Serengeti ecosystem. If it dries up, the great migration will quickly crash. And Lake Victoria, which gets 60% of its water from Kenya, will see devastating impacts.


The threat is real and is happening right now, and it will only grow if Kenya does not adopt wise water management practices.  The Mau highlands in Kenya have been massively deforested and water is being increasingly diverted for irrigation in Kenya, which suffers from periodic droughts.


The Mara's flow has already been reduced by 25%. The Kenya Water Act allows for up to 70% of the flow to be diverted, leaving only 30% for Tanzania. There is pollution from pesticides, sewage, and phosphates. Flash floods, caused by periodic droughts, are eating away vegetation on the river banks. 

Lake Victoria Threat


Another critical water issue is the declining water level of Lake Victoria, the only other permanent source of water for the Serengeti and a source of livelihood for large populations of Tanzanians (and one third of the population of East Africa).  Tanzania uses the largest share of the lake, but Uganda controls its outflow. Uganda has constructed two dams and has increased the discharge of the White Nile by 30-50%, reducing Lake Victoria's level by more than two meters. Another dam is in the works. This has destroyed vast areas of papyrus swamps and put the fishing industry at risk by reducing fish populations and breeding areas. 


Factor in climate change, with more frequent droughts 
and less overall rainfall in East Africa - water depletion 
adds up to an enormous risk for Tanzania.
Tanzanians Lose by Going It Alone 


For Tanzania, external water management affects not just wildlife, but its people and economy.  Continued reduction of the Mara River water supply will affect the lives of millions of Tanzanians, including those directly depending on Lake Victoria and those relying on tourism. The Serengeti supports a tourist industry that is the major source of the country's foreign exchange and supplies more than 600,000 jobs. 


If Uganda continues to siphon off Lake Victoria's water and the lake level continues to fall, the resulting collapse of the fishing industry will likewise affect millions, including those living near the Serengeti. 


If Tanzania wants to go it alone despite its membership in the East African Community, so be it.  At the same time, how can it hope to benefit from its membership in that community and protect its citizens from harmful policies by its neighbors?


The Tanzanian government evidently wants it both ways: have complete sovereignty over its resources but demand cooperation of shared resources from others. If this continues, the people of Tanzania will ultimately pay the price.


A Wiser Choice


A better path for Tanzanian leaders -
withdraw its appeal for a destructive Serengeti highway 
and sign the Transboundary Ecosystem Bill. 


In doing so, it will underwrite an important precedent by the East African Court of Justice, help strengthen the East African Community, and ultimately give itself far greater leverage to advocate for its own rights and interests.


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