27 July 2010

Tanzania: Was Serengeti Road Pledge Political?

Poor infrastructure, employment, power and land conflicts form the priority list of Ngorongoro constituency people. These issue feature in their list of problems always, not only during election. And when it happens that a leader, a national leader for that matter, make a promise to solve one of these problems, Ngorongoro people become very happy.

So, Mr Jakaya Kikwete's promise campaigning for presidency in 2005 is one of issues which won him Ngorongoro resident hearts.

But it appears that the promise was issued as a political gambit. Since it was issued five years ago, no one apart from the Ngorongoro people, seemed to remember it until now that another General Election is just around the corner.

Because no one remembered it, the road was not an issue, now that the authorities have give through their promise and established that they have neglected the project, they seem to have establish a new zeal to implement the construction of the road.

In the beginning, many people did not pay attention to the promise knowing that it was part of the political play. But now the government want to fulfil its promise, may be after noting that failure to do so will be a stumbling block later this year. It is amazing that the promise was given during the campaign and it was forgotten only to be remembered when another election nears.

It is true that the lack of reliable infrastructure is serious problem to people residing in this part of the country. It is common for them to do their shopping in the neighbouring Kenya which they can access easily compared to their regional headquarters in Arusha.

Speaking to Political Platform, the traditional leader (Laigwanan) in the area, Lengumo Parmiria noted that poor infrastructure in Ngorongoro and the surrounding areas has been a constant problem. As a result of poor roads, he said, they cannot access market for their livestock and other products.

"We were promised a tarmac road by President Jakaya Kikwete during his campaign and recently when he visited here he insisted on his pledge that it's still alive! So we are waiting as from Loliondo to Arusha is almost 350km," he said. Loliondo is the headquarters of Ngorongoro district.

He said the situation has forced them to focus look at towns in Kenya as potential market for their products and for shopping for their important needs. "We are aware that we are denying our government revenue, but what can we do because we can't survive without such necessary needs," he says.

He said at least 200 heads of cattle are sold every week to the auction which is in Kenya, as most of pastoralists along the area have no alternative market in the country. They are forced to sale some of their livestock because the government has been encouraging them to reduce the number of animals they keep.

His argument was supported by Mr Patita Naishino of Enguserosambu in the area saying that this gives Kenya much needed revenue in terms of tax as well as livestock which are used to feed their beef industries.

He said currently a head of cattle is standing at Sh600,000 at the Kenyan market, but they have been told that there is good market in Shinyanga but they cannot reach the market due to poor infrastructure.

They can walk only 42 kilometres to reach the Tanzania /Kenya border but it is more than 350km to Arusha through a very rough road.

The Ngorongoro district commissioner Mr Elias Wawa Lali admitted that most of cattle from Ngorongor are sold in Kenya and currently there is no alternative than to construct the all weathwer road that would link Ngorongoro people to the rest of the country.

"We have been trying to convince these pastoralists to use their cattle to improve their lives... but the problem is good infrastructure that would provide them competitive package from buyers," says the DC.

He adds: "It's the President promise that this area will have power very soon... and I'm told that generators have been bought and will be installed soon.,"

Seeing the problem the government has said plans to construct a road through the Serengeti National Park (Senapa) are still on course despite emerging opposition from environmental lobbyists and conservationists.

The project is expected to take some two years to its completion, according to government sources.

Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Shamsa Mwangunga pointed out that the government is obliged to fulfil a campaign promise, made by President Jakaya Kikwete in 2005, that the fourth phase administration under CCM would complete construction of the $480 (Sh372 billion) Arusha-Musoma road.

The 480km road hit a snag in the past, following concern over a requirement that a section of it would pass through the park, famous for its spectacular annual migration of millions of wildlife into Kenya's Maasai Mara game reserve.

The minister maintains that the main reason the road connecting Arusha-Musoma was considered was because of the need to satisfy public interests. She said the construction of the road wouldn't disturb the popular annual wildlife migration as claimed by the campaigners.

She makes such a statement in reaction to international criticism that the project has attracted. Many conservationists across the world are against the road project on grounds that it is going to jeopardise the eco system of the area. The major concern is around the globally famous annual wildebeest migration between Serengeti National Park and Masai Mara park in Kenya.

But seeking to allay fears, Minister Mwangunga says the road, which would link Serengeti- Loliondo districts with the national grid of major roads, won't cut cross Senapa but would be routed in a manner that won't affect wildlife migration patterns.

Work on the project, according to Mr Deusdedit Kakoko, who is the regional manager for Tanzania Roads Agency (Tanroads), will begin early 2012. A feasibility study is currently underway, he said. Users currently loop more than 418km to the south to skirt the protected Serengeti.

"Those criticising the road construction know nothing about what we've planned... We're all keen to preserve our natural resources...We'll never compromise on that," declares Ms Mwangunga.

Problems facing Ngorngor people are not on roads only as some residents of the area have been walking for between 10 and 12 kilometres to have an access to the mobile phone network signals whenever they needed to make calls.

Mr Wawa-Lali admitted that the area was facing the communication hitch and that the government efforts to convince mobile phone network operators to extend their services to the area had failed.

But these problems did not crop us yesterday. They wre there when President Kikwete visited the area when campaigning in 2005. Why did it take five years for him to remember that he made a promise to improve infrastructure in Ngorongoro?

Because there is haste in fulfilling this promise so as not to miss the October 31 votes, there is possibility that there will be little time to critically look at warnings by environmental specialists on the possible consequences of routing the road through the national park.

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