Ottawa — PRESIDENT Jakaya Kikwete has expressed his dismay over what he called deliberate and continued distortion of facts about the government's move to construct the Serengeti Highway.
"It is very unfortunate that there has been so much distortion of facts about this project while our intention has always been good," observed Mr Kikwete as the subject emerged again here during an interview with a local journalist.
The journalist had sought Mr Kikwete's clarification amid what he termed fresh claims by some environmental activists that the government had ulterior motives undertaking the project that would disrupt the ecology of the World famous Serengeti National Park.
President Kikwete dismissed the claims, saying the only motive was to bring development to the areas where the road would pass and reiterated that the government had environmental conservation at heart.
"Serengeti is a unique natural heritage to our nation and the whole world, therefore, it is unthinkable for us to do anything to destroy it ," he said, stressing that the government also has the responsibility to ensure the area has good infrastructure to connect it with other parts of the country.
The government stated earlier that the 450-kilometre road would be constructed to tarmac level from Mto wa Mbu (in Manyara Region) to Mugumu (in Mara Region) via Loliondo District in Arusha Region, with the 50 kilometre portion cutting across the park left as a graded earth road.
Various civil society associations that operate in areas around Serengeti said residents of Loliondo in Ngorongoro District are forced to sell their livestock to Kenya because there is no road linking them to other parts of Tanzania.
"Loliondo is right at the northern point of the border, where it is easy to drive cattle into Kenya which is so far the only market outlet for their animals," said Mr Edward Porokwa, who heads the Pastoralists Indigenous Non-Governmental Organizations (PINGOS) Forum. He said Kenyan buyers are used to getting cattle from Loliondo cheaply because the Maasai in the area have no alternative place to sell their livestock.
They believe that the proposed Serengeti highway will link the cattle keepers to markets elsewhere in the country, which will deny Kenyans cheap access to Tanzanian cattle. All the seven civic organizations have declared that they fully support the government's plan to construct Arusha-Musoma highway.
Speaking on behalf of others, Mr Porokwa stated that their associations were prepared to side with the government in the court battle against Kenyan litigants. A group of Kenyan activists filed an application in the East African Court of Justice (EACJ), seeking court order to halt Tanzania on the ground that the highway would interfere with integrity of Serengeti ecology.
Mr Porokwa said the road would link Arusha and Musoma towns with ten other districts in the zone, which would immensely benefit many people. He accused the Kenyan NGO for suing the government, saying it was in the interest of Tanzanians that the road was constructed.
Mr Parokwa said many national parks in Kenya are bisected by roads, citing Masai Mara and Tsavo as examples. Reserve is dotted with a number of tourist hotels and enjoys tarmac roads. He also gave an example of Mikumi National Park, through which Dar-Iringa highway passes.
"The government is responsible to ensure it constructs roads so that people can have easy access to social services," he said. "Loliondo district has only one hospital; sometimes people are forced to travel all the way to Arusha town to get treatment. Such high costs might be one of the reasons some teachers abandon their posts leaving the area undeveloped," he added.
Meanwhile, Mr Kikwete has encouraged more investments in the oil and gas sectors and said mechanisms were being put in place to ensure the resources are properly managed. He said the government was building its negotiating capacity, training its lawyers, economists, financial experts and other cadres in the field to better handle the sector.