The Tanzania government has defended the planned highway across the Serengeti National Park, saying its construction neither violated the East African Community (EAC) Treaty nor would it be harmful to the park's ecosystem.
A counsel for the government Mr. Gabriel Malata told the East African Court of Justice (EAC) hearing a case filed against the road that the proposed road would instead benefit the tourism sector because it would facilitate the movement of tourists to and from the area.
He added that at the time the case was filed in December 2010, the Tanzania government had not decided on which road to construct (whether tarmac or gravel) but after a feasibility study it decided that a gravel road would be constructed which, according to him, would have no effect on the eco-system at Serengeti.
Mr. Malata, who is the Principal State Attorney, asked the Court to dismiss the case filed by the Nairobi-based Africa Network of Animal Welfare (ANAW) against the government of Tanzania with costs.
He further added that the orders filed by the Applicant if granted would frustrate the tourism sector in the entire East Africa "because the road is there to facilitate the movement of tourists".
He said the EAC partner states, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda, were yet to ratify the Protocol on Environment and Natural Resources "and so the case is so premature".
In the case heard by the first Instance Division of EACJ in Arusha last week, ANAW contested the government of Tanzania's intention to build a "super highway" across the Serengeti NP, arguing that, it would be hazardous to the environment generally and animals in particular.
After the witnesses had given evidence on this case in August 2013, the Parties came back to Court last week for submissions on their respective cases.
The Lawyer for ANAW, Mr. Saitabao Kanchory Mbalelo, said that the action of constructing the road across the National Park is unlawful and infringes Articles 5 3 (c), 8 1 (c), 112 1 (e), 114 1 (a) of the EAC Treaty.
He added that the road will create negative impacts which will adversely affect the eco-system and the environment and that the Court has jurisdiction to entertain the dispute.
He further argued that the road will be a potential threat to wildlife as it will interrupt their movements and migration. Mr. Saitabao said that the five kilometre road is gravel level is not open yet but the Respondent (Tanzania government ) intends to open it for public use.
He submitted that however the initial intention of the Government of Tanzania was to construct a paved road but later changed to gravel and that might cause same effect in the National Park environment.
Counsels appeared before The Principal Judge Hon. Mr. Justice Jean Bosco Butasi, The Deputy Principal Judge Hon, Hon. Mr. Justice Isaac Lenaola and Hon. Mr. Justice John Mkwawa in open Court.The Court will deliver its judgement on notice.
Environmental activists initially opposed the construction of a tarmac highway across the world famous park on grounds the 'super highway' would harm the ecology of the area due to the anticipated high traffic. Even after the government said it has opted for a gravel road, the activists insist the harm would be the same.
A Kenya-based environmental consultant told the Court during its last hearing of the case last September that that although the proposed highway would create some economic opportunities for the people of the remote area being a public road, it ought to be abandoned to protect the wildlife and the ecosystem of the ecologically fragile park.
The witness for the Respondent, Ms. Zafarani A. Madayi, Head of Safety & Environment, Tanzania National Roads Agency (TANROADS) representing the Tanzania government said, although the construction of the road across the national park has a number of negative impacts such as killing of animals due to over speeding of cars and animal harassment as a result of noise pollution, what should be emphasized is mitigation measures in order to enhance the positive impacts such as tourism and social-economic development contributed to by good roads.
Other witnesses for of the Government of Tanzania, Dr. James V. Wakibara, Principal Ecologist, Tanzania National Parks (Tanapa) and Mr. William Simon Mwakilema, the chief park warden of Serengeti NP, both contended that, the main purpose of the road is for tourism and administrative use.
In March 2012 the EACJ First Instance Division granted ANAW a temporary injunction against Tanzanian Government which effectively blocked the latter's attempt to construct a highway through the Serengeti National Park until the Reference was heard and determined.
The proposed tarmac road is intended to connect Arusha and Musoma through Mto-wa-Mbu and Loliondo, the Ngorongoro district headquarters. It will cross the northern fringes of the park near the Kenya border to Mugumu, the Serengeti district seat to Musoma.