The forty mile road through the Serengeti will adversely affect the fragile ecosystem at the expense of mining interests around the Lake Victoria region.
Tanzania’s Arusha Times (December 18, 2010 – January 14, 2011) reports efforts are underway by environmental NGOs to stop the government’s building of a 40 mile road through the Serengeti National Park. The African Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW) has filed a motion with the East African Court of Justice, requesting an injunction stopping the proposed Arusha-Musoma highway. The Serengeti, known as “the place where the land moves on forever,” is home to an animal kingdom often referred to as the greatest global example of biodiversity. But the proposed road would benefit commerce, notably the global trade in rare metals.
Tanzania’s Mineral Resources Impact the Arusha-Musoma Highway
Beyond the confines of the Serengeti, mining interests produce gemstones like tanzanite as well as metals such as coltan, a vital part of cell phones and laptop computers. Although coltan mining has been associated with the Congo for many years and linked to child slave labor, numerous companies operating in Tanzania advertise coltan on trade websites.
Because many cell phones are made in China, Tanzania’s export business shows China to be the largest buyer of products after India, followed by Japan. A Canadian metal importer seeking to purchase coltan stated on an industry website, “Final user is in China.”
In Tanzania, Gala Group Ltd, with branches in Uganda and the Congo, advertises “The best coltan from West Tanzania.” Gala is one of several similar mining concerns like Kapiri Mining, Armatrade Metal Impex, JL Mining Company and others that deal in coltan.
On December 28, 2010, NBC journalist Richard Engel ended his report on the Serengeti highway referring to the “rare earth minerals” being mined in the Lake Victoria region. The new road through the Serengeti habitat would better facilitate such commercial traffic.
Serengeti Highway Could Pose an Environmental Disaster for East Africa
IPP Media in Tanzania reported December 30, 2010 that the Lawyers Environmental Action Team (LEAT) is actively lobbying against the road because it, “…would threaten the existence of the wildebeest migration…” This migration is central to the preservation of the “Serengeti-Mara ecosystem of Tanzania…”
LEAT also suggests that the highway is political. The organization proposes an alternative route for the highway in the south of the Serengeti. The alternative route, according to IPP, would actually connect more adjacent communities and serve more people.
If the road goes forward, the future of the national park will be in doubt. ANAW’s website predicts that, “The high speed traffic will indeed be a death trap for many of the animals crossing whilst the road will pave way for easy access for many poachers.” But ANAW admits, “…the highway is a crucial agenda for the government.”
Is the Arusha-Musoma Highway an Example of Neo-Imperialist Exploitation?
Under the guise of connecting Tanzanian communities, the proposed highway will vastly benefit commercial mining interests at the expense of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Although the Tanzanian government will reap handsome profits, the greater profits are made by countries importing Tanzania’s resources. Such transnational connections do not raise the living standards of East Africans.
As seen in the Congo and published in dozens of United Nation’s reports on child slave labor in Africa, such export agreements only benefit the ultimate recipients of African resources, notably citizens in fully developed societies. Yet how many of these citizens will give up their cell phones, laptops, or other electronic devices? The Serengeti highway must be re-evaluated. Although the U.S. had minimal clout in the region, pressure should be exerted on governments exploiting Tanzania's resources.