Victory for Serengeti Highway Objectors

The Serengeti Highway Dispute, an early victory but a long way to go yet

The Serengeti ecosystem (the Serengeti National Park and the Masai Mara Reserve in Kenya) is in imminent danger of being lost. A plan by the Tanzanian government will cut a commercial highway through the Serengeti that will bring thousands of trucks a day through a wilderness area critical to the great migration. It will mean the end of the Serengeti as we know it.

Tanzania’s appeal to block a case against the construction of a highway across the Serengeti National Park (Senapa) was dismissed yesterday by the East African Court of Justice (EACJ).

The court ruled that EACJ has full jurisdiction to hear the case because the park was part of the transnational ecosystem straddling Kenya and Tanzania.“The Court has jurisdiction to attend environment disputes which directly affect the ecosystem and touches on the sustainable utilisation of the natural resources, including terrestrial ecosystems,” he said.

The ruling comes after the Attorney General of Tanzania had objected to the hearing of a case which was filed by a Nairobi based non-governmental organization in December 2010, against the tarmac road project across the northern fringes of the park.

The case was filed by the African Network for Animal Welfare (Anaw) .The Atorney General further argued in the preliminary objection that any legal dispute on the Senapa should be handled by the country’s courts as the park was within Tanzania’s borders and managed locally.

Judge Ogoola said he was dismissing the six objections raised by the Tanzania government because the Court was convinced the Court had full mandate to hear the dispute which pits various interests in the two EAC member states.

An earlier suit by the Anaw contested Tanzania’s intention to build a “super highway” crossing the Serengeti, with the Nairobi-based organisation arguing that it would be hazardous to animals.

After yesterday’s ruling, EACJ Registrar Dr John Ruhangisa told reporters that hearing of the main case would start any time, arguing that the controversial road project is no longer a sovereign matter but touched the East African region as a whole.

“This is an eye opener to activists and conservation experts to come out and vindicate issues of environmental abuse in the region,” he said, adding that environmental matters were no longer confined to one country. An advocate with the High Court of Kenya who filed the case on behalf of Anaw, Mr Saitabau ole Kanchory, said his client was opposed to the construction of the highway across the Serengeti on grounds that it would adversely impact on the ecology of the area.

“Serengeti (in Tanzania) and Maasai Mara (in Kenya) are like Siamese twins. They are inseparable. The road will be deleterious to the Serengeti ecosystem. It is also unlawful in light of the EAC Treaty and various regional and international treaties,” he pointed out.

The controversial road project has come under severe criticism from local and international activists on environment, world conservation bodies and wildlife experts who argued that it would impact on the ecology of the famous Senapa.