Sunday, November 4, 2012

■ TANZANIA: Controversial Serengeti Airport at Mugumu gets go-ahead.

TanzaniaThe Tanzanian Civil Aviation Authority (TCAA) has given the go ahead for the construction of an international airport in the town of Mugumu in the Serengeti District of Mara Region, having itself, been given the green light by the Tanzanian Ministry of Transport.

According to Tanzania's Daily News, Serengeti District Council Chairman, John Ng'oina, confirmed the latest reports over the much awaited project:
"We have just got information from TCAA this morning that they have received permission for the construction of the airport and this is good news to Serengeti people and Mara in general," Mr Ng'oina said on Thursday.

The council is now said to be waiting for permission from the National Environmental Management Council (NEMC) before construction actually starts.

The envisaged international airport will be situated at Uwanja wa Ndege ward, located about 40 km away from the world famous Serengeti National Park. In the past, tourists have had to use either Kilimanjaro or Mwanza airports, 250km away, followed by a long drive in order to get to the Park's entrance.

Whilst this has been greeted with great optimism by some, others have raised red flags over the projects location and possible impact on wildlife.

Environmentalists allege that "developments would be harmful to the Park and could hamper the movement of wildlife":
"The airport is supposedly part of a new scheme to dramatically increase the number of visitors to the Park and wring more income from tourism. The Frankfurt Zoological Society, the staunchest ally of the Park for more than 50 years, publicly warned that increased tourist numbers will severely damage the ecosystem. A spokesman for Tourism Concern Kenya, echoing this warning, said that a similar tourism boom in Kenya’s Masai Mara Reserve, the northern part of the Serengeti ecosystem, had severely damaged the reserve and reduced its wildlife."

Equally controversial are the project's murky sources of finance, with some Africa commentators claiming that vested interests by Tanzanian politicians and powerful foreign businessmen will ultimately lead to the Serengeti ecosystem is being compromised.

As the story goes, the project's construction started in 2006 but stalled in 2007 due to lack of funds. It resumed after  the Swiss-based Sustainable and Innovative Project Investment Office (SIPIO-BV) agreed to provide funding, with Singita Grumeti Reserves, owned by US billionaire tycoon Paul Tudor Jones, to provide the remaining 20%.

Tudor Jones' Singita Grumeti Reserves (SGR) has several luxury lodges that operate in and around the Serengeti, namely Sasakwa, Farufaru, Sabora Tented Camps and Singita Explore Mobile Camp.

Not everyone though, is up in arms against Tudor Jones' Grumeti Reserves. 

Local leaders in the village of Makundusi, Serengeti District are happy with the US investor, who according to them, has played a significant role in the speeding up of social and economic development in the area.  It is estimated the village has, between 2005 and 2010, received USD83'000 (TSh133'385'500) in funding, according to official figures, not to mention added opportunities for work.
"The income we get from the investor is what we use for the developing the village like the construction of classrooms and even buying chalk for schools," said Makundusi Village Executive Officer (VEO), Mr Juma Wambura.