Serengeti Highway Legal Defense – Important New Precedent Set


In 2010, the African Network for Animal Welfare brought a legal case in the East African Court of Justice against a proposed highway that would cross the Serengeti National Park.

In June 2014, the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) issued an injunction against a paved highway. The government of Tanzania appealed that decision, challenging the authority of the Court itself by saying it no jurisdiction or power to issue injunctions.

The key points of the Court’s decision are:

The Court affirmed its jurisdiction under the environmental terms of the East African Treaty, including the right to issue injunctions.

The Court said that an action to build a Serengeti highway had not been established. It ruled that no injunction against it could be granted for this reason.

Should action be taken to start a highway, clearly it will contravene the terms of the East African Community Treaty.

Significance of the Case

Note: Although we say Tanzania, it is shorthand for “the Tanzanian administration under President Kikwete.”

The East African Court of Justice established a historic precedent for the East African Community’s right to regulate environmental issues.

It affirmed the Court’s own authority over such issues under the current East African Community Treaty.

It established the right of any individual or organization to bring such a case before the Court, not just a government.

These decisions taken together provide a new and important tool for conservationists to protect shared East African ecosystems and wildlife.

Although we have no specific highway ban, the Court reaffirmed the dangers of the highway and established the basis for a future ban should construction begin, saying there was an

“…imminent risk of irreversible damage inherent in any attempt to implement the ‘initial plan.’ … In this regard, it is quite evident that were the authorities of [Tanzania] to take any measures to activate their “initial plan” to construct the Super Highway through the Serengeti, as originally conceived, they would have, without a doubt, fallen foul of Tanzania’s above-mentioned undertakings of [The East African Treaty].


“The point here is that all parties now agree that if the initial proposal is implemented, then the adverse effects would not be mitigated by all the good that the road was intended to bring…”

The judges praised the African Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW) for bringing the first ever environmental case before the Court. It appears that the Court is ready to entertain more such cases:

“The Applicants have, against all formidable odds, partially triumphed in their quest (in this, the first Environmental Case of its kind to be brought before this Court). They brought the Reference and have prosecuted it not out of any wish for personal, corporate, or private gain; but out of the public spirited interest of the noblest kind – namely conservation, preservation and protection of a natural resource which (in this particular case), is truly a gem of a heritage, one-of-a-kind for all mankind.”

Tanzania’s intentions were clearly to undermine the authority of the East African Community and its judicial system. It sought to deny the Court any jurisdiction or power. The Court forcefully upheld its power calling Tanzania’s tactics “an attempt to derail and to divert the Court” and “a calculated abuse” of the process.

Tanzania could have dropped the highway legal case earlier and walked away. But it didn’t. It filed an appeal, causing speculation that it intends to someday build such a highway.

It is doubly important to be vigilant, because a future case will have to be brought when specific actions bring the highway into the realm of possibility.  A highway or upgraded road, or any roads that would interfere with the migration and the ecosystem could be started quickly.

Finally, rather than outside pressure, this case was initiated by an East African NGO in an East African legal system, under a treaty that was designed to protect member states. It is exactly the kind of local initiative that is needed if conservation is to succeed.



Questions Remain: Although the decision bars the paved highway originally proposed by the Tanzanian government, many important issues are left open:

Upgraded road still planned:  Although the case sought to prevent any upgrading, the court has not specifically barred this.The government of Tanzania said that it had abandoned plans for a paved road and will instead upgrade to an all-weather gravel road. This road would replace a seasonal dirt track currently used by four wheel drive vehicles. The track is in a zone designated as a Wilderness Area that is reserved for park vehicles and walking safaris.

Roads for public use not addressed: Although the court document mentioned that roads in the Serengeti should be “reserved for tourists and park personnel and not the general public, “ it’s injunction did not mention this. Tanzania still has the ability to open roads for the public, including commercial use.

Roads outside of the park not addressed: The Serengeti ecosystem includes areas within the Serengeti National Park and areas outside. Wildlife migration takes place in both areas, often well outside park boundaries. There are plans for paved roads in migration areas in the north that will impact the migration. The court case did not address this.  See:

An uncertain future: Many observers believe that the gravel road will inevitably become a highway carrying more commercial traffic.  There will be increased traffic and continued pressure to connect the paved roads with a commercial link through the park.  Richard Leakey, for one, says that the highway is “inevitable.”


Previous Posts & Discussions

View PDF: Lower Court Decision EACJ Judgement

“A permanent injunction is hereby issued restraining the Respondent from operationalising its initial proposal or proposed action of constructing or maintaining a road of bitumen standard across the Serengeti National Park subject to its right to undertake such other programs or initiate policies in the future which would not have a negative impact on the environment and ecosystem in the Serengeti National Park.”

Read: Serengeti Watch Discussion

The court case against the Serengeti highway took another step toward resolution. On August 20, 2013, the East African Court of Justice resumed its 3rd quarter session by hearing testimony from witnesses for and against the highway.

The African Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW), which brought the case, presented one witness, with the government of Tanzania presenting three. ANAW reported to us the following:

“We had a  good day in court  in Arusha and our expert witness testified.  His evidence was on the state of the road  and  the  negative effects of the road if it were to be constructed.   He told the court among other things that  due to noise  and increased public movement on the road, animal behavior would be affected and that it would affect migration.

The Tanzanian side had  three witnesses one Ms Zafarani  Madayi who is the head of safety and environment at Tanzania Roads Agency, she gave evidence  that the negative  impact cited would be adequately be addressed. She however  did not state how that would be done. The next witness was DR James Wakibara who is the Chief Ecologist at Tanzania National Park(TANAPA) his evidence  was  to discredit  our witness report  that it was not done in a scientific way and that some part of it was from literature research. He stated that there is no evidence that the road would affect migration. The two witnesses portrayed the project as   good   for tourism and opening up the eastern and northern part of the country.

The  other witness was Mr. William Mwakilema  who is the chief Warden Serengeti  National park. His evidence tried to show our expert report as a research and thus claimed  that  the expert should  have  applied for necessary permits to do research. The  court had observed that the  expert report was part of the proceeding.

Before the  hearing the Tanzanian side had filed a preliminary objection on matters of Jurisdiction and ANAW right  to file the case. The court ruled that the objection could not be heard  under rule 41 of court procedure rules which provides that the objection should have be filed before the scheduling Conference which was in April. The court also observed  that those two issues had been dealt with by the appellate Division of the court.

The court directed that we file and serve our written submissions by 10TH October and the respondent to file and serve their submission by 15TH of November 2013 and then we will do a rejoinder if any within  14 days. Thereafter the Court will communicate the date for the parties to highlight the key issues in their  submission. The case was covered by the media thought the Tanzania media seems  to misrepresent what was said.”

Read a review of the case by journalist Wolfgang Thome here.

Update  December 1, 2012

The East African Court of Justice has said that the trial will move forward by announcing a Scheduling Conference for January 23, 2013.  This follows an earlier ruling in which the court threw out objections by the Tanzanian government. Read a news article on the announcement.

This case is significant, as it could stop future plans for a commercial corridor through the Serengeti.  But it is also significant for several other reasons:

  • It was brought by a local East African conservation organization, rather than by an external organization or government exerting pressure.
  • It operates within the legal framework of an East African court system designed expressly to deal with such issues.
  • It is a test of the power and jurisdiction of the EACJ to decide on transboundary issues within East Africa, especially those relating to conservation

The case was filed by the Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW) challenging the government’s decision on the grounds that if constructed, the road would have far-reaching consequences on the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem which is shared between Kenya and Tanzania. ANAW had wanted the Tanzanian government compelled to stop the construction of the road through a permanent injunction

Legal Case Photo

The EACJ is the instrument for settling disputes among members of the East African Community, which are Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi. Serengeti Watch is supporting this legal action and is asking for your help as well.

Saitabao ole Kanchory, attorney for ANAW (right) arguing before the court.

The legal case is significant. It seeks to permanently restrain the government of Tanzania from the following:

  • “constructing, creating, commissioning or maintaining a trunk road or highway across any part of the Serengeti National Park.”
  • “degazetting (removing) any part of the Serengeti National Park for the purpose of upgrading, tarmacking, paving, realigning, constructing, creating or commissioning” the highway.
  • removing itself from UNESCO obligations with respect to the Serengeti National Park.

The legal action states that the highway is first and foremost an infringement of the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community. It would cause “irreparable and irreversible damage to the environment of the Serengeti National Park and the adjoining and inseparable Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya.”

Under the terms of the EAC Treaty, partner states are required to cooperate in the management of shared natural resources, notify each other of activities that are likely to have significant transboundary environmental impacts, and to follow protocols for Environmental Impact Assessment.

Other obligations cited fall under: the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity, the United Nations Declaration on the Human Environment, the Stockholm Declaration, and the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

The legal action was filed last December by the African Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW), located in Kenya.  See the news article:  Activists file suit against Serengeti Highway move


Website for the East African Community.

More on the East African Court of Justice can be found here.

Website for the East African Community environmental section

Download document on Transboundary Environmental Assessment for Shared Ecosystems.

Download document on environmental protocols

ANAW press release from March 2012.  ANAW_press_rel_3-15-12

“Any dispute concerning the interpretation or application of the Treaty or any of the matters referred to the Court cannot be subjected to any method of settlement other than those provided for in the Treaty. Where a dispute has been referred to the Court, the Partner States are enjoined to refrain from any action which might be detrimental to the resolution of or might aggravate the dispute further, a Partner State or the Council “must take”, without delay, the measures required to implement a judgment of the Court.”  – Wikipedia




There are 23 comments for this article
  1. Sanhunt at 12:37 pm

    If we CAN save the Serengeti there is hope for the future of Planet Earth…..

  2. Paulpanaese at 2:25 pm

    Here we ago again-when will the plundering stop? Why can’t big business keep their greedy hands off the planet. When are you going to wake up,haven’t you learned yet, you cannot upset the balance of nature;re:the rain forest is dissapering-BP-polluted the ocean and killed millions of marine life-pollutors throw plastics into the oceans,there at least 3or4 small islands of plastics floating around the globe, which the sea turtles eat and die, birds eat and die, oh yea, Then we also have Fukisima which has spread radiation all over the world, worst than Chernoybl. Now you want to DESTROY the Serengeti-with all of its meaningful Bird and Animal sanctuaries,migratory routes. WHY,what for?A Highway or some potash, have you lost your minds? To go forward with this plan of yours is Insane!! Every corner of OUR Planet is in Deep trouble and you wish to continue down that road…I ask you,plead with you,STOP and think, LOOK before you leap because This action will affect the earth on so many levels your head will spin. It’s time to take a stand-STOP the Wreckless destruction of the Serengeti!!! Mother Earth has been Raped and Plundered enough, JUST take a look around, WE are in trouble,Please,if you have an ounce of compassion, you would not even consider moving forward, the planet,yours and mine, our home,will never recover, so is your Agenda worth killing off another critical habitat area?!!! Paul A. Panarese STOP THE INSANITY………………

    • Giorgio at 1:33 pm

      Well said, should all this legal&illegal crime not be stopped we all perish at the mercy of a bunch of dirty&arrogant men. What is the politicians view? they are
      powerful? Or lost in the mist? wake up shake all this crime off your heads and off our planet.
      God Bless!

  3. JuneMapril at 12:14 pm


  4. Tom M. at 11:42 am

    Having been a park ranger in Yellowstone National Park for over 10 years…I see first hand how roads affect the park….especially with almost one million visitors a month during July and August. America may have created the idea of national parks, but my experience in African national parks has shown me how other countries have perfected it and are doing a better job than the United States…especially in providing for a quiet and real park experience without the crowds. Tanzania, learn from our mistakes. Yes, we decimated huge populations of wildlife in the name of “progress”. I wish we could turn back the clocks, but we cannot. You have something that you cannot put a price on. I hope one day to make it back to Africa and experience the awe of your wildebeest migration; in essennce to even get a glimpse back into time of what my country once had and let slip away.

    • Annick Lascaux at 11:26 am

      I live in the southwestern part of USA,Arizona< we have a lot of parks and national forests,and I enjoy hiking in these beautiful areas, but I miss seeing animals, only a few here and there. What a life changing experience when I went to Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Taranguire. Actually I went 3 times so far.
      Western, rich countries must find a way to help finance an alternative route!!!


  5. Helen Clement at 3:00 am

    I particularly agree with Paulpanaese – he has said exactly what I want to say, and that is leave this beautiful, important area alone. Man’s greed will be his downfall. Come on guys – don’t ruin this precious area.

  6. Cris Currie at 6:20 am

    I’m hearing alot of talk of boycotting travel tours to Tanzania or withholding monies that fuel the tour industry there. Has anyone else heard that?

    • Bwana at 12:57 pm

      We have occasionally heard talk of this, but we do not support such a move. The travel industry supports tens of thousands of ordinary Tanzanian people and their families, who depend on the income. A boycott would punish them, and perhaps jolt the country enough that it would give up on conserving natural areas, using them for farming and mining instead.

  7. Corinne Rider at 1:04 am

    Please do not aid and abet the destruction of this earth, our only home. Greed cannot buy self validation. You have shelter and food what more does one really need? If the earth is destroyed we are destroyed and it is a speeding progression. Tsunamis, earthquakes, valcanoes, teutonic plate shifts become stronger and more frequent. Our air is more toxic as is water – our basic survival. Our droughts increase, our oceans and temperature rise, our food sources are killed off. Every little portion of the rain forest plowed under, burned out, every specie that is killed off, every carbon sink such as the Serengeti, every piece of destruction is a break in the cycle, the symbiosis, the dependency of all life. Every little life is a contributing necessity to all life. Please lets save it and save ourselves.

  8. the great migration at 7:50 pm

    Thanks , I’ve recently been searching for information approximately this subject for a long time and yours is the greatest I’ve came upon so far. But, what concerning the conclusion? Are you positive in regards to the supply?

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  11. Raphael Mahangi at 7:45 am

    No need to construct the road across Serengeti Game reserve , b’se a Tanzanias there not benefit throw road across serengeti, poor mind considered

  12. Raphael Mahangi at 7:54 am

    No need to construct the road across Serengeti Game reserve , because a Tanzanian’s were not benefit through road across serengeti, poor mind considered,minister of natural resources and tourist has failed to implement a good ideas.

  13. Stacy Ahmad at 6:37 am

    I cannot believe that anyone in their right mind would even suggest such a thing! It has always been my dream to one day visit the Serengeti, and I can’t imagine going there and seeing a highway cutting through it. What are people doing to this planet? Do we have to ruin EVERYTHING for future generations to see? How much money does Africa generate from all the parks that people all over the world come to see? I think we have a right to see the Serengeti in the way it was intended for the world to see it……not with roads or highways! If they let this happen, they will then start building within the park itself. Please keep the Serengeti as a wildlife park….that means no human interference!

  14. Fares Moshy at 1:34 am

    With all due respect to our Government, we would ask them to bear in mind the contribution of tourism to the Tanzanian economy. Tourism is a sustainable industry, which provides employment at all levels for ordinary Tanzanians. Mining is not sustainable, it employs fewer people, (many who are not Tanzanian), and it destroys the environment permanently.Tourism means long term gain, mining is short term profiteering, especially as we are not even talking of the secondary manufacturing of raw materials.

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  18. Lusajo kibona at 11:08 pm

    For sure preserving the serengeti park we are preserving benefits to the present and future generation

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