In 2010, the government of Tanzania announced plans to construct a commercial highway across the Serengeti. This launched a wave of protest, and Serengeti. It was widely believed that such a highway would fragment the ecosystem be disastrous for the migration.
The above map shows the proposed route of the highway in red, with light green areas showing key areas for the migration.
Serenget Watch was launched initially in 2010 to prevent this highway from being constructed. Our social media and petition campaigns were helpfu. But of more benefit, our support of a legal case against the highway in the East African Court of Justice. In addition, we surveyed over 300 international scientists about its impacts and distributed the results widely. And we have been constantly advocated a proposed southern route that would bypass the Serengeti.
More recently, road construction has begun east of the park, something we’re watching. In addition, a group of advocates has published a book, Northern Serengeti Road Ecology, that would provide support for a hiighway should the plan be revived. All of this bears close scrutiny to make sure that the highway across the park does not proceed.
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Legal Case Against the Highway
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. Serengeti Watch supported it with funding and research.
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.
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. 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.”
The Southern Route
Petition Against the Highway