SATURDAY July 20, 2019
By Joe Lihundi
Tranquility News Reporter, Arusha
A planned cable car service project on Mount Kilimanjaro is now threatening to split the Magufuli Administration in Tanzania.
Natural Resources and Tourism deputy minister Constantine Kanyasu unveiled the plan on the project early this year, saying it intended to more than double the number of tourists to the mountain as wells as revenues.
Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the country’s major tourist attractions, drawing 50,000 climbers and earning the country $55 million annually.
Tanzania’s Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa told Parliament recently that 1.49 tourists visited the country in 2018, up from 1.33 million the previous year.
As a result, revenues accrued from the industry soared by 7.13 per cent in 2018 when earnings jumped to $2.43 billion from $2.19 billion in 2017.
Feasibility studies are in progress for the project driven by the ministry’s quest for increasing tourist arrivals as well as by the influence of Chinese and US companies interested in executing the deal.
Ms Beatrice Mchome from Crescent Environmental Management Consult (CEMC) is leading a team of experts in assessing social and environmental impact from the project.
Criticism from various players with stake in the mountain has, however, not only been swift since, but also divided youthful Environment and Tourism ministers.
Environment minister January Makamba has put it clear that the department responsible for environment would either approve or reject the project, pending results of a thorough study.
“We, as environmental experts, ought to carry out studies before we allow or reject the project. The study will determine environmental risks in the cards and measures to mitigate them,” Mr Makamba posted to his nearly 700,000 followers on twitter.
He was responding to a twit by one of his followers one Haki Ngowi saying Tanzania National Parks (Tanapa) envisaged introducing a new mode of transport that would ferry tourists to the 5,895-metre Mount Kilimanjaro peak.
Tanapa commissioning the CEMC to carry out social and environmental impact assessment study on the project has apparently prompted Mr Makamba to cast doubt.
However, his response twit triggered a string of rebukes from his Tourism counterpart Hamis Kigwangalla, questioning the motive behind his statement.
“Do you think we can set up a project without considering laws for the protection of the environment,” Dr Kigwangalla fired back at his colleague, as he went on ranting on in one twit after another.
“What environmental damage will a cable car cause? How many countries have introduced cable cars on their mountains? Don’t they destroy the environment? How do cables installed above the vegetation cover destroy the environment?
“Over 350,000 hectares of forest disappear annually in the country, what measures have the environmental experts taken apart from attending workshops?
“Our goal is to promote tourism, raise revenue and enhance our tourists’ experience. When we don’t become creative, we’re offended; but when we attempt, they install ‘speed governors’ on us,” wondered Dr Kigwangalla.
He observed that a series of similar regulative mechanisms had killed businesses and frustrated investments for a long time in Tanzania.
“We’re currently trying to get rid of barriers in a bid to increase investments and economic growth. Countries with fastest economic growth rates have avoided these western approaches.
“Tourists, who will use cable cars, are different from those who hike. This is a different product that will create additional jobs without affecting the existing ones. Our experience shows elderly, children and family members constrained by time will mostly opt for cable cars,” Dr Kigwangalla explained.
Mr Makamba responded, in turn: “I was just reciting the law and it would be immature on my part to publicly respond to, argue with, bash or attack my esteemed colleague”.
Dr Kigwangalla admitted, nonetheless, that he had overreacted, asking for the debate to be closed.
“Makamba knows we carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment to every project, it is over. Let’s forgive each other for everything,” he said.
While Dr Kigwangalla maintained that the cable car service would bring in more tourists who ordinarily would not choose to climb the mountain, critics fear that about 250,000 porters would lose their jobs.
The project would also be a thorn in the national coffers’ flesh, as it would reduce the number of days a tourist spends on climbing the mountain, they argue.
Instead of the familiar views of snow and ice, the cable car would offer a single day trip safari with a bird’s eye view, contrary to the eight-day hiking trip.
The environment would also pay a price during the project construction, as the vegetation cover would be cleared to pave the way for cable line and for erecting pylons, towers and stations.
About 5,000 internet surfers protested against the project recently, saying it would destroy the fauna on the world heritage site that would take ages to recover.
“The introduction of a cable car on the mountain that will no longer require the assistance of porters will destroy this source of income,” writes Mark Gale, who launched the petition on Change.org.
The oldest person to hike Kilimanjaro was 86 years old and that the mountain was well within the capabilities of ‘older’ visitors, he explains.
“I climbed last month at 53 years old and it was an amazing experience putting one foot in front of the other and living on the mountain, there are no thrills in taking a taxi to the top of a mountain,” Mr Gale stressed.
The project will operate 25 cable cars capable of carrying 150 passengers at a go to Shira Plateau, nearly 3,000-metre above sea level.
A US company, which has, in turn, registered a local firm, AVAN Kilimanjaro, is scheduled to build and operate the cable cars along the Machame Route.
The trail, also known as the Whiskey Route, though is most popular for its scenic beauty, is difficult, steep and challenging, owing to its shorter itinerary of five to six days for those seeking to summit.
The route suits adventurous climbers with some high altitude, hiking or backpacking experience.