NO RESEARCH NO RIGHT TO SPEAK: Tourism players furious against rights abuse charges

Tanzania Association of Tour Operators tells off the US-based Oakland Institute for unjustly accusing Tanzania National Parks of human rights abuse.

MONDAY June 17, 2024

Oakland Institute asks Tanzania in its report to reverse a plan the government implemented 16 years ago when it relocated farmers, herders and anglers from Usangu Plains to rescue the Great Ruaha River from drying out. PHOTO | OAKLAND INSTITUTE

By Patty Magubira 

The Tranquility News Reporter, Tanzania

Pressure on allegations of human rights abuses against Tanzania is mounting with key tour operators lashing out at international non-governmental and media outfits for spreading ‘groundless’ claims.

Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO) warns in its statement that the malicious allegations have a negative impact on the travel and tourism industry in the country, calling on the self-proclaimed whistle blowers to consider providing accurate information.

Ruaha tourism stakeholders also issued a statement recently, calling on international media and organisations to investigate the intricacies of the situation and seek accurate information.

“TATO fully supports Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) and we condemn in strongest terms possible the foreign non-stator actors’ assertions that the conservation and tourism agency is persecuting and evicting people to use their ‘ancestral lands’ for tourism ventures,” says TATO in the statement, adding:

“It’s absurd that people with self-interests have deliberately decided to distort the facts and history out of proportion apparently in order to ruin the image of the most professional and experienced state-run-agency.”

A seasoned tourism expert, Mr Sirili Akko, says the Oakland Institute should leverage its invaluable resources and expertise to collaborate effectively with the Tanzanian government on sustainable conservation initiatives.

Ruaha National Park in southern Tanzania is also home to 15,000 jumbos. PHOTO| FILE

TATO is apparently responding to the US-based Oakland Institute which has categorically been attacking the East African country allegedly for carrying out forceful evictions of communities from what the institute claims to be their ‘ancestral lands’.

The strong association with 300 plus professional tour operators, defends the Tanzania government’s swift move to incorporate key water catchment areas of Ihefu and Usangu Plains into Ruaha National Park south of the country, saying the decision will tame massive unsustainable agricultural and pastoral practices.

The tour operators say doubting the decision which the government took over a decade and a half ago calls into question the motive behind the critics, given the harm the unsustainable malpractices cause to the national park, businesses and the national coffers.

In 2003, the agricultural and pastoral malpractices coupled with population growth resulted into most of rivers in the country to register barely two thirds of the flows recorded in 1988, halting hydropower generation and triggering countrywide power outages.

Unlike some neighbouring countries with ancestral lands, all land in Tanzania is public’s vested in the President as a trustee for and on behalf of all citizens. Whoever is offered a plot for any use is, according to the country’s 1999 Land Act, entitled to relocation for wider interests of the nation.

A pride of lions waylay other wildlife animals along the banks of The Great Ruaha River in Ruaha National Park in southern Tanzania. The carnivorous found in big families in the park are among the victims of the river drying out in dry seasons. PHOTO| FILE

The drying up of the Ihefu Valley and Usangu Plains water catchment areas for the Great Ruaha River, which supplies the precious liquid to three key hydropower dams, namely Mtera, Kidatu and Nyerere that generate about two thirds of electricity needs of Tanzania, resulted into a chronic shortage of electricity countrywide.

Besides disrupting production in the manufacturing sector, other businesses and denying the taxman of revenues, Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute once found out that the decline of water flows in the Great Ruaha River and its tributaries also significantly contributed to the decrease in population of buffalo and other species of fauna and flora within Ruaha National Park.

The Sangu ethnic group, the original pastoralists in the water catchment areas of Ihefu and Usangu, were few in numbers and cattle to raise such an alarm.

The population of German East Africa, which included Rwanda and Burundi, was only about eight million people in 1911 and that of Tanzania was nine million people in 1964 as opposed to over 61 million people at the moment, which is estimated to double come 2050.

In addition to the population swelling, pastoralists alone in the Ihefu and Usangu water catchment areas are estimated to own between 3,000 and 7,000 each, let alone millions of other varied water users downstream the Great Ruaha River.

A gang of buffaloes out of 20,000 available in Ruaha National Park in southern Tanzania search for water. PHOTO | FILE

Moreover, it takes 2,000 litres of water to produce a litre of milk, 5,000 litres a kilo of rice and 22,000 litres a kilo of beef; all of which lasting barely one meal to a Tanzania’s average household.

“In this situation, the government’s interventions ought to be appreciated,” TATO says.

The massive unsustainable agricultural and pastoral malpractices justify the Tanzania government’s decision to urgently relocate pastoralists and their cattle to elsewhere, says TATO, stressing that the alleged human rights abuses ought to be dealt with on case-by-case basis instead of ‘blanket’ statements.

“We never condone human rights abuses, but we rather encourage close and meaningful consultations between government departments and all stakeholders,” stresses TATO, explaining:

“It is unfair to punish current and future generation for transgressions by a few individuals to anyone’s interests.”

Oakland institute published a report last year claiming the Tanzania government was expanding Ruaha National Park to boost tourism receipts at the expense of interests of the surrounding villagers.

The Great Ruaha River in southern Tanzania as captured during a dry season. PHOTO | FILE

The eviction exercise coupled with routine patrols of the Ruaha National Park, according to the institute, also saw law enforcers confiscating property of the villagers, mostly livestock, fish and other trophies caught in the water catchment areas.

The institute roped in the World Bank in its report, blaming the international financial institution for supporting Tanzania in its bid to promote tourism south of the country.

Tanzania secured $150 million loan from the World Bank in 2017 to implement its eight-year Resilient Natural Resource Management for Tourism and Growth (REGROW) project involving Ruaha, Nyerere, Mikumi and Udzungwa national parks all situated in its virgin southern tourism circuit.

Thanks to the Oakland Institute’s report, the World Bank had to suspend funding for the $150 million conservation project.

The REGROW was launched to improve the management of natural resources and tourism assets in southern Tanzania, according to the World Bank.

Motorcycles impounded in Ruaha National Park during a crackdown on poachers and other criminals wait for a court order to auction them. Criminals use motorcycles for carrying bush meat and fish out of the park. PHOTO | FILE

At least $100 million has so far been disbursed for the project which owing to bureaucratic procedures had to hit the ground running in 2019.

It is understood, Ruaha national park receives few visitors, making its management a drain on the country’s resources, the fact that contradicts the Oakland Institute’s claims that its expansion was for tourism revenue.

One of key TATO members, Mr John Corse, argues that if Oakland Institute’s intentions were honourable, they would have been talking about strengthening Tanzania’s capacity to manage these delicate land issues, rather than pressurising the World Bank to pull the funding.

A regional seasoned tourism expert, Mr Sirili Akko, says the Oakland Institute should leverage its invaluable resources and expertise to collaborate effectively with the Tanzanian government on sustainable conservation initiatives.

“By joining forces, both entities can amplify their impact, ensuring environmental preservation while fostering socio-economic growth for local communities, rather than focusing solely on critiquing the Tanzanian government’s efforts,” Mr Akko explainedΩ

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