‘Unfounded’ rights abuse claims feared to hurt Tanzania’s $3.4bn travel, tourism value chain

Ruaha tourism stakeholders are worried over the coordinated attacks deterring the country’s pipedream of attracting five million tourists by 2025.

MONDAY June 10, 2024

The Great Ruaha River in southern Tanzania has, year in, year out, been losing its luster to environmental hustlers in recent years. PHOTOS | FILE

By Patty Magubira

The Tranquility News Reporter, Tanzania

Beneath the picturesque landscape and exotic wildlife that draw millions to Tanzania’s thriving tourism industry, a darker narrative unfolds – one of unverified gross human rights violation allegedly perpetuated by the very agencies entrusted with conservation.

These harrowing allegations of abuses are casting long, ominous shadows over the multi-billion-dollar industry, intensifying scrutiny and raising urgent questions about the truth.

Tourism players are wary of devastating impacts the unfounded allegations against Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) could have on the country’s $3.4 billion travel and tourism industry.

Tourism Confederation of Tanzania (TCT) and its members operating in Ruaha National Park say are deeply concerned over what they perceive as coordinated attacks against TANAPA.

They fear the attacks against the high profile state-run custodian of 21 national parks could choke the country’s strategy for attracting five million tourists by 2025.

The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM)’s manifesto clearly stipulates that tourism will attract five million tourists who will leave behind nearly $6.6 billion by 2025, with expected real multiplier effects to a critical mass of common folks in Tanzania, particularly women and youth.

TCT CEO Lathifa Sykes says the distorted and malicious claims, contain the seed of destruction that could result into dismal, a potential decline in tourist numbers, as travelers, prioritising destinations with clean human rights records, might seek alternative destinations.

“The looming threat to the Tanzania’s target of $6.6 billion revenue from tourism industry is not just theoretical, it carries real-world implications,” Ms Sykes explains.

Indeed, hotels, restaurants, tour operators, bureau de changes, horticultural farmers, fuel suppliers, among others, depend significantly on the steady inflow of tourists to sustain their businesses.

“A plunge in tourism revenue spells an economic slump for the countless families and communities whose livelihoods hinge on a thriving tourism industry,” Ms Sykes cautions.

The Tanzania Confederation of Tourism CEO, Ms Lathifa Sykes, says many local communities woven into the fabric of the tourism industry might also face dire economic hardships as a result of ‘unfounded’ allegations on human rights abuse against Tanzania National Parks.

It is not only businesses that stand to suffer, local communities, many of whom have been woven into the fabric of the tourism industry, might face dire economic hardships, she argues.

Reduced tourist demand translates into fewer job opportunities and diminishing incomes. Official estimates indicate that tourism creates 1.5 million direct and indirect jobs.

“The optics of allegations alone are potent enough to sway the perceptions of potential visitors. In an industry where reputation is paramount, even perceptions of misconduct could be catastrophic,” Ms Sykes cautions in a statement whose copy The Tranquility Newshas seen.

Expressing their unwavering support for TANAPA, TCT and the Ruaha tourism players, also denounced the accusations as baseless and misleading, as they distort the historical and factual context.

“This, we feel, is highly misleading of the facts and history,” Sykes stresses.

Drying out of The Great Ruaha River fuels human-wildlife conflicts, as wildlife animals search for water outside Ruaha National Park.

The controversy centres on the Usangu water catchment being incorporated into Ruaha National Park in 2008.TCT and its members find it perplexing that the allegations are surfacing 16 years after the annexation.

Historical data indicates that by 2003, most rivers in Tanzania recorded flows at barely one-third of their 1988 levels.

The decline was primarily attributed to agricultural and pastoral activities, not historic human habitation, TCT statement reads in part.

The Great Ruaha River was similarly affected, exacerbating the issue, says Ms Sykes, recalling that the Usangu region’s original pastoral community, the Wasangu tribe, historically had minimal impact on the area due to their low population and limited cattle numbers.

The Great Ruaha River’s dwindling water flow severely affected Tanzania’s hydropower generation, which supplied two-thirds of the nation’s electricity from dams situated downstream.

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

“The resultant water shortages led to chronic electricity deficits, disrupting industry, commerce, and governmental operations,” Ms Sykes notes.

Additionally, wildlife populations within the park, such as buffalo, experienced significant declines during the same period, a fact documented by Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute’s (TAWIRI) census.

In 1911, the human population of German East Africa, which included parts of modern-day Burundi and Rwanda, was eight million. By 1964, Tanzania alone had nine million people.

“Today, the Tanzania population stands at over 60 million and is projected to reach 120 million by 2050. This sharp increase in population intensifies the demand for resources, especially water,” Ms Sykes explains.

For instance, producing just a litre of milk requires 2,000 litres of water, while a kilogram of rice demands 5,000 litres, and a kilogram of beef takes a staggering 22,000 litres.

Considering these figures, Ms Sykes explains, it becomes clear why water resources are under immense pressure.

This issue is further complicated by large-scale cattle ownership, TCT argues in the statement, adding that recently, a pastoralist claimed to own 7000 cattle, and another near the eastern part of Ruaha National Park reported having 3000 cattle.

“These claims highlight the unsustainable practices that are exhausting water resources,” she explains.

The Tanzania government decided to extend the Ruaha National Park to include the Usangu water catchment area, relocating pastoralists and their cattle to other pastures, as part of a broad strategy for addressing unsustainable agricultural and pastoral activities.

Despite discouraging human activities and settlements upstream, Ruaha National Park is, in collaboration with TANAPA, constructing weirs and digging charco dams and deep wells on the Great Ruaha River bed.

Tanzania National Parks Senior Assistant Conservation Commissioner and Commanding Officer of Ruaha National Park Godwell Meing’ataki says interventions being implemented at Usangu Plains and along the Great Ruaha River will raise water level upstream and regulate its flow downstream.

TANAPA Senior Assistant Conservation Commissioner and Commanding Officer of the national park Godwell Meing’ataki believes the weirs built at Nyaluhanga Constriction, which separates eastern and western wetlands in Usangu Plains, will raise water level upstream and regulate its flow downstream.

“The charco dams will, in turn, harvest and reserve rain water and supply it to the 475-long river during dry spells, with the deep wells complimenting the dams,” Meing’ataki explains.

The national park authorities are also increasing access to alternative livelihood activities for villagers surrounding the park to minimise their dependency on surrounding natural resources.

The tourism stakeholders of Ruaha National Park emphasize that while no human rights abuses should be condoned, any allegations non-state actors make should be carefully investigated on a case-by-case basis.

“TANAPA is regarded as a professional and well-managed body, and the claims of the NGO are expected to fail under detailed scrutiny,” says Hotel Association of Tanzania (HAT) CEO Kennedy Edward who doubles as a Lawyer by profession.

Hotel Association of Tanzania (HAT) CEO Kennedy Edward warns over transgressions by a few individuals to anyone’s interest punishing current and future generations.

He stresses: “As Ruaha National Park players, we never condone human rights abuses, but we rather encourage close and meaningful consultations between government departments and all stakeholders.

“We do not consider punishing current and future populations for transgressions by a few individuals to anyone’s interest as the right thing, if such lapses did even take place.”

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 villagersΩ

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