Uproar as cable cars project on Mount Kilimanjaro takes shape

Tour operators, guides and porters claim it is a dodgy deal

SATURDAY February 19, 2022

The Tanzania government is intending to install cable cars on Mount Kilimanjaro to attract tourists who cannot scale up the Africa’s peak owing to age and disabilities. PHOTOS | FILE

By Adam Ihucha

eTN, Tanzania

Key players in Tanzania’s multi-billion-dollar tourism industry have unanimously rejected a $72-million controversial plan to put up cable cars on Mount Kilimanjaro.

In 2019, Tanzania announced an ambitious plan that would see a cable cars installed on Mount Kilimanjaro in its quest for quadrupling annual tourists’ number to the Africa’s highest mountain from 50,000 to 200,000 and reaping more dollars.

Local investors contend that no tender was floated for a fair competition and that AVAN Kilimanjaro Ltd, a company 100 per cent owned by six foreign shareholders, has, in controversial circumstances, been picked to execute the project.

A lawyer representing porters, Mr Engelberth Boniphace, pointed an accusing finger at authorities allegedly for deliberately violating the law of the land by allowing the foreign investors to operate a cable car service on Mount Kilimanjaro.

“The law provides for exclusivity of Mount Kilimanjaro services to local operators, how come a company owned by foreign shareholders is licensed to operate cable cars against it?” he queries.

The Chief Executive Officer of Zara Tours, Ms Zainab Ansell, says cable cars are in favour of day-trippers to Mount Kilimanjaro.

Indeed, section 58(2) of the 2008 Tanzania Tourism Act No 11 clearly stipulates that mountain climbing or trekking registration will be issued to companies fully owned by Tanzanians.

Details of the business plan though are scant, AVAN is claimed to be a consortium of globally reputed companies coming together to execute the unique project in Tanzania to attract 177,000 tourists per annum.

Going by its proposed entry fee of $141 per person, the consortium will generate nearly $25 million turnover per annum. The details further show that the company projects to make a $9.8-million windfall profit in the first year of its operation and pay corporate tax amounting to $1.8 million to Tanzania Revenue Authority.

Initially, the government said the cable car project was meant for physically challenged persons and aged tourists who crave for experiencing the thrill of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro up to Shira Plateau without wishing to summit, but now the AVAN Kilimanjaro say the technology will cater for tourists of all walks.

However, tourism industry stakeholders mainly tour operators, guides and porters, who gathered at Gran Melia Hotel in Arusha, Tanzania, to air their views on the proposed project before the National Environmental Management Council (NEMC) on Monday February 14th, 2022, squarely opposed and poked holes in the plan.

The former Tanzania minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Dr Hamis Kigwangalla (Right), hands over an award to the proprietor of Kibo Guides and Chairman of Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO), Mr Wilbard Chambulo, for immensely contributing revenue to the national coffers through Tanzania National Parks. The TATO Chief is also against the cable cars project. PHOTO | TATO

The chairman of the 300 plus members flamboyant Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO), Mr Wilbard Chambulo, says the cable cars project seems to be fantasy, as it is impossible for a business to make a windfall profit in the first year.

“I’ve never heard of any company on earth making a windfall profit in the first year of its commencement. I have been in the tourism business for nearly three decades, it’s a volatile trade, this company cannot make $10 million profit in the same year as it tells the government,” Mr Chambulo says.

The TATO Chief is worried over the cable cars harshly affecting revenues in the long run, owing to the service significantly reducing the length of stay from eight to one day.

They say the cable car benefits are very petty to outweigh the imminent ecologic damage, employment for thousands of unskilled porters and the economic multiplier effects.

“The cable cars will turn a six-day incredible and lifetime adventure of hiking the roof of Africa with substantial multiplier economic effects to local folks into a mere outing for day-trippers,” says Ms Zainab Ansell, the owner of Zara Tours.

Mount Kilimanjaro

Sharing her 36-year experience on Mount Kilimanjaro hiking business, Ms Zainab says she used to pay $890 for a single tourist to Kilimanjaro National Park (KINAPA), let alone her profit and wages for mountain guides and porters and suppliers’ payment.

With the current trend whereby Mount Kilimanjaro receives 56,000 hikers annually, it means that KINAPA earns about $50 million, twice as much of the amount expected from the cable cars project with thrice as much of tourists.

Again, the economic multiplier effects of hiking business are far from the cable cars project, as a tourist will pay $141 and barely a couple of people will operate the system.

This means the cable car that expects to attract 177,000 hikers per annum, will deny 2,655,000 porter’s employment, if a ratio of 15 porters per tourist, is anything to go by.

Mount Kilimanjaro Porters Society (MKPS) opposes the cable car project outright, saying it will deny employment to nearly 250,000 unskilled porters scaling up Mount Kilimanjaro for a wage each year.

Critics fear use of cable cars on Mount Kilimanjaro will make over 250,000 porters redundant.

“Much as the cable car service doesn’t require porters, the majority of tourists will climb Mount Kilimanjaro on a day trip basis using the new product to cut down costs and length of stay,” the MKPS Vice Chairman, Mr Edson Mpemba, explains.

Mr Mpemba wonders that decision makers had overlooked interests of the huge number of unskilled labour force, which solely depends on the mountain to eke out a living.

“Think of the ripple effect on families of the 250,000 unskilled porters,” he stresses, cautioning:

“The cable car facility will initially look like a noble and innovative idea, but it will, in a long run, ruin the future of the majority of local people whose livelihood depends on the mountain.”

Mr Loishiye Mollel, the head of Tanzania Porters’ Organisation (TPO) says: “One visitor from the US can have a maximum of 15 people behind him, of which 13 are porters, a cook and a guide.

The former civil servant in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Mr Merwyn Nunes (Right), says in an interview with Adam Ihucha: “Mount Kilimanjaro is a sacred place that deserves nothing short of cherishing its wild beauty”.

“All these jobs will be affected by the cable cars. We are of the view that the mountain should be left as it is.”

“Taking away porters’ livelihood means denying them of their rights to life,” the Advocate of the High Court of Tanzania, Mr Engelberth Boniphace, emphasizes.

Beatrice Mchome from Crescent Environmental Management Consult, who has been hired by the AVAN Kilimanjaro Ltd to conduct Environmental and Social Impact Assessment, says “the cable cars will be rolled out along the Machame Route where the ascent will start and end”.

The Machame Route, also known as the Whiskey Route, is reportedly popular because it offers a scenic climb, but it is also difficult, steep and challenging.

A renowned mountain tour guide, Mr Victor Manyanga, echoes his fears saying the glittering cable cars product will contradict the country’s conservation policy, as it will encourage mass tourism and become a major threat to the ecology of Mount Kilimanjaro.

“The cable car will be installed along the Machame route, which doubles as an irreplaceable bird migratory route…I am greatly worried over electric wires severely affecting the migration of birds,” Manyanga says.

And Mr Merwyn Nunes, a former civil servant in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, voices his opposition to the cable cars, saying the Mount Kilimanjaro is a sacred place that deserves nothing short of cherishing its wild beautyΩ

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