A legal case was filed in December 2010 by the Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW), a Kenya nonprofit organization, challenging the Tanzanian government’s decision to build a commercial highway across the Serengeti National Park.
On June 20, 2014, the court ruled that the government of Tanzania could not build a paved (bitumen) road across the northern section of the Serengeti, as it had planned.
The final decision read:
“A permanent injunction is hereby issued restraining the Respondent from operationalising its initial proposal or proposed action of constructing or maintaining a road of bitumen standard across the Serengeti National Park subject to its right to undertake such other programmes or initiate policies in the future which would not have a negative impact on the environment and ecosystem in the Serengeti National Park.”
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. See: http://www.savetheserengeti.org/issues/highway/stop-the-serengeti-highway/
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 court case against the Serengeti highway took another step toward resolution. On August 20, 2013, the East African Court of Justice resumed its 3rd quarter session by hearing testimony from witnesses for and against the highway.
The African Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW), which brought the case, presented one witness, with the government of Tanzania presenting three. ANAW reported to us the following:
“We had a good day in court in Arusha and our expert witness testified. His evidence was on the state of the road and the negative effects of the road if it were to be constructed. He told the court among other things that due to noise and increased public movement on the road, animal behavior would be affected and that it would affect migration.
The Tanzanian side had three witnesses one Ms Zafarani Madayi who is the head of safety and environment at Tanzania Roads Agency, she gave evidence that the negative impact cited would be adequately be addressed. She however did not state how that would be done. The next witness was DR James Wakibara who is the Chief Ecologist at Tanzania National Park(TANAPA) his evidence was to discredit our witness report that it was not done in a scientific way and that some part of it was from literature research. He stated that there is no evidence that the road would affect migration. The two witnesses portrayed the project as good for tourism and opening up the eastern and northern part of the country.
The other witness was Mr. William Mwakilema who is the chief Warden Serengeti National park. His evidence tried to show our expert report as a research and thus claimed that the expert should have applied for necessary permits to do research. The court had observed that the expert report was part of the proceeding.
Before the hearing the Tanzanian side had filed a preliminary objection on matters of Jurisdiction and ANAW right to file the case. The court ruled that the objection could not be heard under rule 41 of court procedure rules which provides that the objection should have be filed before the scheduling Conference which was in April. The court also observed that those two issues had been dealt with by the appellate Division of the court.
The court directed that we file and serve our written submissions by 10TH October and the respondent to file and serve their submission by 15TH of November 2013 and then we will do a rejoinder if any within 14 days. Thereafter the Court will communicate the date for the parties to highlight the key issues in their submission. The case was covered by the media thought the Tanzania media seems to misrepresent what was said.”
Read a review of the case by journalist Wolfgang Thome here.
Update December 1, 2012
The East African Court of Justice has said that the trial will move forward by announcing a Scheduling Conference for January 23, 2013. This follows an earlier ruling in which the court threw out objections by the Tanzanian government. Read a news article on the announcement here.
This case is significant, as it could stop future plans for a commercial corridor through the Serengeti. But it is also significant for several other reasons:
- It was brought by a local East African conservation organization, rather than by an external organization or government exerting pressure.
- It operates within the legal framework of an East African court system designed expressly to deal with such issues.
- It is a test of the power and jurisdiction of the EACJ to decide on transboundary issues within East Africa, especially those relating to conservation
The case was filed by the Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW) challenging the government’s decision on the grounds that if constructed, the road would have far-reaching consequences on the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem which is shared between Kenya and Tanzania. ANAW had wanted the Tanzanian government compelled to stop the construction of the road through a permanent injunction
The EACJ is the instrument for settling disputes among members of the East African Community, which are Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi. Serengeti Watch is supporting this legal action and is asking for your help as well.
Saitabao ole Kanchory, attorney for ANAW (right) arguing before the court.
The legal case is significant. It seeks to permanently restrain the government of Tanzania from the following:
- “constructing, creating, commissioning or maintaining a trunk road or highway across any part of the Serengeti National Park.”
- “degazetting (removing) any part of the Serengeti National Park for the purpose of upgrading, tarmacking, paving, realigning, constructing, creating or commissioning” the highway.
- removing itself from UNESCO obligations with respect to the Serengeti National Park.
The legal action states that the highway is first and foremost an infringement of the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community. It would cause “irreparable and irreversible damage to the environment of the Serengeti National Park and the adjoining and inseparable Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya.”
Under the terms of the EAC Treaty, partner states are required to cooperate in the management of shared natural resources, notify each other of activities that are likely to have significant transboundary environmental impacts, and to follow protocols for Environmental Impact Assessment.
Other obligations cited fall under: the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity, the United Nations Declaration on the Human Environment, the Stockholm Declaration, and the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
The legal action was filed last December by the African Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW), located in Kenya. See the news article: Activists file suit against Serengeti Highway move
Website for the East African Community.
More on the East African Court of Justice can be found here.
Website for the East African Community environmental section
Download document on Transboundary Environmental Assessment for Shared Ecosystems.
Download document on environmental protocols
ANAW press release from March 2012. ANAW_press_rel_3-15-12
“Any dispute concerning the interpretation or application of the Treaty or any of the matters referred to the Court cannot be subjected to any method of settlement other than those provided for in the Treaty. Where a dispute has been referred to the Court, the Partner States are enjoined to refrain from any action which might be detrimental to the resolution of or might aggravate the dispute further, a Partner State or the Council “must take”, without delay, the measures required to implement a judgment of the Court.” – Wikipedia