Controversy brewing over airport plans in Greater Serengeti


Old plans, brought down by committed conservationists and angry area residents a few years ago, seem to rear the ugly head again, as efforts to build a major airport in the Serengeti district region are apparently once again being tabled.

Whatever ulterior motives the promoters may have could neither then nor now be established with certainty, but suspicion is well advised when dealing with such grandstanding.

But what more level headed and well informed individuals from Tanzania have pointed out to eTN is the fact that there are international airports between Arusha and Moshi (Kilimanjaro International) and in Mwanza at Lake Victoria offering enough spare capacity for international flights into the country for years to come.

What appears to make greater sense is to improve, in particular, the Mwanza airport and use it as a springboard into the Serengeti for tourism purposes with smaller light aircraft suitable to fly into airstrips near the main lodges, safari camps and resorts.

By spending a fraction of the cost of a new major airport on the modernization and expansion of Mwanza’s airport one could let go of the new airport plans, which could potentially disrupt the great migration from the Serengeti into the Masai Mara and rob the tourism industry of a globally acknowledged attraction second to none.

The plans of Grumeti Reserves to build a 4.2-kilometer runway in the middle of nowhere near Mugumu reminds this columnist of a similar scheme in Uganda, where harebrained project promoters, largely considered unsuitable, proposed to build a Free Trade Zone and major airport near Masaka. This too fell foul of public complaints and threats of legal cases by conservationists, which could have tied the promoters in court action for a decade or longer.

What East Africa needs are sustainable development projects, benefiting the population with job opportunities and the country with export earnings in foreign exchange, and not “white elephants,” nor “homelands” for cults as has been rumored in some similar cases.