Kenya wades into Serengeti highway controversy


(eTN) – The Kenyan government, with the referendum and promulgation of the country’s new constitution now behind them, is seemingly now once again focusing on matters arising as information filtered out of Nairobi last week over imminent talks with their Tanzanian counterparts over the controversial highway routing presently preferred across the Serengeti, almost parallel to the common border which separates the Serengeti from the Masai Mara in Kenya.

The prospect of the routing, ruining the annual migration of the wildebeest and zebras and potentially decimating the big herds from their present number of an estimated 1.5+ million animals to as few as 200,000, according to case studies by leading global conservation bodies, has raised serious concerns among tourism operators on both sides of the border. Yet, while the Kenyan were more outspoken in the past, as witnessed across a spectrum of social networking sites, their Tanzanian counterparts are rather more subdued, most likely because the country is going to the polls on October 31, the president has, in an ill-considered speech, thrown his weight behind this, instead of the available alternative Southern route. In the best tradition of African politics, no one now wants to be seen to tell the president that he erred in his judgement, lest be seen and then branded as anti government – something which can have serious consequences in this part of the world.

Kenya has reportedly made early approaches through their High Commission in Dar es Salaam and also involved the good offices of the East African Community based in Arusha while ministerial contacts and, in fact, top-level discussions are also said to be lined up in order to resolve the problem, but talks are considered “spicy” as many other pending and unresolved issues are on the agenda between the two neighbors. Relations are, at times, hampered by “being stuck in the past” when antagonistic feelings over economical superiority by Kenya have often led to sharp public spats in the best tradition of the breakup of the first East African Community in 1977, which was followed by closure by more than 7 years of the common borders for all traffic. Hence, it will be wait and see what talks, as and when they take place, can achieve, while not much is expected to happen before Tanzania’s general election is concluded.

Meanwhile, reports have emerged that Facebook has tampered with the global efforts to move the road to the available Southern route, when reports emerged that the “Stop the Serengeti Highway” page administrators were unable to post items or make changes, and that clicking on links posted by third parties was for a while impossible, too. This led to prompt allegations that FB had been gotten to and was party to muzzling discontent and restricting the freedom of speech, available to the FB management in the US but allegedly now denied to the global community by their actions.