New direction set to boost Tanzania tourism

Unlike the former holder of the Natural Resources and Tourism portfolio, one Lazaro Nyalandu, who during his time in office was clearly afraid of the powers that be in Tanzania, Prof. Jumanne Maghembe has come out with all guns blazing, when he declared his priorities following the swearing in by President Magufuli just before Christmas.

Prof. Maghembe wasted no time to give Tanzania’s tourism and conservation fraternity the “Sound of Music” when he named stepped up anti-poaching operations, a clamp down on illegal logging and illegal tropical wood exports, and a boosted tourism promotion as key areas in his portfolio on which he will initially concentrate.

Past ministers in the Kikwete regime, with the exception of Amb. Khamis Kageshekki, all treaded very softly in regard to anti-poaching efforts, suggesting they knew on whose toes they would step if they came down hard on the suspects. When Kagesheki was pushed out of the cabinet after drawing up the now notorious list of 300 main suspects in government, the party and among other high-ranking officials the writing was on the wall for his successor to do little else but pay lip service, something which ultimately cost him his job when President Magufuli put together his cabinet list of performers, not talkers.

Already in the dying days of the Kikwete regime, major arrests were made, and while there reportedly was some interference, this died down swiftly – confirmed by several conservation sources in Tanzania – when the shift in direction from the top became apparent. President Magufuli quickly established himself as a no-nonsense president, and his stern warning to the private sector to pay outstanding taxes and duties or else within the space of two weeks yielded nearly two trillion Tanzania shillings in payments. Combined with the sacking of key officials from the Tanzania Ports Authority and the Tanzania Revenue Authority, the writing was on the wall that there was no longer looking the other way from the top, as was the case under the Kikwete regime, but that everyone either shaped up or else, voluntarily or involuntarily, shipped out.

More anti-poaching arrests have since taken place, and a source close to TANAPA has confirmed that they were promised added resources for surveillance, monitoring, outright hunts for poaching gangs, investigations, and prosecutions.

Under the Kikwete regime, the Eastern Arc Mountains were removed from the list of applicants for the coveted UNESCO World Heritage status, leading to an invasion of illegal loggers and miners which has in the space of just four years left huge scars on the forests. Again, Prof. Maghembe has come out to declare his intention to clamp down on this unsustainable practice which within a few more years could have stripped Tanzania of large swathes of forest, bringing with it a massive environmental impact on the country.

These measures are bound to support the Tanzanian tourism sector which has been trodding along a wobbly path over the past year, and the promise to raise visitor numbers from the present 1.2 million to three million by the end of this term of government is indicative that more resources will be made available to promote the country, at home for a rise in domestic tourism, in the region – here it is hoped that Tanzania will join the single tourist visa initiative by the NICP countries – and of course in the key consumer markets abroad like North America, Europe, the Middle East, and the emerging markets in Asia.

“We welcome the commitment made by Professor Maghembe,” said a source from Arusha before adding, “Here at Kilimanjaro we have international flights from KLM, Turkish, Qatar, Fly Dubai, Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines to name a few. Tourism wants to work hand in hand with them to increase load factors. More international airlines fly to Dar es Salaam like Swiss, South African Airways, Emirates and Etihad and the same applies there too. And for Zanzibar we have Oman Air, Fly Dubai, Qatar Airways and Kenya Airways and they all connect passengers from their network to the island. The Tanzania Tourist Board needs some new focus and learn to really work hand in hand with the private sector. In fact, the private sector should be put in the driving seat when it comes to policy and implementation of strategies how to promote Tanzania because we know better than some of those bureaucrats. We expect changes and are confident that the new government, the new minister, will deliver those to achieve his goals.”

Other areas where all eyes are now on the new government are the hugely controversial Serengeti Highway, where conservationists hope that the route around the southern end of the Serengeti will be chosen to avoid the massive impact increased traffic will have on the migration of wildebeest and zebras. The same applies to the mud flats of Lake Natron, which are the only breeding ground for the millions of flamingos from the Eastern African region where the Kikwete regime, irrespective of the impact of their plans, wanted to build a soda ash plant. Meanwhile at the coast there is renewed hope that the plans to build a deep sea harbor in the shallow bay of Mwambani, the center of the Coelacanth Marine Park, will be thrown into the dustbin to concentrate on the more viable port projects of either Tanga or Bagamoyo.

Uranium mining in the Selous Game Reserve also proved to be hugely controversial with few details released on the potential toxicity of the venture. The proposed hydropower plant at Stiegler’s Gorge, in the heart of the Selous’ core tourism area, is also still hanging in the balance, leaving much more to be watched and concerned about how the new government under President Magufuli will deal with those pending monstrosities.

But for now all signs are so far positive that both President and Minister are on course to restore Tanzania’s erstwhile reputation as a conservation nation, after years of pillage and rape of natural resources under the old regime.