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New Cable Car on Mount Kilimanjaro? Tanzania Tourism Says No!

Image courtesy of Сергей Паничук from Pixabay

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

In 2019, Tanzania announced an ambitious plan that would see a cable car installed on Mount Kilimanjaro in its quest to quadruple annual tourist numbers to Africa’s highest mountain from 50,000 to 200,000 thereby reaping more dollars.

Local investors contend that no tender was floated for a fair competition and that AVAN Kilimanjaro Ltd., a company 100 percent owned by 6 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 foreigner shareholders is licensed to operate a cable car against it?” he queried. 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 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 operation and pay the corporate tax amounting $1.8 million to the Tanzania Revenue Authority.

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

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

The chairman of the 300-plus-member flamboyant Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO), Mr. Wilbard Chambulo, said the cable car 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 3 decades; it’s a volatile trade. This company cannot make $10 million profit in the same year as it tells the government,” said Mr. Chambulo.

The TATO boss is worried over the cable car harshly affecting revenues in the long run.

This will cause service to be significantly reduced with the length of stay dropping from 8 days 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 car will turn a 6-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,” said Ms. Zainab Ansell, the owner of Zara Tours. Sharing her 36 years of experience on her Mount Kilimanjaro hiking business, Ms. Zainab said 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 car project with thrice as much of tourists. Again, the economic multiplier effects of a hiking business are far from the cable car 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 for a tourist, is anything to go by.

Mount Kilimanjaro Porters Society (MKPS) opposes the cable car product outright, saying it will deny employment to nearly 250,000 unskilled porters scaling up Mount Kilimanjaro for a wage each year. “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,” MKPS Vice Chairman Edson Mpemba explained.

Mpemba wondered that decision makers had overlooked interests of the huge number of unskilled labor, 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 stressed, cautioning, “The cable car facility will initially look like a noble and innovative idea, but it will, in the long run, ruin the future of the majority of local people whose livelihood depends on the mountain.”

Loishiye Mollel, head of the  Tanzania Porters’ Organization (TPO) said: “One visitor from the U.S. can have a maximum of 15 people behind him, of which 13 are porters, a cook, and a guide. All these jobs will be affected by a cable car. We are of the view that the mountain should be left as it is.” The Advocate of the High Court of Tanzania, Engelberth Boniphace, emphasized, “Taking away porters’ livelihood means to deny them the rights to life.”

Beatrice Mchome, from Crescent Environmental Management Consult, hired by AVAN Kilimanjaro Ltd. to conduct the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment said the cable car “would 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.”

Renowned mountain tour guide Victor Manyanga echoed his fears saying:

The glittering cable car product will contradict the country’s conservation policy.

Instead 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 said.

A former civil servant in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Merwyn Nunes, voiced his opposition to the cable car, saying that Mount Kilimanjaro is a sacred place that deserves nothing short of cherishing.

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Adam Ihucha - eTN Tanzania

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1 Comment

  • Stupidity idea which is ruin for the unskilled workers. Please live it as it is. Climbing is for those who are capable of doing it physically and not by using the cable car lift! The effects are higher than the impact of the benefit.

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