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Activists oppose plan to build railway through national park

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By FLAVIA LANYERO

Posted  Wednesday, December 28   2011 at  00:00

In Summary

Transport Minister Abraham Byandala said Parliament did not need to approve the deal because the Chinese are carrying out the feasibility study free of charge.

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KAMPALA

Uganda and Tanzania have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with a Chinese construction company to build a railway line passing through the Serengeti National Park to Kampala. However, conservationists have opposed the development, saying it is against international conservation treaties and that it will affect seasonal migration of the wild beasts through the park.

The Serengeti is a continuation of the Greater Mara Ecosystem which is famous for its exceptional population of big cats, game, and the annual migration of zebra, Thomson’s gazelle, and wildebeest from the Serengeti every year from July to October, famously called the Great Migration.

The Minister for Transport, Mr Abraham Byandala, yesterday confirmed to Daily Monitor the signing of the MoUs which begin with the China Civil Engineering Construction Company conducting a feasibility study worth about $450 million for the proposed railway route from Tanga port to Musoma on the shores of Lake Victoria from where a new railway ferry route will then connect across the lake to a proposed new lake port in Uganda.

The new port would then be connected by a rail link to Kampala and beyond.
Mr Byandala said construction of Bukasa port has already began. This is despite the fact that two lake ports already exist at Port Bell and Jinja, which are currently underutilised.

“I signed for the state minister to travel and sign the documents and if he did travel then the memorandum should be signed,” Mr Byandala said. He added that Parliament did not need to approve the deal because the Chinese are carrying out the feasibility study free of charge. The railway would also open up pending mining concessions in the area between Serengeti and Musoma and possibly give the much needed green light for a soda ash factory at Lake Natron in Tanzania.

‘Dirty’ deal?
According to Prof. Wolfgang Thome’s blog, the past president of the Uganda Tourism Association, the timing of the signing of the MoU was well chosen as many, including conservationists, are on vacation and could not pay much attention.

Uganda’s conservation groups, who were not aware of the latest developments, said this move paints a bad picture to the country which has signed conservation treaties and it is important the Ministry of Transport makes public the feasibility studies and mitigation measures put in place for scrutiny.

“The government should follow certain guidelines in major investments in protected areas like the national park. This development should not have a negative impact like disrupting the migration routes for wild animals, we are interested in seeing the Environment Impact Assessment for the route,” the Executive Director Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment, Mr Godber Tumushabe, said.

The Executive Editor of the Ecological Christian Organisation, Mr Isaac Kabong, said if the project will disrupt wildlife and tourism, then it is a setback to the conservation and tourism sector of the region and a bad name to the country for not honouring conservation treaties.

flanyero@ug.nationmedia.com