It’s for the same reasons that we would like to remind the president that the attainment of the noble goal would be easier if he started with the protection of the cash cow, National Parks and Game Reserves.
Protecting national parks and game reserves mean keeping them off destructive human activities that includes uranium mining which is currently going on in the Selous (much as the area has since been excluded from the Selous Game Reserve) at the Mkuju River.
According to the foreign company involved, their mining activity is harmless to the environment because they are using modern uranium mining method, In-Situ Leaching (ISL) over which I would elaborate later.
Other human activities that need to be stopped if we are really serious about transforming national parks and game reserves into industries are other industrial developments in the Selous Game Reserve.
These include the long planned hydro-electric power project at Stiegler’s Gorge on Rufiji River, the Kidunda Water Dam on Mgeta River, which is planned to supply water to Dar es Salaam and Coast regions, and the continued exploration of oil, gas and minerals in the Selous.
The beauty of starting with the protection of national parks and game reserves like the Selous is due to the fact that they already lead in foreign exchange earnings.
For instance, Selous Game Reserve alone earns an average of six million US dollars (14bn/-) per annum. The country’s total earnings from national parks and game reserves is 2bn US dollars (5bn/-) per annum, which is more than what is raked in by mining!
We would like to remind the president about the importance of our national parks and game reserves to the economy because, if well advertised by institutions like the Tanzania Tourist Board (TTB) and others, national parks and game reserves would rake in more.
Investors and tourists could in turn more than triple the country’s present foreign exchange earnings. In the past, Tanzania had prided itself with growing of cash crops such as coffee, sisal, cotton, hides and skins which had, apart from earning the country foreign currency through their exports, the surplus was fed on our local industries which were in the form of shoe and textile industries.
But for reasons best known to ourselves, we stopped producing, in abundance, the foregoing cash crops, and as if that was not bad enough, we later killed our own textile and shoe factories.
But the most unfortunate thing is that those who may have wanted to revive the shoe and textile industries, cannot because the essential machineries no longer exist having been sold as scrap metals.
And that’s how smart some of us were immediately the founding father of this nation, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, passed on the baton!
It’s for the same reason that some of us understand and appreciate the President Magufuli’s efforts to re-launch Tanzania into an industrial country.
We understand and appreciate what the president is doing because Tanzania cannot absorb the present, growing army of jobless young men and women without establishment of industries.
And like in a 100m race, national parks and game reserves ought and must mark the first staging blocks for the race to industrialization. Protection of national parks and game reserves does not only help in earning the country foreign currency through tourism, but the forest cover in our national parks and game reserves help in stabilizing our climate and in bringing about increased rains.
For instance, if today we decided to embark on the construction of hydro-electric power plant at the Stiegler’s Gorge, the dam so formed in the upstream of the Rufiji River would inundate 1,100 square kilometres of the Selous Game Reserve land.
Now the area to be covered by water would certainly reduce, quite considerably, the Selous Game Reserve’s present size of 55, 000 square kilometre. But that is not all. The massive dam will also remove forage and block areas that used to serve as corridors or migratory routes for wild animals in the reserve.
It is also important to note that the Selous Game Reserve has over 2,000 species of vegetation some of which would be destroyed if a dam was created in the quest to turn the Stiegler’s Gorge into an electric power plant. And if we go ahead and do the same thing through the establishment of the Kidunda water dam, it will once again eat into the 55,000 square kilometre!
The question we therefore need to ask ourselves before we embark on the two above projects is; do we really need, a hydro electric power plant at the Stiegler’s Gorge when we already have abundant gas resources for producing power?
Do we really need Kidunda water dam for producing water for Dar es Salaam and Coast Regions when we can get water straight from Rufiji River for the two regions?
If we could build a very expensive gas pipeline from Mtwara to Dar es Salaam, what stops us from building a water pipe from Rufiji River for residents for Dar es Salaam and Coast regions?
Our uranium investors at Mkuju River say their latest mining method is environmentally safe compared to past, open pit mining method that turned Germany’s Wismut Uranium Mine into a living nightmare. But we still need to ask ourselves how safe for us and the country at large is this thing called In-Situ Leaching.
According to In-Situ Leaching, reinforced iron pipes are driven to the uranium bearing rock in the bowels of the earth laden with sulphuric acid. And upon reaching the uranium bearing rocks, the acid in the pipes sucks uranium back to a collector on top of the ground and the collected pure uranium is later made into yellow cakes ready for export.
The uranium mining company in question recently issued a report to the effect that their pipes are being driven beyond ground water, meaning that, chances of sulphuric acid mixed with uranium contaminating ground water is non-existent.
But the million dollar question is how sure are we that the sulphuric acid inside the reinforced pipes have, as claimed, been driven beyond water table or ground water?
Secondly, we need to ask ourselves whether all uranium bearing rocks at the Mkuju River are located beyond ground water. It’s also important to note that uranium mining through In-Situ leaching at Mkuju River is expected to continue for not less than ten years.
And that being the case, the question we now need to ask ourselves is; how sure are we that, in the course of ten years of uranium mining, we would not have an accident in which chemicals (in the form of sulphuric acid mixed with uranium) from those reinforced iron pipes will not get into ground water and finally feed into other water bodies, hence affect other flora and fauna?
We are raising this question because the nuclear accident we often hear about do not occur because of lack of safety measures. Such accidents occur because scientifically and technologically tested safety measures which had been put into place had broken down.
That’s how the world came to learn of the nuclear accident at the Chernobyl power in Ukraine, which was then still under the yoke of the Soviet Union in 1986. And again, that is how the world came to learn of another nuclear accident in power plant in Japan a few years ago.
Because accidents in nuclear power plants are unpredictatble, this has forced a country like Germany which had about 15 nuclear power plant to close down eight of such plants. It is the same problem which has forced Germany which is a global leader in science and technology to invest billions of Euros into research and development of alternative energy sources.
The point is, the uranium mining company may mean well what they are telling the government about the safety of their latest mining technology.
But the government need to bear in mind that if an accident occurs at Mkuju River Uranium project, it would be nothing but an accident, and that the mining company may not be taken to task.
For Tanzanians, things would be different. If it’s not the present generation, then it’s the next generation of Tanzanians that would ultimately bear the brunt of the accident.
Some of the questions we need to ask ourselves are; if countries like Ukraine, United States and Japan with all the money and technology in the field have had, had nuclear accidents, what would stop us from getting problems the foregoing countries have had?
Should an accident occur at Mkuju River, would the Selous Game Reserve survive as a conservation area, meaning that would we continue to have all conservation targets in the area?
For one to understand and appreciate the foregoing question, we need to look into what are major conservation targets or ecosystem in the Selous Game Reserve.
According to conservation gurus, the Selous Game Reserve ecosystem is made up of three levels, the first one being a system which consists of River Rufiji and Ox-bow lakes.
The second level is what is referred to as Community which is made up of Riverine forests, Miombo Woodlands, Borasus Palm, Acacia Woodland and Vegetation mosaic/habitat.
And the last and final level is made up of what are referred to as species and they include elephants, wild dogs, Dalbergia (Mpingo), and rhino. But this does not mean that other animals like buffaloes, giraffes, lions and other plants like Borasus palm and Tamarin tree in the Selous do not count, far from it.
What this mean is that without the presence of the three levels of system, community and species, the Selous Game Reserve would automatically lose its conservation character.
And this brings us to another critical point, and that’s, it was the presence of the three noted levels that would goad UNESCO in 1982 to declare the Selous Game Reserve as a World Heritage Site.
However, when the Selous Game Reserve started to lose a substantial part of its iconic species (90 per cent of its elephants and rhinos) through industrial poaching of elephants and rhinos, in 2014, UNESCO placed the Selous Game Reserve in the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger.
As you read this article today, the Selous Game Reserve is not yet out of the woods as far as its enlistment by UNESCO in the endangered World Heritage Site is concerned.
What Tanzanians, and the government in particular, now need to do is to get the biggest game reserve in Africa out of the endangered list of World Heritage Sites.
The good news in the realm of poaching is that the fifth phase administration of President Magufuli is already dealing with it.
It was actually the president’s seriousness and commitment in dealing with poaching that convinced me to personally write him an Open Letter on why it was important for him to consider ridding the country of, among others, uranium mining in the country in September this year.
As I write here today, I’m still convinced that the fifth phase administration has what it takes to get rid of uranium and three other threats I have mentioned above in the most poaching affected game reserve in the country, the Selous.
To get a sense of how the Selous Game Reserve was afflicted by poaching, in 1976, the reserve had 110,000 elephants and a substantial number of rhinos.
However, by 2014, the elephant population had been reduced, through vicious poaching, by 90% to 15,000. The same thing more or less affected the rhino population which was reduced to alarming levels.
President Magufuli may however have comfort that he is not alone in the war against poachers. For internationally, the global community are behind him in fighting poaching and illegal wildlife trade through different international fora and media in order to address the markets of such products, which is not a mean achievement, given the short time he has served as president of Tanzania.