by Mark Gillies
This dry season, tourist tales are of long day drives spent looking for elephant. Some find large groups clustered tightly; others are unlucky and return home without seeing one. It never used to be this way. Tanzania’s poaching epidemic is now much more than statistics: it is arguably a national disaster.
At the end of April, Tanzania was named in the Born Free USA/C4ADS ‘List of Shame’ as one of the top countries in Africa with the worst poaching records and the least effective government action to control the worst threat to natural resources in living memory.
Perhaps partly in response the growing international criticism of perceived governmental inaction to combat international poaching syndicates, the Tanzanian government hosted a Summit Conference to Stop Wildlife Crime and Advance Wildlife Conservation in May and signed a joint initiative with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to establish a new body for wildlife conservation. On 10 May, The Daily News reported the creation of the Tanzania Wildlife Authority (TAWA), to increase the revenue derived from Tanzania’s natural resource and to intensify conservation. Let us hope the two are not mutually exclusive.
The creation of TAWA was announced by the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Lazaro Nyalandu, who assured delegates to the conference that there would be zero tolerance towards the corrupt and inefficient elements involved in the protection of the country’s wildlife. In particular, 500 extra game rangers are to be hired and three helicopters await pilots currently training in South Africa.
Operation Tokomeza, the Tanzanian government’s attempt to combat poaching (see an article in TA108), continues to create headlines. In May, President Kikwete established an investigation into the Operation. Retired Justice Hamisi Msumi will head efforts to address the complaints of all those negatively affected by the Operation whilst also investigating claims that the Operation was sabotaged. Meanwhile, Tokomeza II continues, but without the early successes, or alleged excesses, of the original Operation.
Putting to one side where the individual culpability lies for the dramatic loss of natural resources through poaching, The Citizen on 7 July draws on the international media to provide a clear explanation for the driving force behind the trade. It outlined how the price of African ivory in China has tripled over the past three years, so that the cost of ivory in China is now ten times the cost in Africa, a profit margin that is driving corruption, crime and conflict across Africa.
The poaching epidemic in Tanzania must be confronted and stopped for the sake of the species targeted. Once they are gone, they will be extremely difficult to reintroduce. The continued existence of elephant and rhino has an existential value, but it also has an immense economic value – a fact should also be remembered by the Tanzanian government when considering other areas of legislation that affects the tourism industry.
Tax and Tourism
In June, in the run up to the release of the national budgets in East Africa, intense lobbying was carried out by the Tanzanian tourism industry with government officials to prevent, or adjust the timeline for, the repeal of certain VAT exemptions covering tourism goods and services that would have resulted in an increase to the average Tanzanian holiday package of about 10%.
Whilst the impact of such a rise on the numbers of tourists visiting Tanzania in the medium to long term is debatable, the issue was that the change was due to come into effect on 1 July 2014, days after the decision and at the start of the peak travel season. The potential increased costs would have to be passed on to clients, risking widespread cancellations and Tanzania’s good reputation in the African tourism market.
The Tanzanian government of course has the right to determine its monetary policy as it wishes, but tourism operators were left pleading for some forewarning and an understanding of the realities of the ultra- competitive market that is African tourism.
In the event, the decision was delayed until October, leaving the operators waiting.
On 23 June eTN Global Travel Industry News reported that the East African Court of Justice had ruled against the Tanzanian government’s plans to construct a bitumen road across the Serengeti National Park, declaring it to be ‘unlawful’. Although celebrations broke out in court and across the internet, it should be noted that the ruling only specified a ‘bitumen road’, leaving open the prospect of a gravel road following the same route. So the battle goes on for the future of the Great Migration, the integrity of the Serengeti National Park and the reputation of Tanzania as a leader in the field of African conservation.