by Paul Harrison
Tanzanian tourism continues to grow steadily
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), reported in the Daily News, the tourism industry grew by 5.6% in 2018 across Africa compared to a global average of 3.9%, making Africa the second fastest growing region after Asia-Pacific. Tanzania continues to outpace many other East African nations, with a solid product range of safaris, walking, mountaineering and beach tourism boosting the industry which accounts for 17% of Tanzania’s GDP. The Citizen reports that Tanzania was 10th in the tourism growth ranking across the continent, based on the WTTC’s 2019 Competitive Index.
However, the ease of doing business for the tourism sector is diminished by a robust bureaucracy, a forthright national revenue service and ongoing difficulties in accessing foreign exchange, for companies and tourists alike. Queues at a restricted number of dedicated forex bureaux have become commonplace. As the country looks to improve the investment climate through 2020, the government faces a challenge to align pro-investment messaging with improvements in bureaucracy. For instance, The Citizen reported the government statement that it will simplify the procedure for wildlife filming, recognising the potential for wildlife films and documentaries to attract visitors.
Ongoing investments in infrastructure include a new train operating between Dar es Salaam and Moshi, expected to encourage hikers, backpackers and those seeking a slower pace of sightseeing. Investments in the road network aid tourism growth although these sometimes risk impacting the viability of key wild animal populations such as lions, which require large undisturbed areas and the ability to migrate freely.
Lions, symbol of Tanzania’s might, at risk
In Tanzanian daily life, the lion features on currency, commercial logos, kanga designs and tourist shirts, but the economic benefits of lions to Tanzania are not widely known. There are around 8,000 lions in Tanzania, accounting for over a third of all lion populations globally. This point of pride for Tanzania is also a great responsibility. 60% of Tanzania’s lions live outside protected areas and are increasingly threatened. Lions are vital to Tanzania’s tourist industry, with tourists wanting to see lions above all else. Healthy lion populations keep herbivore populations under control which keeps diseases at bay; their habitats serve as carbon sinks. Water from lion habitats feeds rivers, supplying major cities and conserving lion habitat ensures more resilient ecosystems. Yet investments into lion conservation are limited, reflecting a lack of awareness of their plight. A campaign called #bethepride has been launched, with national and international support, to raise awareness of dwindling lion populations, increase Tanzanians pride in them and help individual Tanzanians act to protect them.
Managing links between communal lands, game reserves and national parks is important to ensure suitable space for lions. There can be unintended consequences of partitioning protected areas, as if a new national park is created, it can be tempting to build roads around it. Yet habitat connectivity and countering the ‘edge effect’ to parks and reserves is critical. A holistic approach to protected areas management is required; the links need to be safeguarded where they can.
New national parks bring new opportunities
The government continues to invest into and expand the national parks system, with 22 parks in the national park system under Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA). The largest national park in Africa, Nyerere National Park, was gazetted in November 2019. This has upgraded 30,893 square kilometres (out of 50,000) of the Selous Game Reserve. Also recently gazetted are Ugalla River National Park (3.865 km2) and Kigosi National Park (7,460 km2), both also former game reserves.
The transfer of significant, prime sections of game reserve wildlife real estate to TANAPA suggests that government sees future value to its wildlife economy increasingly in photographic tourism alongside utilisation. To safeguard against the variability of the tourism industry, the government will need to ensure a diverse tourism product and investment strategy to counter reduced returns elsewhere across the wildlife estate, including from hunting.
Investment into new destinations and effective national and international marketing of them will be critical, especially of hitherto unknown destinations in the Southern Circuit—the collection of parks across the south of the country. A new arrangement for TANAPA to be managed from four regional zonal offices (north, south, east and west) will no doubt help evolving operations, reducing pressure on Arusha headquarters. Financing will be key, both in terms of short-term support from government and donors (in place now from the USA, Germany, the United Nations and the World Bank, amongst others) as well as long-term economic sustainability.
Increasing national park numbers may also indicate a response to challenges faced in realising the potential of the Tanzania Wildlife Management Authority (TAWA), established in 2014. This includes the issue that wildlife utilisation, including hunting, is increasingly controversial in some consumer countries. Countries like the USA have closed elephant and lion trophy imports for significant periods and the UK is considering a total ban on wildlife trophy imports. Social media reflects an increasing global intolerance of hunting, putting pressure on governments in consumer countries. A number of major safari operators have surrendered concessions, including some in place for decades, citing a lack of demand. Wildlife utilisation remains a part of the wildlife economy picture, if diminished; the remaining area of the Selous game reserve set aside for utilisation after the creation of Nyerere national park is down to around a third of the original size.
Meanwhile, the Rufiji Hydropower project is ongoing at Stiegler’s Gorge, with ambitious plans for completion by 2022 requiring excavation of the Rufiji river dam site throughout 2020 and work on the reservoir in 2021 before construction of the power plant. UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, working with the World Conservation Union (IUCN) were critical of TANESCO’s Strategic Environmental Assessment for the hydropower project in a review submitted to the government in late 2019. The question mark remains over retention of the area’s World Heritage status. The project, expected to generate 2,100 megawatts with an annual output of 6,300 GWh, is critical to the President’s industrialisation strategy.
Anti-poaching strategy yielding results with increased political will
Tanzania’s increasingly hard line on poaching, including on the involvement of foreign nationals, is reflected in the government’s 2014 national strategy to combat poaching and the illegal wildlife trade, supported by the United Nations and other partners. This responded to an international poaching crisis which saw the Selous game reserve hardest hit. After a slow start to implementation, ongoing institutional reforms and a strong focus on enforcement under the current government have seen the strategy bear fruit. Previously disparate law enforcement units that tackled poaching from different perspectives have been brought together under the national task force on anti-poaching, spearheaded by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism with collaboration of other national law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
High-level cases have successfully been brought to justice. Notably, coordinated intelligence and enforcement efforts within Tanzania led to the arrest of Chinese national Yang Fenglan alongside several Tanzanian accomplices. The so-called ‘Ivory Queen’ was convicted in 2019 of smuggling around 700 elephant tusks and accused of operating an ivory smuggling ring. Her arrest and prosecution were openly supported by the Chinese government.
Poaching levels are now dropping consistently and there has been a notable increase in elephant populations over the last two years, though diligent efforts and ongoing funding are required to ensure the crisis does not return. Funding for anti-poaching and intelligence work comes through the Tanzania Wildlife Protection Fund, supported by key national protected areas agencies. Ongoing supplementary investments from international donors into implementation of the national anti-poaching strategy are expected to be necessary in the short term.
Charcoal, certified timber and tackling deforestation
The Citizen reported that the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group, working with the Tanzania Community Forest Conservation Network, has provided training in Morogoro to local people on sustainable harvesting of trees for charcoal. Charcoal use remains widespread and significantly contributes to deforestation. These efforts support community revenue generation, education and awareness and could be replicated widely. Meanwhile in southern Tanzania, a number of timber companies are now Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified, in an effort to ensure the sustainability of the trade in valuable timber resources, from community managed forests as well as government reserves.