Tour operators rubbish as baseless human rights abuse claims

TANZANIA: IN a united response, Tanzania’s tour operators are vehemently faulting foreign non-state actors, who have perpetuated systematic attacks against the nation’s conservation efforts at the expense of tourism industry under the guise of human rights allegations.

“Enough is enough. We can no longer remain passive while our country’s tourism destination is under siege by foreign NGOs spreading unfounded claims,” declares the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO) in a firm statement.

TATO contends that these foreign NGOs, in collusion with local partners, have been disseminating biased reports aimed at tarnishing Tanzania’s image, portraying it unjustifiably as a violator of human rights for the sake of conservation and tourism business.

“Tanzania deserves global recognition for its unwavering commitment to conservation and responsible tourism,” TATO asserts, citing instances where the government has necessitated relocations for conservation interests, TATO emphasises that these moves have always been conducted voluntarily, with considerable incentives and care given to those affected.

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This approach, TATO argues, stands as a testimony to Tanzania’s balanced and humane strategies in harmonising human activities with conservation efforts to preserve the natural heritage for benefits of the current and future generations.

TATO is apparently responding to the US-based Oakland Institute, which has categorically been attacking the East African country allegedly for carrying the evictions of communities from what the institute claims to be their ‘ancestral lands’.

The flamboyant association with 300 plus professional tour operators, defends the Tanzania government’s swift move to incorporate key water catchment areas of Ihefu and Usangu Plains into Ruaha National Park south of the country, saying the decision had tamed massive unsustainable agricultural and pastoral practices.

Doubting the decision which the government took over a decade and a half ago, the tour operators say the allegations call into question the motive behind the critics, given the harm the unsustainable malpractices cause to the national park, businesses and the national coffers.

Oakland institute published a report last year claiming the Tanzania government was expanding Ruaha National Park to boost tourism receipts at the expense of interests of the surrounding villagers.

The eviction exercise coupled with routine patrols of the Ruaha National Park, according to the institute, also saw law enforcers confiscating property of the villagers, mostly livestock, fish and other trophies caught in the water catchment areas.

The Institute roped in the World Bank in its report, blaming the international financial institution for supporting Tanzania in its bid to promote tourism south of the country.

Tanzania secured 150 million US dollars loan from the World Bank in 2017 to implement its eight-year Resilient Natural Resource Management for Tourism and Growth (REGROW) project involving Ruaha, Nyerere, Mikumi and Udzungwa national parks all situated in its virgin southern tourism circuit.

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“Ruaha national park receives few visitors, its management is a drain on the resources of the country, that is fact and contradicts Oakland Institute’s claims that its expansion was for tourism revenue” reads TATO statement in part.

TATO argues that if Oakland Institute’s intentions were honorable, they would have been talking about strengthening Tanzania’s capacity to manage these delicate land issues, rather than pressurising the World Bank to pull the funding.

In 2003, the agricultural and pastoral malpractices coupled with population growth resulted into most of rivers in the country to register barely two thirds of the flows recorded in 1988, halting hydropower generation and triggering countrywide power outages.

Unlike some neighbouring countries with ancestral lands, all land in Tanzania is public’s vested in the President as trustee for and on behalf of all citizens.

Whoever is offered a plot for any use is, according to the country’s 1999 Land Act, entitled to relocation for wider interests of the nation.

The drying up of the Ihefu Valley and Usangu Plains water catchment areas for the Great Ruaha River, which supplies the precious liquid to three key hydropower dams, namely Mtera, Kidatu and Nyerere that generate about two thirds of electricity needs of Tanzania, resulted into a chronic shortage of electricity countrywide.

Besides disrupting production in the manufacturing sector, other businesses and denying the taxman of revenues, Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute once found out that the decline of water flows in the Great Ruaha River and its tributaries also significantly contributed to the decrease in population of buffalo and other species of fauna and flora within Ruaha National Park.

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