Image courtesy of Frankfurt Zoological Society.
Map highlights the proposed highway.

A three-year suit challenging the construction of a 53-kilometer highway in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania’s World Heritage site, has ended, and the country has been permanently restrained from proceeding with the project.

The First Instance Division of the East African Court of Justice ruled on June 20 that the project would violate the East African Community (EAC) Treaty, to which Tanzania is a signatory, and have a serious negative ecological impact in the region. The suit had been filed by Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW), a Kenyan non-profit organization.

EAC is a regional intergovernmental organization of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan. Under its treaty, any individual or group can move to the regional court to seek legal redress for matters they feel are unlawful or harmful to the region’s environment.

“The Court granted a permanent injunction restraining Tanzania from operationalizing the action of constructing or maintaining a road across the Serengeti National Park subject to its right to undertake such other programs in future which would not have negative impacts to the environment and ecosystem in the national park,” said John Ruhangisa, the court’s registrar, on June 20.

 “This is great victory for conservation in Tanzania and sends a strong message that future development can’t proceed in a business-as-usual manner,” says Festo Semanini, head of programs for Birdlife International, Tanzania.

“The ruling is a win for millions of animals in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. It is a win for nature and God’s creation,” added Josphat Ngonyo, ANAW’s executive director.

However, the government has insisted the project will not be abandoned but proceed after the design is revised. Tanzania development partners, including the World Bank, have proposed to support the East African country to construct a modern road on a new route south of the the national park and Ngorongoro conservation area. The government has not given an official response to the requested change.

Environmental conservation groups say the construction of the 53-km road across the Serengeti National Park would encroach on the migration routes of at least two million wildebeest in the Serengeti and Masai Mara ecosystem.