The East African Court of Justice in Arusha announced last Friday the trial date for the case environmental groups have brought against the Tanzanian government over the controversial routing of a planned highway across the Serengeti.
The case will commence on January 23, but the Arusha-based source was unable to fill in any further details as to the expected timeframe the hearing might take.
The Africa Network for Animal Welfare is acting as main plaintiff on behalf of a number of other organizations and individuals vehemently opposed to the highway plans, and the lukewarm attitude of the Tanzanian government and often misleading statements have done little to dispel rumors of imminent attempts to create facts on the ground.
The alternative Southern route has been dismissed by top politicians as unsuitable, even though it would reach as many as four times more people and provide a road link to the rest of the country and in spite of the fact that the World Bank and the German government, among other development partners, have promised to fund the feasibility studies and assist in construction cost.
More alarming have been added reports over a planned new railway link between Tanga, where a new harbor is due to be constructed right inside the Coelacanth marine national park, and the town of Musoma on Lake Victoria, where a new railhead and lake port are due to be established to create an alternative link to the Indian Ocean for Uganda.
The Tanzanian government had fought tooth and nail to keep the case out of the EACJ, which in the region is largely considered as incorruptible â unlike some national jurisdictions â making a range of arguments which were all dismissed by an appellate review, which reiterated that the EACJ is exactly the place where conservationists and environmentalists should take their cases to if they do not get a fair hearing in national courts.
A regular source in Dar es Salaam has already indicated that the setting of the dates has rung alarm bells within the political establishment in Tanzania where vested mining interests have largely influenced policy and infrastructure development decisions in recent years.
While the Attorney General of Tanzania is the respondent in the case, on behalf of government, word from Dar has it that private counsel may be engaged to assist the AG's office in defending their viewpoint. It is understood that there are growing concerns that a loss in the case may open the flood gates for more legal action vis-a-vis the planned port in Tanga, the planned extraction of 200 square miles of protected land in the Selous for Uranium mining, the location of a proposed power plant at Stiegler's Gorge, also in the Selous, and a number of other equally controversial projects the Tanzanian government seems hell bent to pursue at the expense of the environment.
What is certain right now, is that this case and a potential appeal process against the ruling, may delay the project for years to come, and in the process see potential investors in mining lose interest, as was the case with TATA, which has withdrawn from a project to mine soda ash at Lake Natron, right in the midst of the flamingo breeding grounds.
Said a regular conservation source over the weekend: âNow we know when our case will start. We will be ready to defend our action in court, and I think government is right to be worried. I do not presume to know what the outcome might be, but we are confident, after seeing the ruling when the government objections were thrown out by the appellate division of the EACJ, that our case is very strong. We are the voice of nature, because the government has silenced all other voices speaking for conservation. And we have confidence in the independence of the court.â