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Outcry over Tanzanian dam

July 4, 2017

Tanzania's government still wants a hydroelectric dam built in a key wildlife reserve despite mounting appeals from UNESCO. The WWF conservation group says the project also threatens the livelihoods of 200,000 residents.

An elephant and lion pictured in Tanzania's Selous National Park
Image: Getty Images/Barcroft Media/M. Sheridan-Johnson

Tourism minister Jumanne Maghembe insisted Tuesday that hydropower was needed to transform Tanzania's economy as the WWF issued a report predicting severe ecological damage to the Selous, a UNESCO World Heritage site, if the project went ahead.

The reserve spanning 50,000 square kilometers (19,300 square miles) includes Stiegler's Gorge, a narrows on the Rufiji River for which a dam has been discussed for decades. 

Selous is home to one of Africa's largest concentrations of elephant and black rhino - despite poaching - as well as numerous crocodiles and has an exceptional variety of largely intact and remote habitats, according to the UN's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Last Saturday, Tanzania's President John Magufuli said the dam and resulting reservoir would cover only 3 percent of the Selous, adding he would not listen to detractors who spoke "without facts." Last week, he had said the dam would be built "come rain, come sun."

President Magufuli gesturing with his left hand behind a microphone
Magufuli insists the dam will be builtImage: DW/S. Michael

Far-ranging impacts

In its report Tuesday cited by Associated Press, the WWF said the project would have much wider impacts such as cutting off wildlife migration routes, endangering existing wetlands and harming the present livelihoods of more than 200,000 residents reliant on fishing downstream of the intended dam.

WWF called on Tanzania's government to consider alternative ways to generate electricity, which currently reaches few rural residents.

Map of Tanzania showing the Selous Nationalpark in the southeast
The ecologically unique Selous region is earmarked for a dam project, Image: DW

The Paris-based UN agency, whose Heritage Committee is currently meeting in Krakow, Poland, has repeatedly called on Tanzania to abandon its dam project, warning that it is "incompatible” with the area's world heritage status. Selous was placed on its endangered list in 2014.

Last weekend, Tanzania's newspaper Daily News reminded readers of a report compiled in 2009 by a Dar es Salam Professor Raphael Mwalyosi

It quoted him as saying the dam would facilitate "access to the heart of the Selous Game Reserve" while warning that "floodplain fisheries would totally collapse."

The project would more than double Tanzania's power generation from 1,450 megawatts to at least 4,000 megawatts, the paper said.

Currently, the river's coastline delta contains the largest mangrove forest in eastern Africa, about 200 kilometers (120 miles) south of Dar es Salaam.

Expertise from Ethiopia

Last week, hydroelectric experts from Ethiopia visited Tanzania for consultations, according to a statement from Magufuli's office.

President Magufuli was elected in November 2015 on a promise to develop Tanzania, smash corruption and improve the lives of its poor.

Crackdowns on dissidents

Opposition leaders and activists have accused his government of cracking down on freedoms of speech.

Halima Mdee, CHADEMA Politikerin Tansania
Facing detention: Halima Mdee, opposition politicianImage: DW/E.Boniface

Reuters reported Tuesday that Tanzanian authorities had ordered the detention of an opposition lawmaker, Halima Mdee, for "insulting” the president.

In the past few months, more than 10 people, including university students and a lecturer, have faced similar charges over remarks made via social media.

ipj/se (Reuters, AFP, AP)