The Serengeti highway battle won, the war with the courts continues

The East African Court of Justice ruled against a paved commercial highway through Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Although a great victory, the ruling contains ‘potholes.’


Serengeti Watch supported a court case brought forward by the African Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW), a nonprofit organization located in Kenya, who filed for the case in December of 2010. We provided funding through its Serengeti Legal Defense Fund which paid for research trips to the Serengeti and legal fees for the Kenyan attorney, Saitabao Ole Kanchory.

The suit was filed after the government of Tanzania announced plans to build a 53 Km commercial highway across the northern section of the Serengeti National Park. The highway would replace an existing dirt track. According to a Tanzanian government study the highway would carry up to 800 commercial vehicles a day by 2015, with increasing numbers thereafter. Scientists warned that the highway would bisect a narrow section of the Serengeti ecosystem that was critical to the annual wildebeest migration. Therefore, the proposed highway would cause the migration to collapse due the fragmentation of natural migration patterns.

The lawsuit sought a permanent injunction against the proposed highway on the grounds that it was in violation of the East African Community Treaty, of which Tanzania and Kenya are signatories. The Treaty calls for “the promotion of sustainable utilization of the natural resources of the Partner States and the taking of measures that would effectively protect the natural environment of Partner States.” The applicant sought to bar Tanzania from “upgrading, tarmacking, paving, realigning, constructing, creating or commissioning” the existing track.

Serengeti Watch and ANAW contended that opening a paved highway to the general public would cause irreversible damage to the Serengeti. The highway would impact: migratory species such as zebras and wildebeest; wildlife poaching; air quality and noise; soils; flora and fauna; road safety and increased accidents as well as many more unforeseen issues. ANAW cited conservation organizations that had issued warnings about the impact of the highway, including the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.

The case also contended that the government of Tanzania was in violation of various international treaties. Chief among these, a UNESCO treaty declaring the Serengeti a “World Heritage Property” of “outstanding universal value.

The court agreed with the plaintiff’s argument that the highway would have irreversible negative impacts. It affirmed that construction of the highway would be a violation of the East African Community Treaty. In doing so, the court order cited Tanzania’s own Environmental Impact Study and relied heavily on statements issued by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.


“A permanent injunction is hereby issued restraining the Respondent from going forward with its initial proposal of constructing or maintaining a road of bitumen standard across the Serengeti National Park subject to its right to undertake such other programs or initiate policies in the future which would not have a negative impact on the environment and ecosystem in the Serengeti National Park.” Read the court verdict.

After the verdict ANAW’s Executive Director, Jophat Ngonyo, said: “This was not a win for ANAW; nor for our lawyer, Saitabao Ole Kanchory, not for Serengeti Watch, not for our expert witness John Kuloba, but for the millions of animals in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. It is a win for nature and God’s creation. Nature has won today.”

A road upgraded is still in the pipeline:

Although, the case sought to prevent any form upgrading, the court did not specifically bar this, only the development of an asphalt road. The government of Tanzania says it will instead upgrade the existing dirt track to an all-weather gravel road. The track is in a zone designated to wilderness area, reserved for park vehicles and walking safaris.

Roads for public use not addressed:

The EACJ said that roads in the Serengeti should be “reserved for tourists and park personnel and not the general public,” its injunction did not specify this. Tanzania still has the ability to open roads for the public, including commercial use. In fact, in a recent press article, government officials have emphasized their intention to build a highway that would inevitably cross the park.

Roads outside of the park not addressed:

The entire Serengeti ecosystem includes areas within the Serengeti National Park and outlying areas such as the Masai Mara. Wildlife migration takes place across all these regions. There are plans for paved roads in migration areas outside the park that will impact the migration. The court case did not address this issue either. Click HERE for more details.  

An uncertain future:

Many observers warn that the gravel road will inevitably become a highway carrying more commercial traffic. There will be increasing pressure to connect the paved roads on either side of the park with a commercial link through the park. Richard Leakey, for one, said that a highway is “inevitable.”

Friends of Serengeti

Friends of Serengeti is a nonprofit organization of travel companies who seek to preserve a priceless world heritage for future generations. Our travel companies and their travelers help build a coalition of support, advocacy, and funding for the Serengeti ecosystem. 439

  • solarpanelman

    And so the continuation of anthropocentrism continues, until all the last great natural areas of planet Earth starve and die because of man’s greed, power and ignorance. When will we ever learn. This is very sad news indeed.

  • S.w. Tsang

    That is bad bad !

  • Jhm0699

    If the proposed road is built that will be the end of tourism in Tanzania and Kenya since the road will destroy the migration and wildlife. This is a tragedy in the making. The citizens of these two countries will suffer greatly when the tourism stops. Is the road worth all that misery?

  • Nela Williams

    Such a a large continent… and the road has to be built on the migratory route? why can’t they just go around it???

  • Anonymous Mzungu

    So it’s okay for white people to ride bicycles through “some of the most pristine parts of [a] world heritage site’s eight eco-systems,” as indicated in the companion article on iSimangaliso 4-day mountain bike challenge in South Africa, but when the government of Tanzania tries to improve infrastructure to develop its economy, there is international uproar. We’re still dealing with colonial attitudes about who knows what is best for Africans. It’s laughable that the bike ride’s sponsor will “help” the “under-resourced” communities through which the bike ride passes by donating “equipment including photocopier machines.” Contrast those community development “gifts” with the blocked attempts at real self-determination and national development initiative like this much-needed modern transport link for Tanzania, which gets squashed. Perhaps instead some nice people will establish a bike ride through the Serengeti so the organizers can donate used technology to local schools so Tanzanians will finally realize their place in the global pecking order.

    pristine parts of
    route encompasses some 270 km of some of the most pristine parts of
    this world heritage site’s eight eco-systems – See more at:
    route encompasses some 270 km of some of the most pristine parts of
    this world heritage – See more at:

    • Valerie Lusaka

      You are completely beside the subject. The economy of Tanzania achieved primarily by tourism. A highway in the Serengeti, heresy! What will the Tanzanian when all the tourists have deserted the country because of wildlife habitat destruction?

      • Andrew Newman

        If a crocodile infested river can’t stop the migration then a road properly taking the migration into account definitely won’t.
        Crossings can be built over or under the road.

  • EW

    Why build the road through the middle when a road to the south of the Serengeti would help the people and the economy without destroying the wildlife and the tourism. Without the wildlife there will be no tourism and the economy will suffer.

  • Karina1

    What government would agree to this unspeakable massive environmental crime, there must be something dodgy going on here.

  • WAW

    The more money involved in a deal (construction, reparations, etc), the more money government officials can stash in their pockets without it being too noticeable… I don’t see a reason other than that for the government to want to build this highway. Really makes no sense to risk destroying a natural heritage site and the wildlife that lives within it!

  • Andrew Newman

    I see. Europeans are allowed to put highways through their wilderness but god forbid those blacks even think of that. Typical.
    There is already a road that must be upgraded. Going round is not a solution.
    A solution must be found. Bridges? Tunnel?
    There are solutions. Will Europeans contribute to what will be a much more expensive solution?
    I thought not.

  • Pingback: More than half the world’s most important natural sites are under threat: it’s time to protect them – Enjeux énergies et environnement()

  • Pingback: More than half the world’s most important natural sites are under threat: it’s time to protect them - southasia.com.au()

  • Pingback: More than half the world's most important natural sites are under threat: it's time to protect them – A•STAR()

  • Pingback: The world's most important natural sites are under threat – A•STAR()

  • Pingback: More than half the world's most important natural sites are under threat: it's time to protect them - OnlineKhabar()

Okavango Walking Chiefs Island
AG Yearbook 2017
Africa Geographic