Business vs. environment – what we can learn from the Serengeti road

There have been long ongoing battles between the Tanzania government and African conservationists over the creation of a highway through Serengeti National Park. Previous proposals were stopped by public protest. However, construction has begun on the Arusha-Musoma highway that cuts directly through the reserve. This has been very controversial. Led by large companies, it will connect developing towns. Although there are economic advantages to building the road, many African people are against disrupting world-famous animal migrations.


The highway could aid national development. It will help connect the isolated Mara region to Arusha which will bring easier trade. Many people hope that goods will become cheaper and easier to obtain. Jobs in Arusha and Moshi could also become more available to Mara residents.

There could be many social benefits for local residents. The road could connect more isolated communities to better hospitals and schools. Improved transport would allow easier movement of people, and connect areas together.

Those in favour of the road also argue that local buses and other transport already pass through the Serengeti. These are involved in wildlife accidents, and a new road might mean for more methods of preventing hitting animals. Of course, the road will bring far more cars than presently pass through the Serengeti. More cars make accidents more likely.


The highway will bring environmental destruction which will affect both animals and people. The Serengeti ecosystem is already surrounded by a growing population. The road will only see more pressure on the reserve as regions become linked, and population and farming grows. In time, the park may be forced to shrink to accommodate urbanisation.

The road will be a gravel road. This will inevitably develop into a paved highway as demand for more traffic increases from connecting roads. This will cause more settlement and urbanisation around the park until pressure causes it to shrink. It also will be easier for poachers and illegal trophy hunters to access the park’s centre amongst commercial traffic. A highway will also trigger human-animal conflict, with increased car accidents threatening humans and endangered species.

Many also fear the destruction of annual migration patterns. The highway cuts right through the path of the largest annual animal migration in the world. Over 1.3 million wildebeest and 250,000 zebra would try to travel across the road every year. The disruption to people as well as the animals is immeasurable. Traditional elephant migration routes also pass across the highway, causing disruption. Moreover, elephants are extremely powerful and dangerous. The risk to people as well as elephants is extremely high.


Many African groups are attempting to stop the highway through legal means. They argue that the road is being built so that large companies can see the most benefit, at the expense of the landscape. The company in charge of the building is Chinese, and many Africans believe that urbanisation should be controlled by their own people.

Others also propose an alternative road that would provide all the benefits of the Arusha-Musoma highway. These benefits were assessed by University of Glasgow researchers. The alternative route would connect twice as many people to towns and schools as the Arusha-Musoma highway, and offer better agricultural access. This road would travel around the south of the reserve rather than cut through it. Many large organisations from all over the world are trying to back the alternative road to protect the Serengeti. The German government and the World Bank both said they would help finance an alternative route.

The southern route would be more difficult to build. However, many think that it would be better in the long term. Although pressure would still be on the park’s boundaries, it would not disrupt the wildlife within it as much. This means that wildlife tourism to the park would still thrive.

Wildlife tourism is the largest contributor of any type of tourism to the African economy. In Tanzania 43.5% of tourists come to watch wildlife. Its total contribution to Sub-Saharan African GDP was US$ 108.0bn in 2016, and this will rise by 4.8% pa to US$ 178.5bn by 2027. It has created 15,770,500 jobs and this is expected to rise. Threatening the Serengeti, a hotspot for tourists, will damage Africa’s economy for the future.




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