Posts Tagged ‘Serengeti’

In which Avaaz works out where the Serengeti is

This is a brief follow-up to my post yesterday about the lack of supporting detail to go with Avaaz’s campaign to stop the evictions of Maasai pastoralists from “the Serengeti”. The campaign and bluster response from the Tanzanian government were picked up in a piece in the UK’s Guardian newspaper.

The response from the Tanzanian government is 100% correct, quite understandable and yet slightly ludicrous in declaring that there are no evictions planned from Serengeti NP. It is both correct and understandable because while Avaaz may well be accurate in stating that “the Maasai lands in question are commonly understood to be within the Serengeti ecosystem” (as I hypothesised yesterday), it is 100% understandable that anyone who is not a wildlife ecologist will assume that by Serengeti one means the world famous national park. It is also quite reasonable for a Tanzanian government official to alternatively interpret the term to refer the district of that name in northern Tanzania.

So whilst I do not particularly disagree with Avaaz’s Emma Ruby-Sachs when she accuses the Tanzanian government of “playing cynical word games”, I suspect she might find that many people in Tanzania (the most important constituency of all here) would disagree with her. If the Avaaz campaign petition had made clear that they were actually referring to the Loliondo Game Controlled Area that immediately abuts the Serengeti NP then this obfuscatory response would not have been an option. So, in my view, Avaaz have only themselves to blame if this campaign backfires.

As for me, I am wondering whether I should sign the latest Avaaz petition to land in my inbox about an allegedly scandalous plan to build a big polluting coal port right in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Once again the web-based petition does not present any supporting facts despite the fact that, apparently, UNESCO are against the idea. The email is a bit better, with a few links, although none give a very clear background to this case (e.g. tell us what damage UNESCO think the port might do). Avaaz clearly espouse some very good causes, but until they can convince me that they have their facts right I am going to have to pass on any future petitions.

Hat Tip: Just Conservation


Misplacing your injustice

Last year I wrote about the controversy surrounding the proposal, thankfully cancelled, to push a new trunk road through the northern Serengeti. Now, according to Avaaz, there is a threat to sell off part of the Serengeti to “wealthy Middle Eastern kings and princes to hunt lions and leopards.” Sounds alarming, and yet the ham-fisted scientists of yesteryear are now quiet. What is going on?

According to contacts of mine, the area in question is not, in fact, part of the world famous Serengeti National Park, but in an adjoining area, the Loliondo Game Controlled Area. It is probably fair to say that this area is part of the greater Serengeti ecosystem, but Avaaz are surely being misleading in titling their campaign “Stop the Serengeti Sell-Off”.

Map of Serengeti NP and Loliondo GCA

Equally disturbing is the lack of any supporting information provided on the Avaaz petition page to link the concerned citizen with further background information. As it happens there is a fair bit out there on the simmering land disputes in Loliondo: try here, here and here for starters. It certainly seems a worthy cause without any need for dressing up with incorrect facts.

The Newsroom, the new TV drama series by Aaron Sorkin, starts with the premise that there is nothing more important to a well-functioning democracy than a well-informed citizenry. It may well be, that like their political party counterparts, campaigners working to stop human rights abuses and end poverty etc. have learned the hard way that simplicity sells, but the web is the perfect medium with which to present a simple cover message but allow those of a more inquiring mind to dig a little deeper.

NGOs do not always get everything right. Just having good intentions is not enough. As a discerning member of the public I am not willing to sign every Avaaz campaign just because it tugs the heart strings. I want to check my facts first. Moreover, having now discovered one inaccuracy I am going to be rather more suspicious next time around. With enough incidents like this Avaaz could implode just like Invisible Children did after the vigorous pushback to the ignominious #Kony2012 campaign, which equally suffered from over-simplification.

This is so easy to fix. Don’t treat your would be petition signers as idiots. Avaaz can and should do better.

Serengeti dodges the bullet

Good news over the weekend. The trunk road that the Tanzanian government proposed to push through the northern part of the world famous Serengeti National Park will not now go ahead as originally planned.


The road that wasn’t and the wildebeest migration (map by FZS).

I had refrained from commenting on this whilst it was a live issue for two reasons: (a) because I didn’t understand the details and heard enough contrasting tales about it that I felt it would be inappropriate to comment, and (b) lest I inadvertently make things worse. Alas, some wildlife ecologists did not feel able to bite their tongue:

"[President] Kikwete’s spiteful attitude towards the World Heritage site and his strange determination to drive a road through Serengeti make him look increasingly old-fashioned and vindictive." (Prof Andrew Dobson, quoted here)

Now I personally much like the practice in science to call a spade a spade, but I fail to detect what is scientific about describing the President of a country you want to change direction as spiteful, old-fashioned and vindictive. Putting my best scientific hat on, I might describe that as stupid. From what I understand, the underlying motivations for the proposed road were all political, involving different factions within Tanzania’s ruling party, so a political savvy response was required, not something that smacked of neo-colonialism in an ex-colony where sensitivities, are, not surprisingly, sensitive!

What behind-the-scenes lobbying went on, I do not know, but it seems to have been rather more effective than Dobson’s bone-headed intervention. Unfortunately, that is not the end of it. I hear from reliable sources that the whole episode has left a rather sour taste in the mouth of President Kikwete. (Who’d have guessed it?) A president who was reportedly once an enthusiastic supporter of conservation is now far from well-disposed to the sector. One immediate consequence: Kikwete demanded the last minute withdrawal of an application for World Heritage Site for the forests in Tanzania’s Eastern Arc Mountains (a global biodiversity hotspot), an application that had been 14 years in the making (see here).

If it really was a case of exchanging a paper park designation for an actual road then it would seem to be an all round good deal, but I’m not aware of anyone who has suggested this was a ‘trade’, and a more carefully designed campaign might have headed off the road without losing the WHS application.

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