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“There is so much distortion,” complains Jakaya Kikwete. “It’s ridiculous. You see important newspapers writing nonsense.” In an exclusive interview with The Globe and Mail last week, the 62-year-old Tanzanian President – in Canada on an official state visit – says critics are misrepresenting a planned, 480-kilometre highway that will partly traverse Serengeti National Park.
Environmentalists allege the road is designed to bring oil from landlocked Uganda to Tanzanian ports and will imperil the habitats and migratory patterns of wildebeest, zebra and other wildlife. Not so, maintains Mr. Kikwete, holding court at Rideau Hall, residence of Canada’s Governor-General.
“We are building 11,000 kilometres of new roads,” he explains. “The only people left out are the people living in these remote communities. So it’s a development need, not a need to bring oil from Uganda. Second, we are not building a tarmac road through the Serengeti. [And] these people live 80 kilometres away from the Serengeti, I don’t see a risk to wildlife when you build 80 kilometres [away].”
The word “tarmac” is a carefully chosen adjective, because one 60-kilometre stretch of the highway is projected to run through the park. It will be a graded earth road – a concession that opposition groups contend will not prevent ecological damage.
Mr. Kikwete – president for seven years, foreign minister for 10 years before that – is considered one of Africa’s senior political leaders. And, although Tanzania is one of the world’s poorest countries, ranking 152 out of 187 on the United Nations’ development index, it punches about its weight in geopolitical importance.
That’s partly the result of Mr. Kikwete’s active diplomacy. A former chairman of the African Union, he now chairs the Southern African Development Community’s Organ for Politics, Defence and Security, and is a key part of the UN mission trying to end the long-summering civil war in the Congo.
For Canada, Tanzania constitutes an island of relative stability on a turbulent continent. Canadian mining (Barrick Gold and Xstrata Minerals), and oil and gas companies (Antrim Energy and Orca Exploration) are among the country’s largest foreign investors. And the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) this year underwrote projects in Tanzania worth $119-million.
As a result of the state visit, Tanzania may become even more attractive.
Between official functions last week – Mr. Kikwete was guest of honour at a state dinner, planted a tree at Rideau Hall and met members of a Tanzanian diaspora community in Edmonton – the President finalized a bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement.
Although the text has not yet been released, Pierre Gratton, president of the Mining Association of Canada, says the agreement will provide greater protection against discriminatory and arbitrary practices for Canadian companies doing business in Tanzania.
“Our government is focused on creating jobs, growth and long-term prosperity, and on creating the right conditions for Canadian businesses,” Mr. Kikwete said. “This agreement will encourage investment and better protect Canadians” doing business there.
For the rest of this article, please go to the Globe and Mail website: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/tanzanias-president-says-critics-misrepresent-impact-of-development/article4603651/