The Obama administration said Wednesday it has raised concerns with Tanzania's government about the impact of its plan to build a road through the Serengeti wildlife reserve, which environmentalists say could affect the famed wildebeest migration and threaten endangered species.
The top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Johnnie Carson, said he brought the matter up in meetings with top Tanzanian officials in late April and that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton could revisit the topic when she visits the country this month. Clinton is expected in Tanzania next week as part of a three-nation African tour focused on trade and development that will also include Zambia and Ethiopia.
"We are fully aware of the concerns that have been raised in this country and in other countries about the environmental impact that the trans-Serengeti road will have on the very large, spectacular and almost unique migration of animals from the Serengeti up to the game parks in Kenya," said Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs.
He told reporters that Tanzanian officials, including President Jakaya Kikwete and his foreign minister were also "clearly aware" of concerns about the road and are trying to "address them in the most appropriate fashion."
"They know the value of the wildlife, the importance of the Serengeti, they have no desire to destroy that, but they are also looking for ways to stimulate economic development of parts of the country," Carson said. "We do discuss it with them. It is an issue that has been brought to our attention and we have, in fact, brought it to the attention of the Tanzanian government."
Environmentalists say the road will jeopardize the two million wildebeests and zebra who migrate in search for water from the southern Serengeti north into Kenya's adjacent Masai Mara reserve. The road, they warn, will lead to the downward spiral of an irreplaceable ecosystem.
Concerns about the road emerged earlier this year when an environmental impact study on the proposed road was leaked. The report found that the project "may impact the migration of the wildebeest and this would diminish the unique value of the Serengeti as a world heritage site."
The study also said that endangered black rhinos could be negatively affected. Conservationists say that road collisions and deaths will increase dramatically.
Kikwete says the road will spur development. He says it won't be paved and won't hurt the park or its famed wildlife.
Carson said that despite concerns about the road, Tanzania remains a solid partner and friend of the United States.
"Tanzania is a model development partner. It is a strong multiparty democratic state. It is one of our strongest partners in the development field and we are pleased to be going there," he said of Clinton's upcoming visit. "This is a friend of the United States and a stable partner."
The road is part of a planned 260-mile route between Arusha, near Mount Kilimanjaro, and Musoma, on Lake Victoria. Tanzania says the road is needed to connect the country's west with commercial activity on the eastern coast.