On late June 2023, the government of the United Republic of Tanzania, through the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, sought the approval of the National Assembly to disestablish the Kigosi National Park and replace it with the Kigosi Forest Reserve.

Kigosi National Park is located in northwestern Tanzania. It was established by upgrading the former Kigosi Game Reserve. The establishing instrument (Government Declaration No. 924 of 2019) designated it as a 7,460-square-kilometer area in the northeastern part of the Moyowasi/Malagarasi wetland. Kigosi National Park is home to both flora and fauna. The fauna in the area includes lions, leopards, roan, and kudu, while the flora includes miombo woodlands, papyrus, and palm trees.

The naming of the protected area in recent years may seem confusing to many. For example, prior to 2019, the area was named Kigosi Game Reserve. After the 2019 gazettement, it was renamed Kigosi National Park. In the near future, it will be renamed Kigosi Forest Reserve.

A common question among many people is, "What does the name change mean?" Aren't they all protected areas? What happens when a protected area is named one way instead of another? The name of the protected area is important because it affects who has access to the area, what activities are allowed there, which government agency is responsible for managing it, the role of local government in the area, and how individuals can participate in managing it.

For example, before Government Declaration No. 924 of 2019 was issued, when the protected area was named Kigosi Game Reserve, it was managed by the Tanzania Wildlife Authority (TAWA) under the provisions of the Wildlife Conservation Act (No. 5) of 2009 and its enabling regulations

Furthermore, individual access to the protected area and usage of wildlife resources was less restricted. For instance, both consumptive and non-consumptive use of wildlife resources were allowed, subject to license conditions. Consumptive use includes hunting of wild animals, and non-consumptive use includes wildlife photography. Additionally, other socio-cultural activities such as rituals, and economic activities such as bee-keeping and fishing were allowed and, in fact, took place in the protected area.

Suddenly, after the protected area was named Kigosi National Park, management of the area fell to the Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA), under the provisions of the National Parks Act, 1959 (Cap 282, R.E. 2019). To that end, all human activities, including bee-keeping, hunting, fishing, and rituals were strictly prohibited. Contravention would have constituted criminal offences, some of which are charged under the realm of economic and organized crimes laws.

On one hand, the national park status was significant to conservation since limited human activities meant enhanced conservation of the ecosystems. On the other hand, the national park status exacerbated conflicts between host communities and conservation authorities since the people could no longer access wildlife resources for their livelihood, nor use their sacred places for cultural rituals.

The recent decision to disestablish the Kigosi National Park and substitute it with the Kigosi Forest Reserve takes the management of the protected area from TANAPA to Tanzania Forest Services Agency (TFS), under the Provisions of the Forestry Act (Cap 323, R.E. 2002). The nomenclature implies loosened restrictions so that the people can access the wildlife and forest resources for their social, economic, and cultural use.

In the words of the government, the decision to loosen the restrictions would support over 1,764 bee-keepers, whose production would take the country’s total bee produce from 32,691 metric tons per annum to 138,000 metric tons. The government further explained that it has spent over 2 billion shillings in constructing industries for packaging bees produce.

To add on, the government went on to say that disestablishing the national park would help many farmers and pastoralists from the districts of Bukombe and Mbogwe (Geita Region), Kahama District (Shinyanga Region), Urambo district (Tabora Region), and Kakonko district (Kigoma Region).

The government stressed that long before the national park was established, the people earned their livelihood from the protected area. After uplifting its status to the national park, which translated to restricted human activities, such people could not find a similar land of the same ecological advantages. For this reason, in the opinion of the government, the only and the viable and practical solution is to disestablish the national park and substitute it with the forest reserve.

According to the government, disestablishment of the national park and establishment of the forest reserve would not only serve conservation purposes but would also help the people who failed to access another land of similar ecological advantages, to earn their livelihood from the protected area.

While the decision to disestablish the national park and substitute with a forest reserve may attract diverse opinions from both anthropocentric and biocentric school of thoughts. The former would applaud the decision because it serves immediate human needs, while the latter would challenge the decision as it is a step back in conservation efforts.

Nonetheless, both stakeholders would agree that the reasoning of the government presents more questions than answers. For instance, the reasoning that substituting the national park with forest reserve would assure the people of their rights to practice cultural rituals poses a question of equal treatment. Particularly to the people of other areas. Would the government refrain from declaring such areas as national parks for a reason of sacred places? Would the government disestablish the already established national park if the people say it is their sacred places for rituals?

Again, the government stressed that the forest reserve over the national park would mean good use of bees produce industries, jobs, and livelihood for over 1,764 bee keepers. Well, would the government rescind its intention to acquire many other areas for conservation purposes if the landholders present that their livelihood is threatened if the areas are made national parks?

Last but not least, the government insisted that after the area was declared a national park, the people could not continue carrying on their socio-economic activities for the past four years. The government has undoubtedly proven that there is no alternative land for the people to carry on with their socio-economic activities.

For this reason, the government decided to loosen the restrictions by disestablishing a national park and establishing a forest reserve. Under this new status, the people will be able to continue with their socio-economic activities within the protected area.

The government's argument that there is no alternative land for such people implies that the government did not undertake a technical study to ascertain the socio-economic impacts of the decision to establish a national park and the available practical alternatives. This implication raises the question of whether or not such technical studies are undertaken before people are relocated or restricted from doing certain activities for conservation purposes.

To sum up, the government is legally empowered to change land use or protected areas from one category to another. However, such powers should be exercised fairly to enhance the principles of good governance and the rule of law, particularly transparency and equality before the law. The application of these principles should not be understood on implications, but should be seen on the face of the decisions and the reasons given.


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