Most tourists travel to East Africa – Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda, among other countries – for the wildlife safari experience and to explore its savannas, jungles, and mountains, almost unchanged from the way they were thousands of years ago. A trip to East Africa is most definitely bucket list travel, and for plenty of mountain climbers, Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro is the Holy Grail of peaks to conquer.
Now the government of Tanzania, home to the majestic, iconic Mount Kilimanjaro, or Kili as many call it, has mired itself in controversy by planning a cable car to make it easier for tourists to visit the upper reaches of Africa’s tallest and the world’s highest freestanding mountain.
Of Kilimanjaro’s three volcanic cones, Mawenzi and Shira are extinct. Kibo, the highest peak, has been dormant but could erupt again. While its most recent activity was some 200 years ago, its last major eruption occurred 360,000 years back. Uhuru Peak, on Kibo’s crater rim, is Kili’s highest summit at an oxygen-depriving, dizzying 19,341 feet. The whole of Kilimanjaro rises to the heavens in Kilimanjaro National Park.
Constantine Kanyasu, Tanzania’s Deputy Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, points out to Reuters that some 50,000 tourists climb Kili each year, and the thought process is that a cable car could increase those numbers by about 50 percent. The trails can be steep and altitude sickness is not uncommon, so for anyone with physical disabilities and who still wants to experience the behemoth mountain, the cable car system could be a panacea.
“We are still doing a feasibility study to see if this project works,” Kanyasu said to Reuters. “There are two companies, one from China and another from a Western country that have shown interest.”
Kanyasu also said that feasibility studies on possible routes are in progress.
Cape Town’s Table Mountain is among the tourism destinations that has a cable car system in place. Cable cars are scattered throughout the world, including America, Europe and the Himalayas. MARY ANN ANDERSON
Cable cars in mountainous regions are nothing new and are found all over the world, including Table Mountain in South Africa’s Cape Town, New Mexico’s Sandia Peak Tramway in Albuquerque, and the Aiguille du Midi Cable Car in the Chamonix Mountains of France. Others are scattered in the Alps in Germany and Switzerland, while others operate in the Himalayas.
Day hikers take advantage of Kilimanjaro’s slopes, but Loishiye Mollel, a spokesman for the Tanzania Porters Organization, says visitors normally spend up to a week climbing the mountain. He is among those who adamantly do not want the cable car project, as it could possibly reduce the number of Kili’s climbers, which in turn could potentially – and devastatingly – cut incomes and tips of those who work as porters and guides. The fear is that tourists will come to the area, ride the cable car, and then leave, taking their dollars with them.
“One visitor from the U.S. can have a maximum of 15 people behind him, of which 13 are porters, a cook and a guide. All these jobs will be affected by a cable car,” Mollel says, pointing out that up to thousands and thousands of porters work in the area between Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru just north of Arusha. “We are of the view that the mountain should be left as it is.”
Kanyasu says the government is currently exploring business plans, potential investors, profitability, and environmental and engineering issues. Neither a firm location for the cable car nor a length has yet been finalized, but the first indicators is that it will be built along the Machame Route known for its scenic beauty.
Here’s where naysayers argue that flora and fauna will suffer and may not ever recover if it is destroyed to make way for the cable line.
A lilac-breasted roller is among Tanzania’s dazzling birdlife. Some fear the flora and fauna of Kilimanjaro will suffer from the proposed cable car system. MARY ANN ANDERSON
Victor Manyanga, a longtime Tanzanian tour guide, told The East African in Kenya that the cable car service would promote mass tourism at the expense of Kilimanjaro’s ecology, adding, “The Machame itinerary along which the cable car will be constructed is the birds’ migratory route, and electric wires will definitely harm them.”
Mark Gale of Rennes, France, has begun a petition on Change.org to keep Kilimanjaro “cable car-free.”
“It has been said that the cable car will allow physically challenged and aged tourists . . . to experience the thrill of climbing mount Kilimanjaro,” Gale wrote in his petition. “However, that is not true. I climbed last month at 53 years old and it was an amazing experience putting one foot in front of the other and living on the mountain; there is no thrill in taking a taxi to the top of a mountain. The oldest person to hike Mount Kilimanjaro was 86 years 267 days, the youngest just 7 years old, and there [have] been many physically challenged hikers who have succeeded in reaching the summit.”
Tourists who want to see Kili in all its snowcapped glory should note that the World Wildlife Fund reports that mountain’s snowcaps are diminishing, having lost more than 80 percent of their mass since 1912, and could be completely ice-free within the next 20 years.
Zebra and wildebeest warily watch a lion and try not to become its latest dinner entree at Tanzania’s NgoroNgoro. MARY ANN ANDERSON
Tanzania depends massively on tourism, with its gross domestic product growth rate from 2009 to 2017 averaging 6 to 7 percent per year. Tourism revenue in 2018 alone was $2.43 billion with tourists visiting the country’s jewels and gems including Mount Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti, NgoroNgoro, Zanzibar, Selous Game Reserve, and Ruaha National Park.