Sustainable mountain tourism – this is the motto the United Nations has chosen for today’s “International Mountain Day“. What is meant is tourism that is in harmony with nature and the landscape as well as with the culture of the local people. Quite the opposite is the project that the government of Tanzania now apparently wants to implement by any means: the construction of a cable car to Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa.
“We are finalizing the legal process for the establishment of cable cars, and very soon Tanzanians will be informed of the exact date of commencement of this service,” said the African country’s Deputy Tourism Minister, Mary Mansanja, a few days ago. “With these cable cars, it will take even 30 minutes for one to climb the mountain.”
Up to 3,850 meters in half an hour
The project has been under discussion for more than two years. According to consistent press reports from Tanzania, the gondola lift is to be built along the Machame Route: from Machame Gate, the entrance to the route at about 1,800 meters up to the Shira Plateau at 3,850 meters. The 63-kilometer Machame Route is one of the most popular of the seven main routes up Kilimanjaro. Six to seven days are estimated for the ascent to the 5,895-meter-high summit.
That summit aspirants sit down in the gondola to save the first two daily stages is rather not to be expected, because not advisable. Anyone who allows himself to be transported two kilometers up to 3,850 meters within half an hour runs a very high risk of getting altitude sickness. Already, about 70 percent of tourists on Kilimanjaro report symptoms of acute altitude sickness afterwards. Not a year goes by without deaths on the mountain, which are largely hushed up by the Tanzanian government.
Tourism recovers only slowly
The project of a cable car on Kilimanjaro is not new. Already in 1968, engineers from France examined this possibility. However, the plan was shelved for half a century. That the government is now hell-bent on putting it into practice is hardly surprising. Tourism in Tanzania has collapsed as a result of the corona pandemic. The number of visitors fell from around 1.5 million in 2019 to just under 621,000 in 2020. This year, the market has indeed recovered somewhat: In the first ten months, the government counted about 716,000 tourists. However, there is still a long way to go to pre-COVID levels.
Kilimanjaro is undoubtedly one of the country’s biggest tourist magnets. Before the pandemic, more than 30,000 people tried to reach the summit every year – ecologically a tightrope walk, not to say impossible. And now a cable car?
Existence of many porters threatened
The only sustainable thing about it would be the commercial success of the operators. Other people would have to suffer. Because even if climbers continue to trek up the mountain, the gondolas would probably also be used to transport material. Thousands of porters working for the numerous commercial operators would have to fear for their jobs. The government is not talking about this.
It is obvious that the construction of a ropeway is also a serious interference with nature. And Kilimanjaro would also lose some of its magic. Mountains desecrated and maltreated by cable cars, such as Mont Blanc in France or the Zugspitze in Germany, should be enough of a warning – and not just on International Mountain Day.