The long-dreaded plans to build a cable car on Kilimanjaro have been given the go-ahead – but will they actually happen?

According to reports in Outside Online, the government have given the green light to the project in their efforts to reinvigorate tourism in the country in the wake of the COVID pandemic.

We first wrote a lengthy article on Kilimanjaro’s cable car project on this website in 2019, though the idea was first mooted over a decade ago.

The initial plans were for the car to run alongside the Machame Route, the mountain’s most popular trail. The easy access to the main Moshi-Arusha road that runs south of Kilimanjaro was believed to have been one of the decisive factors in choosing this location.

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The cable car would run from near the Machame Gate, situated at 1811m/5942ft above sea level. The cables would be strong enough to carry 15 cars, with each car carrying 6 people. The ride would last for about twenty minutes and take passengers up to the Shira Plateau, presumably somewhere near the Shira Cave Campsite which sits at an altitude of 3839m (12,595ft).

Of course, though the authorities have given the green light to this project, there are still a lot of hurdles to overcome if it’s to actually become a reality.

Why a cable car on Kilimanjaro is a bad idea

For one thing, there is a lot of opposition to the project, not least from trekking companies who justifiably feel that a cable car that runs alongside the mountain’s most popular trail will inevitably have a deleterious effect on business. Because people are not going to be so keen on climbing Africa’s Highest Mountain if they have to do so in the shadow of a cable car.    

But even if they move the Machame Route so it is no longer in the shadow, the fact that there is now a cable car on Kili will undoubtedly make the mountain much less magical for climbers. It’s as if a wilderness has been tamed, and conquered, and man has left his indelible mark upon its face.

This drop in climber numbers will, of course, have a negative impact on the livelihoods of those locals – the porters, guides, cooks etc – who make their living from the mountain. Far fewer people will be required to work on the cable car, of course, and the majority of the money it makes will presumably not stay in the local area but will end up with investors who don’t live locally, and maybe not even in the same country.

Then there are the medical factors to take into consideration: ascending that high (the gain in altitude will be somewhere in the region of 2000m or 6500ft) that fast is never good for you. Presumably the fact that people are deposited back down to a lower altitude very quickly will ameliorate this – but it does need to be investigated.

But the main objection is, of course, environmental – erecting ugly concrete pillars in the heart of a national park is always going to raise objections. In response, the authorities have argued that they conducted  a thorough review of the environmental and social impact of their scheme.  But at least environmental body has claimed that the review didn’t go into any great detail about how the mountain’s environment would be impacted by the construction of a cable car at all.

Voice of Kilimanjaro

The many people who object to the cable car scheme on Kilimanjaro have coalesced into a lobby group, Voice of Kilimanjaro, which is fighting against the scheme.

The group was founded by Merwyn Nunes, who once worked for Tanzania’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism but who now operates his own tourism outfit, Wildersun Safaris.

At the moment, the group are still hopeful that the build will never happen. According to the article in Outside, Mr Nunes himself says he is hopeful that it won’t, because ‘there appears to be some dragging of feet in government circles on this project’.

One can only hope that he’s right.