At an event on Tuesday some 12,450 feet (3,795 meters) above sea level, flanked by officials and international tourists, Nnauye proclaimed that high-speed internet provided by the state-run Tanzania Telecommunications Corp. was now available to all.
Plans to extend the coverage to the Uhuru Peak, 19,291 feet (5,880 meters) above sea level, are in place for the end of the year, he added.
“Previously, it was a bit dangerous for visitors and porters who had to operate without internet,” Nnauye said, according to AFP. “All visitors will get connected … (up to) this point of the mountain,” he added, speaking from the Horombo Huts campsite on the mountainside.
Nnauye also called for the state-run internet provider to extend operations to other off-grid tourist sites and national parks.
The move has been welcomed by some in Tanzania as a boost to the tourism industry, but others derided the government on social media for not ensuring better internet access in remote villages and towns and improving services in commercial centers.
Tourism is vital to Tanzania’s economy, accounting for about $1.4 billion in revenue in 2021, almost 6 percent of gross domestic product. The sector is still recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, which saw global travel grind to a halt.
Mount Kilimanjaro stands as high as about 13 Empire State buildings and is a protected UNESCO World Heritage site. It is also Earth’s largest free-standing volcanic mass, and its snowy top attracts visitors from around the world to Tanzania. Thousands of tourists attempt to climb Kilimanjaro annually, taking about a week to summit the majestic mountain.
The internet rollout is part of a wider government project called the National ICT Broadband Backbone, which is partly supported by China. Beijing has long sought to finance and develop communication and other infrastructure in the East African nation, and China’s ambassador to Tanzania, Chen Mingjian, tweeted her support Tuesday for the Kilimanjaro project.
Earlier this month, on a tour of the continent, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken unveiled the Biden administration’s strategy for developing partnerships to help African nations become less dependent on foreign aid and address challenges such as climate change. The push comes as China pours money into Africa in the form of loans and investment and Russia sends arms and mercenaries.
“The United States will not dictate Africa’s choices, and neither should anyone else,” Blinken said in an address at South Africa’s University of Pretoria. “The right to make these choices belongs to Africans, and Africans alone.”
Tanzania’s government sparked uproar in recent years after announcing plans for a cable-car system on the southern side of Kilimanjaro, to boost tourist numbers and provide access to those unable to climb it. Expedition groups, porters who help climbers and climate experts said the project would endanger the mountain’s delicate ecosystem and hurt the local economy.
Earlier this month, climate experts warned that Africa’s national parks, home to thousands of wildlife species, were increasingly threatened by below-average rainfall, prolonged drought and large scale infrastructure projects that hamper conservation efforts.