The status of Zanzibar’s ancient Stone Town as a cultural World Heritage site (WHS), accorded in 2000 by UNESCO, will be coming under scrutiny in the run-up to the next UNESCO General Assembly scheduled to be held in Doha in July. A committee of experts will in particular look at growing complaints about the construction of a new hotel in the very heart of Stone Town, which is one of the greatest tourism attractions Unguja Island holds for visitors from abroad. Here, the character and fabric of the neighborhood has been largely preserved and maintained.
There are fine examples of how hotel construction can be undertaken, while leaving adjoining ancient buildings largely untouched on the exterior. Dilapidated buildings have been rehabilitated with newly-revived interiors, revealing 5-star properties that blend right into the essence of Stone Town.
The construction of a new hotel opposite a recognized historical building in Stone Town, raised some questions when suggestions emerged that the guidelines for such construction provided by UNESCO WHS administrators were not being fully adhered to. This caused alarm that there was the risk of sanctions being imposed and perhaps even possibly being struck from the WHS list.
The issue had been raised here before, as Tanzania now has a clouded record vis-a-vis UNESCO World Heritage sites, with the Serengeti under threat through a highway, the Selous under double threat through Uranium mining, and the proposed construction of a hydroelectric dam in the dead center of the tourism zone at Stieglers’ Gorge. There was also the unexplained withdrawal three years ago of an application due to be approved just weeks later of the Eastern Arc Mountains, where according to constant feedback, the doors are now wide open for illegal logging and mining, something a UNESCO WHS status would have largely prevented.