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World Bank Will Investigate Human Rights Violations in the Bank-Funded REGROW Project in Tanzania

It follows a request for inspection from two Tanzanians who allege that the World Bank violated its policies and guidelines in implementing the project.

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Dar es Salaam. The World Bank Board of Executive Directors announced this week that it had approved a recommendation to investigate the Tanzania Resilient Natural Resource Management for Tourism and Growth (REGROW) project. 

The decision follows claims that the international lender violated its policies in implementing the project, including allowing the involuntary resettlement of indigenous peoples.

The approval, granted on November 15, 2023, followed a request for inspection from two anonymous Tanzanians who wrote to the World Bank Accountability Mechanism on June 20, 2023, alleging several human rights violations that have accompanied the project’s implementation.

REGROW, approved in 2018 and expected to conclude on February 28, 2025, is a US$150 million project whose objective is to “improve management of natural resources and tourism assets in priority areas of southern Tanzania and to increase access to alternative livelihood activities for targeted communities.”

The project, implemented by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, has four components. Its third component concerns strengthening landscape management and infrastructure investments in and upstream of the Ruaha National Park (RUNAPA) by, among other things, “improving [ing] efficiency of irrigation systems.”

But in their request for inspection, the two Tanzanian nationals who requested to remain confidential for fear of retaliation accused the World Bank of violating its policies and procedures, including guidelines on Involuntary Resettlement and Indigenous Peoples, leading to numerous violations that have threatened the lives of thousands of people.

Complaints

For example, the complainants claim that communities in five villages adjacent to the Ruaha National Park, with an approximate population of 21,000, were notified that they would be evicted. 

Villagers also face violence and threats of retaliation, which has created a sense of constant fear among affected community members. 

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The complainants also allege that over the past two years, villagers’ cattle have been seized in large numbers to the detriment of pastoral livelihoods. They allege the seizure of livestock has impacted several Indigenous Peoples groups, including Maasai, Sukuma and Datoga pastoralists, who inhabit the project area. 

They claim that the Bank failed to trigger its policy on Indigenous Peoples, causing irreparable harm to the identity, culture, and rights of the Indigenous communities in the project area.

The policy requires that indigenous peoples be informed, meaningfully consulted, and mobilised to participate in identifying, planning, implementing, and monitoring World Bank-financed projects.

Following the request, the World Bank team visited Tanzania from August 21 to September 2, 2023, to assess its eligibility, submitting its Report and Recommendation to the bank’s Board of Executive Directors on September 19, 2023, recommending the investigation.

According to a statement released Wednesday, the investigation will review possible non-compliance with the applicable World Bank policies, focusing on the Bank’s Policy on Environmental Assessment and Investment Project Financing Policy.

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Under the bank’s accountability mechanisms, the complainants and the borrower could be offered the dispute resolution option. If they agree, the bank should be informed within 30 business days.

A clear message

Oakland Institute, a U.S.-based think tank whose report, Unaccountable & Complicit: The World Bank Finances Evictions & Human Rights Abuses In Tanzania, exposed the bank’s role in the violent conservation activities underway around the Ruaha National Park (RUNAPA), was appointed by the two Tanzanian nationals to act as their advisor in the inspection process.

Anuradha Mittal, the organisation’s executive director, wrote in her X account that the World Bank should send a clear message that violence, human rights abuses, and illegal evictions will not be tolerated for the expansion of RUNAPA.

“Now that the Board has approved [the] Inspection Panel recommendation to investigate the bank-financed REGROW project in Tanzania, all funding to Suluhu Samia government for the project should stop immediately,” she wrote.

The government has yet to respond to the World Bank’s decision. The Chanzo’s efforts to get a comment from Minister for Tourism and Natural Resources Mohamed Mchengerwa bore no fruits as he was not immediately available when contacted.

READ MORE: World Bank: Gender-based Violence Remains a Serious Concern in Tanzania

This is not the first time the Bretton Woods institution has come under fire for alleged violations of its policies and guidelines in Tanzania. 

In 2016, an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists found that the bank violated its policy on indigenous people in financing the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT).

According to the report, on March 10, 2016, the bank approved an exemption to the Indigenous Peoples Policy for SAGCOT, an initiative designed to encourage foreign investment in commercial agriculture. 

However, the World Bank denied any irregularity in issuing the US$7 million loan to the project.

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