World Bank Abdicates its Responsibility to Human Rights in Tanzania

In order to be truly accountable, the World Bank must immediately stop funding the REGROW project in Mbarali, which threatens to evict tens of thousands of people from their legally registered villages.

The Tanzanian government’s plan to massively expand tourism across the country is no secret. In blind pursuit of attracting five million visitors annually and generating US$6 billion from the tourism sector by 2025, it has waged a brutal campaign against local and Indigenous communities living adjacent to Protected Areas (PAs). 

The government’s denial of basic services to forcibly relocate 90,000 Maasai pastoralists in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) and the violent eviction of 70,000 from grazing lands in Loliondo have captured global headlines in recent years. 

While the government has come under fire for these abuses, the role of the international “development” partners – such as the World Bank – has only recently been uncovered and deserves further scrutiny.

Tanzanian villagers in Mbarali, Mbeya currently face the devastating impact of the Bank’s US$150 million Resilient Natural Resource Management for Tourism and Growth (REGROW) project. 

Since 2017, the project has supported the Tanzanian government’s plans to develop the less visited tourist destinations in the Southern Circuit of the country. This includes Ruaha National Park (RUNAPA), slated to double in size from one to over two million hectares.

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

The Oakland Institute’s report Unaccountable & Complicit exposed how this expansion has triggered the impending eviction of tens of thousands of people from their legally registered villages without their free, prior, and informed consent or resettlement plans. 

The Bank’s funding for Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA) has enabled a paramilitary force of rangers who have been involved in shocking violence, including torture, rape and murder.

The uncertainty and fear from the eviction announcements have put the lives of villagers on hold. Fields sit unplanted. New power grid connections abruptly ended in 2022. 

Construction of schools and the number of students advancing from primary to secondary school have plummeted. Rangers continue to illegally seize thousands of cattle to decimate livelihoods and force people to move. Any resistance is met with brutal force.

Despite these hardships and the government’s notorious track record of trampling on the rights of Indigenous communities to boost safari tourism, the impacted villagers are waging a struggle to protect their lands and lives. 

In February 2023, 852 smallholder farmers from Mbeya filed a case to stop the government’s plans to evict them from their land at the High Court of Tanzania at Mbeya. Weary of the government’s disregard for the rule of law, villagers turned to the World Bank’s Inspection Panel (IP), an independent complaints mechanism, to seek justice. 

READ MORE: Smallholders In Mbarali Protest Govt Plans To Evict Them From Their Land

The IP promotes accountability and “give affected people a greater voice in activities supported by the World Bank that affect their rights and interests, and foster redress when warranted.”

Navigating the IP process

In June 2023, two villagers submitted a complaint to the IP on behalf of the community, detailing the human rights abuses and violations of the Bank’s safeguards that resulted from the REGROW project. 

The complaint described how the planned evictions, incidents of violence, and cattle seizures have impacted several Indigenous groups, including the Maasai, Sukuma, and Datoga pastoralists. 

Given the serious fear of retribution for speaking out, the requestors remained anonymous and nominated the Oakland Institute as their advisor throughout the process. One villager explained, “We do fear because when you become identified [by the government], that will be the end of your life.”

After the request for inspection was officially registered in July, the IP travelled to Mbarali to visit several villages and meet with impacted community members in August. Members of the Panel heard from the women who had been beaten with hot bush knives by TANAPA rangers earlier this year. 

READ MORE: Villagers Clash With Rangers in Arusha’s Mto wa Mbu. Two People Die

Others told harrowing accounts of their loved ones disappeared or killed by rangers. The IP heard directly from a Sukuma pastoralist who was tortured by rangers during an illegal cattle seizure. They saw the scars left on villagers and included direct testimonies in their report – a rare occurrence that speaks to the severity of what they witnessed.

The visit of the IP raised the villagers’ hope. They shared in a letter to the Bank: “For the first time in years, we hoped the disappearances of our sons and brothers and violence against our daughters and sisters would end and the rangers responsible be brought to justice. After these meetings [with the IP], we thought our nightmare would soon be over.”

Delays prolong abuses

This hope, however, fades as the lengthy investigation process drags on amidst the Bank’s continued financing of the project.

The IP prepared a recommendation to the Bank’s Board of Executive Directors to pursue a full investigation on September 19, 2023. The report called for “an investigation into the Bank’s review and due diligence of the capacity and processes of one of the Project’s lead implementing agencies, i.e. TANAPA, and whether risks to communities were identified in project documents, appropriate mitigation measures put in place, and the Bank’s supervision of the Project’s implementing agencies.”

The Board’s approval of this decision was expected to be made public on October 4, 2023, but was postponed at the last minute to October 25. On the day of the new deadline, the decision was again delayed as one Board Member called for an additional discussion on the eligibility report.

READ MORE: LHRC Wants ‘Rogue’ Park Rangers Held Accountable

On November 15, the Board finally accepted the Panel’s recommendation for investigation. After the communities rejected the dispute resolution option – given fear and mistrust of the government – the investigation finally commenced on December 13, 2023. 

By July 2024, the investigation report must be submitted to the Bank’s Management, who will then have six weeks to provide a response. The Board will then finally hold a discussion to determine the action to be taken.

In the seven months since the complaint was filed, project funding has continued. The inability of the IP to freeze funding allows a project to move ahead with business as usual, even after complaints of abhorrent abuses. 

The Bank has already disbursed US$99 million out of the US$150 project total, with approximately US$35 million disbursed since the complaint was filed. The Bank can continue to expedite funding until the full US$150 million has been disbursed to the Tanzanian government – effectively undermining any impact the IP investigation could have. 

When this concern was raised with the World Bank, a self-proclaimed “global leader in transparency,” the institution responded by scrubbing the financial disbursement information from the project website.

Screenshots of the REGROW project page showing removal of disbursement information.

READ MORE: Govt, GIZ Tanzania in Joint Strategy Against Human-Wildlife Conflicts

While disbursements continue amidst the delayed investigation, Bank-funded TANAPA rangers continue to terrorise the communities with impunity. On the morning of October 28, 2023, five herders were at their camp outside of Mwanawala, a village visited by the IP during their visit. 

Suddenly, the group’s cattle were scattered by a helicopter, making a low pass. TANAPA rangers disembarked and began seizing the herd that had been driven into RUNAPA. The herders resisted, and in the commotion that ensued, 21-year-old Zengo Dotto was shot and killed by a ranger. 

The young herder died trying to protect his family’s cattle, vital to their livelihoods. His parents refused to claim his body from the morgue until the rangers are brought to justice for the murder of their son.

Justice delayed, justice denied

The World Bank currently has 23 active projects in Tanzania, totalling over US$8.3 billion in loans and grants. Along with the US government, its main financer, the Bank holds enormous influence over the government and could use this leverage to stop the human rights crisis facing communities near RUNAPA and across the country

In recent years, the Bank has taken swift action to sever funding to several countries, including Uganda, after the passage of a draconian anti-LGBTQ law and Russia after its invasion of Ukraine. That it continues to finance the Tanzanian government is a shameful double standard.

READ MORE: Maasai People Sue Tanzania at EACJ Over ‘Forceful Eviction’ Attempts from Ngorongoro

At a recent event celebrating the IP’s 30-year history, Chair Ramanie Kunanayagam explicitly recognised: “We are very aware that justice delayed is justice denied, so we work very carefully to meet our timelines.” 

In this case, even if the IP meets its timelines, all the funds may be disbursed before the investigation can have a tangible impact on the lives of the villagers. The Tanzanian government and TANAPA see that regardless of its actions, money will continue to flow from the World Bank. How many more villagers must die before the Bank ends its complicity in these atrocities?

Impacted villagers did not mince their words in their letter to the Bank: “In desperation, we are writing to petition you, the Executive Directors of the World Bank, to please stop financing the REGROW project and answer our calls for justice. We are tired of living in constant fear for our lives.” 

In order to be truly accountable, the World Bank must immediately stop funding the project. This is the only way to make it clear to the Tanzanian government that its human rights abuses will not be tolerated any longer.
Andy Currier is a policy analyst at the Oakland Institute, a U.S.-based progressive think-tank. He is available at acurrier@oaklandinstitute.org or @ndycurrier on X. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Chanzo. If you are interested in publishing in this space, please contact our editors at editor@thechanzo.com.

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