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Experts in Tanzania Want Conservation ‘Decolonised’ As World Bank Pulls Out of Controversial Project

Implemented in the southern highlands of Tanzania, the project has been associated with widespread human rights violations and abuses that the government denies.

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Dar es Salaam. Ecology and indigenous issues experts from Tanzania have reiterated their calls to authorities from the East African nation to “decolonise” the country’s tourism and conservation policies to avoid clashes with communities surrounding conserved areas and ensure the sector benefits the local population.

The renewed calls follow the decision by the World Bank to suspend funding for the Resilient Natural Resource Management for Tourism and Growth (REGROW) project in the southern highlands of Tanzania following sustained pressure from activists who associated the project with human rights abuses against local communities.

The World Bank had already issued US$100 million, or Sh259.3 billion, for the project, whose stated objective was to improve the management of natural resources and tourism assets in priority areas when two Tanzanian nationals, representing over 21,000 others evicted from their communities, pressured the international lender to suspend its financing of the US$150 million project.

The decision comes almost half a year since the World Bank announced on November 17, 2023, that it was investigating claims filed by Tanzanians that the Bretton Woods institution was violating its own policies and procedures, including guidelines on Involuntary Resettlement and Indigenous Peoples, leading to numerous violations that have threatened the lives of thousands of people.

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

Reacting to the developments, Dr Ronald Ndesanjo, a human ecologist from the University of Dar es Salaam, told The Chanzo that the episode should serve as a reminder to Tanzanian authorities to re-examine their approaches to conservation and tourism and ensure that they serve Tanzanians.

“Our conservation laws and policies reflect the priorities of our former colonial masters who designed them, among many other purposes, to benefit the colonial state and its economic and ideological interests,” Ndessanjo said during an interview. “These laws and policies have never changed” over 60 years of independence. 

Dr Ndessanjo, who has extensively researched the conflicts between local communities and conservation authorities across Tanzania, believes such disputes will end only when the government allows these communities to benefit from the country’s natural wealth.

“Natural resources authorities conserve for tourism purposes are villagers’ lifeblood for survival,” he told The Chanzo. “Without realising that, today’s experience [of World Bank suspending its funding] will be repeated in various other areas in a more or less resemblance.” 

Human rights

In their campaign to force the World Bank to suspend funding REGROW, represented by a U.S.-based think tank, Oakland Institute, the Tanzanian nationals alleged that the project’s implementation led to the seizure of hundreds of villagers’ cattle, thereby detrimenting pastoral livelihoods. 

READ MORE: World Bank Abdicates its Responsibility to Human Rights in Tanzania

They also alleged that the seizure of livestock has impacted several Indigenous Peoples groups, including Maasai, Sukuma, and Datoga pastoralists, who inhabit the project area. 

An expert who has researched extensively on Indigenous issues in Tanzania told The Chanzo that the World Bank’s suspension of its financing necessitates applying a human rights-based approach to conservation.

“⁠It’s morally wrong to expand a national park by decimating livelihoods of local communities,” said the expert who preferred anonymity. “While it was the norm globally some years back, any attempt to do it now is to live in a world that no longer exists. Right-thinking individuals and institutions will condemn it in strongest terms.”

The expert thinks that the World Bank ignored pre-due diligence, which would have laid out any potential adverse impacts and proposed a participatory methodology for devising solutions. “It appears this was not done,” the expert said.

Crucial step

The Oakland Institute, which has been at the forefront of the campaign against the project, said in a statement on April 22, 2024, that the suspension of the funding is “a crucial step towards accountability and justice,” said Anuradha Mittal, the organisation’s executive director.

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

“It sends a resounding message to the Tanzanian government that there are consequences for its rampant rights abuses taking place across the country to boost tourism,” she added. “The days of impunity are finally coming to an end.”

However, chief government spokesperson Mobhare Matinyi told The Citizen newspaper on Tuesday that no human rights were violated during project implementation, insisting that the suspension of the fund does not mean the project will stall.

“The important thing is that implementation of the project will not stop, but it will continue,” Mr Matinyi told the paper. 

Lukelo Francis is The Chanzo’s journalist from Dar es Salaam. He is available at

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One Response

  1. I can only describe Mr. Matinyi’s response to the report as callous and irresponsible, at the very least. It reflects on the government’s insensitive and contemptuous attitude and approach to addressing people’s concerns.

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