KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — A rights watchdog is accusing the World Bank of enabling the Tanzanian government’s violent expansion of a national park through financing from the global lender.
The World Bank has failed to hold Tanzanian authorities accountable for serious rights violations, including extrajudicial killings and sexual assaults, relating to the expansion of Ruaha National Park in the south of the East African country, according to a new report by the Oakland Institute.
The report by the California-based watchdog, which regularly monitors rights abuses against Indigenous communities, is the result of months of investigation that found evidence of wrongdoing by park rangers funded partly through the World Bank’s $150 million project known by the acronym REGROW.
In October 2022, Tanzania’s government minister in charge of lands and human settlement announced a plan to evict people from five villages with a combined population of more than 21,000.
Evictions are imminent, says the report released Thursday. Affected communities include members of the Maasai, Datoga and Sangu pastoralist peoples.
The Tanzanian government’s brutal tactics to force communities away and grow tourism in Ruaha National Park, a goal of the REGROW project, “are inextricably tied to its financing by the World Bank,” says the report.
In correspondence with the Oakland Institute, the World Bank says it is not funding efforts by Tanzanian authorities to regularize park boundaries. The bank notes that it doesn’t fund the procurement of weapons and insists that activities related to the extension of park boundaries “fall outside the scope of” REGROW, which started in 2017.
In response to emailed questions from The Associated Press, the World Bank said that it “has zero tolerance for violence in the projects it finances,” adding that a panel of inspectors is reviewing a complaint related to REGROW “to determine whether a compliance audit into the concerns raised is warranted.”
The Tanzanian minister in charge of tourism didn’t respond to a request for comment. It remains unclear when mass evictions will start.
Habib Mchange, an environmental activist in Tanzania, said authorities “are currently doing assessments and evaluations” ahead of what is expected to be a protracted eviction and resettlement process.
Tanzania relies heavily on tourism revenue to finance its budget, and the country has long been trying to develop its expansive national parks in a bid to attract more visitors.
Tens of thousands of communities in other parts of Tanzania have been caught up in these efforts, putting local authorities under the spotlight over civilian abuses. These events, cited by Amnesty International and others, include the violent eviction of 70,000 Maasai from grazing lands in the Loliondo area to clear vast tracts of land for trophy hunting.
“This is just another episode in an escalating campaign of violence waged by the Tanzanian government against communities living near (protected areas) across the country,” the Oakland Institute report said.
“The dire situation in the south of the country has gone unreported — despite a very similar process of dispossession and human rights abuses and the same desire to boost tourism revenue.”
The Oakland Institute documented 12 disappearances or extrajudicial killings allegedly carried out by rangers, in addition to multiple sexual assaults of women. And government agencies are seizing and auctioning cattle in large numbers, imposing “enormous financial strain” aimed at pressuring pastoralists to leave, said Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute.
“These actions go against a stated goal of the REGROW project — to strengthen livelihoods of the local communities,” she said.
By apparently failing to hold Tanzanian authorities accountable for wrongdoing, even that not directly funded through REGROW, she said, the World Bank’s own safeguards have been rendered “obsolete.”
Associated Press reporter Evelyne Musambi in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report.