Campaigners urge World Bank to scrap US$500m loan to Tanzania over rights concerns


Amid concerns over deteriorating human rights conditions, particularly for women and girls, an opposition MP and activists in Tanzania are urging the World Bank to withdraw a US$500m (£381m) loan to the country unless reform is first implemented.

Opposition leader Zitto Kabwe, in a letter addressed to the bank’s board members said he feared the money would be used by the ruling party “to distort our electoral processes’” and ensure an easy victory in an election year.

Kabwe, the leader of the Alliance for Change and Transparency party, urged the bank to suspend any loans until “checks and balances” including a free press, free and fair elections, and the reinstatement of the controller and auditor general, are restored in the country.

In a separate letter to the bank, which is Tanzania’s biggest external lender, civil society organisations said it would be “inappropriate if not irresponsible” to approve the loan, which is for an education project, without conditions placed on the government that include introducing legislation to allow pregnant girls to stay in school.

The letter, sent anonymously because of fear of reprisals, catalogued a series of recent crackdowns by the Tanzanian government on NGOs, the media, and individuals critical of the government.

Under John Magufuli, who became president in 2015, the government has forced girls to undergo pregnancy tests and excluded thousands of them from school, said the letter. The government was also accused of encouraging the flogging of schoolchildren, clamping down on family planning services and branding them a western “plot” to reduce the population, and ignoring multiple cases of rape and murder of women in western Tanzania.

Approving the loan would deliver a “slap in the face” to women and girls, and would represent a “full-throated endorsement of this violently misogynist regime”, said the organisations.

The letter calls on the bank to postpone the loan until the government has put in place measures to demonstrate a commitment to “gender equality and the rule of law”. The loan will be considered by the bank’s board of directors on Tuesday.

Earlier this week, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which has documented the declining climate for activists under Magufuli, called for the immediate release of human rights lawyer Tito Elia Magoti and IT expert Theodory Giyani. They are being held on “spurious charges”, including leading organised crime and money laundering, the groups said.

In 2018, the bank withdrew a US$300m loan to Tanzania amid concerns over its policy of expelling pregnant girls from school.

Tanzania has one of the highest adolescent pregnancy rates in the world, with widespread sexual violence and girls exchanging sex for school fees, food and shelter, according to the UN.

Last September, the bank approved a loan of US$450m, its first since the withdrawal of funding in 2018, after Tanzania amended a law that had made it illegal to question official statistics. In his letter, Kabwe said the loan had “emboldened” the government and made the human rights situation worse.

Jean Paul Murunga, a programme officer at Equality Now, an advocacy group that has been lobbying to end school expulsions in Tanzania, urged the bank to suspend the loan and begin a dialogue with Tanzania’s government.

“The government of Tanzania has ignored the voices of the African civil society groups and has given them no option. As a human rights defender I support this action if that’s what it takes to alert the international community and get the government to listen,” said Murunga. (Source: The Guardian)