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World Bank Under Fire: Investigation Launched into Bank Financed REGROW Project in Tanzania

November 20, 2023
Bird's eye view of World Bank headquarters, Washington DC
World Bank headquarters, Washington DC © Deborah W. Campos / World Bank


November 20, 2023; 10:00 PM PST

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  • On November 15, 2023, the World Bank Board of Executive Directors approved a recommendation from the Inspection Panel (IP) to investigate the Bank financed REGROW Project in Tanzania.

  • In June 2023, the Oakland Institute filed a request for inspection on behalf of impacted villagers from the Mbarali District of Tanzania, where over 20,000 villagers face eviction, violence, and illegal cattle seizures to drive them from their homes and allow for the expansion of Ruaha National Park.

  • The investigation will focus on the Bank’s review and due diligence of the capacity and processes of TANAPA — one of the Project’s lead implementing agencies — whose paramilitary rangers are accused of murder, torture, and rape in addition to illegal cattle seizures that have decimated livelihoods.

  • Impacted villagers are calling for project disbursements to be stopped while the investigation moves forward to send a clear message to the Tanzanian government that eviction plans, cattle seizures, ranger violence, and government intimidation will not be tolerated by the Bank.

Oakland, CA — In response to a complaint filed by the Oakland Institute on behalf of impacted villagers facing evictions, human rights abuses, and livelihood restrictions to expand Ruaha National Park (RUNAPA), the World Bank today announced the launch of a full investigation into harms caused by the Bank-financed REGROW project. Approval of the Inspection Panel (IP)’s recommendation for further inspection was required by the Bank’s Board of Executive Directors for the investigation to proceed. After several lengthy delays and extensions, the Bank’s Board finally issued its approval on November 15, 2023.

IP’s report recommends “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 investigation will review the related, possible noncompliance with the applicable World Bank policies.”

“After the Bank’s failure to enforce its own safeguards and Operating Procedures that have been violated by the Tanzanian government, the Bank’s decision to launch a full investigation is a late but necessary step. To ensure that the investigation is not hindered by the Tanzanian government and its intimidation of the villagers, project disbursements must be stopped,” said Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute.

In June 2023, the Oakland Institute filed a request for inspection on behalf of impacted villagers from the Mbarali District of Tanzania to the World Bank’s IP. Names of requesting villagers have been kept anonymous to ensure their safety given fears of retribution by a government with a notorious record of harassment and arbitrary arrests of land defenders.

On September 28, 2023, the Oakland Institute released Unaccountable & Complicit, which exposed the World Bank’s role in financing the Tanzanian government’s violent expansion of RUNAPA. Tens of thousands of Indigenous and local communities face evictions for tourism dollars while Bank-funded rangers are accused of murder, rape, and other shocking violence. The report has generated millions of media impressions — with articles by The Guardian and Associated Press covered by The Washington Post, ABC News, and numerous other major outlets. In November, the Institute and Rainforest Rescue circulated a petition, calling on the Bank to immediately stop funding the project, that has already garnered 45,000 signatures.

During meetings with communities detailed in the recommendation report, members of the IP heard that “rangers have more than once approached community members and seized their cattle. The community members allege these seizures were conducted forcefully.” The IP also documented accounts of missing persons and abhorrent violence committed by TANAPA rangers. Members of the IP saw the scars left on victims and heard about the lasting trauma that repeated instances of violence have left on the community.

“Given this violence is systemic, the Bank’s investigation cannot focus on some “bad apples” — individual rangers — it needs to recognize that the violence and abuses are the instruments of a vicious policy to drive people away from their land. Funding of the REGROW project should have been frozen months ago when the Bank was first made aware of the harms caused by its financing. The findings in the IP report necessitate that future disbursements are immediately stopped while the investigation continues. This is the only way to put the government on notice that all eviction plans, cattle seizures, ranger violence and government intimidation end at once,” said Mittal.

The Bank has already disbursed US$92 million out of the US$150 project total, with approximately US$28 million disbursed since the complaint was filed. In communication with the IP and the World Bank’s Executive Directors, impacted villagers have repeatedly called for the project funding to stop during the investigation.

While disbursements have increased, Bank-funded TANAPA rangers continue to kill with impunity. On the morning of October 28, five herders were at their camp outside of Mwanawala village, outside of RUNAPA. Suddenly, the group was surprised by a helicopter making a low pass and scattering their cattle. TANAPA rangers disembarked to seize the herd that the rangers had driven into the park. When the herders resisted the seizure, 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 livelihood. His family has refused to claim his body from the morgue till the rangers are brought to justice for the murder of their son.

Before the investigation begins, the anonymous requestors have the option to enter a dispute resolution mechanism with the Tanzanian government. Given the lack of trust and abject fear of the government, the requestors have rejected the dispute resolution option and asked for the investigation to begin.

“While we have been waiting months for the World Bank to answer our calls for justice, our sons and daughters continue to suffer as a result of the REGROW project,” wrote the impacted villagers. We cannot continue living in constant fear for our lives.”

Read the full letter from impacted villagers in Mbarali District to the World Bank’s Board of Directors