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Campaign Victory: World Bank Suspends Funding for REGROW, a Conservation Project Responsible for Evictions & Human Rights Abuses in Tanzania

April 22, 2024
REGROW Project suspended


April 22, 2024; 10:00 PM PDT

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  • The World Bank has suspended funding for the Resilient Natural Resource Management for Tourism and Growth (REGROW) project in Tanzania after over a year of advocacy by the Oakland Institute on behalf of tens of thousands of villagers impacted by the project.

  • The US$150 million project’s stated objective was to improve management of natural resources and tourism assets in priority areas of Southern Tanzania – including Ruaha National Park (RUNAPA). Instead, the Bank’s funding paved way for widespread human rights abuses against communities living near the park.

  • As a high-level World Bank delegation heads to Tanzania to further investigate, the Oakland Institute calls for an immediate halt to the government’s plan to forcibly evict over 21,000 people in order to expand the park’s boundaries.

  • Moreover, villagers who have been victims of gross human rights violations and crippling livelihood restrictions must receive adequate, effective, and prompt reparations to ensure justice and help redress the harm they have endured.

Oakland, CA – As of April 18, 2024, the World Bank has suspended disbursements for the REGROW project in Tanzania with immediate effect – following steadfast advocacy by the Oakland Institute on behalf of impacted villagers. The US$150 million project began in 2017 to “develop” tourism assets in Southern Tanzania but the Institute’s research in 2023 revealed it was directly financing evictions and egregious human rights abuses against communities living near the Ruaha National Park (RUNAPA).

“The long overdue decision of the World Bank to suspend this dangerous project is a crucial step towards accountability and justice. 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. The days of impunity are finally coming to an end,” said Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute.

In September 2023, the Institute released Unaccountable & Complicit, shattering the silence on the World Bank’s role in the violent conservation activities underway around RUNAPA. The report first exposed the government’s plans to evict over 20,000 people from their land in order to expand the boundaries of the park. It also documented violence and rampant cattle seizures perpetrated by Bank-funded Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA) wildlife rangers, systematically carried out to force people off their land.

When first informed of these abuses and violations of its own safeguards in April 2023, the World Bank deflected blame and failed to take action. The Institute then filed a request for inspection with the Bank’s independent Inspection Panel in June 2023 on behalf of villagers in the Mbarali District. In November 2023, the World Bank Board of Executive Directors approved the Inspection Panel’s recommendation to launch an investigation focused on the actions of TANAPA rangers. The investigation is ongoing and will conclude later in 2024.

Despite the Bank’s assurances its resettlement safeguards would not be violated and the launch of the Panel’s investigation, the government brashly moved forward with eviction plans. On October 20, 2023, the government officially declared it was modifying the boundaries of RUNAPA to now encompass at least 23 legally registered villages – forcing the eviction of over 21,000 people who did not provide their Free, Prior, and Informed Consent to the decision and have not been offered any alternative land or compensation. Thousands of additional people living in sub-villages are now considered within RUNAPA and will also be evicted as a result. Structures have already been marked for demolition and power has been cut to several villages. In December 2023, villagers filed a case in the East African Court of Justice to stop the boundary expansion as past attempts in Tanzanian courts failed to provide justice.

The Bank has already disbursed approximately US$100 million out of the US$150 million total budget, including over US$35 million since the complaint was first filed in June 2023. In addition to allowing eviction plans to move forward, the Bank’s failure to take immediate action resulted in serious harms for the local communities. Ongoing project disbursements allowed TANAPA to continue carrying out killings and cattle seizures in recent months. On October 28, 2023, twenty-one-year-old Zengo Dotto was gunned down by TANAPA rangers in Mwanawala village, the latest in several murders during the course of the REGROW project. During the first months of 2024, rangers illegally seized and auctioned off thousands of cattle from herders while preventing farmers from cultivating their land – devastating countless livelihoods as a result.

International media attention on the Institute’s findings, including The Guardian and Associated Press covered by The Washington Post, ABC News, and numerous other major outlets – put a global spotlight on the Bank’s complicity in the ongoing atrocities. In February 2024, to further escalate pressure, the Institute and Rainforest Rescue delivered a petition with nearly 80,000 signatures to the President of the World Bank, Ajay Banga, calling on him to immediately stop funding the project.

“The Bank ignored damning evidence for an entire year that the Tanzanian government was completely disregarding its own safeguards. This should be a wakeup call for the Bank’s leadership in Washington, D.C. – you cannot continue to ignore the voices of the people on the ground who are struggling to survive as a result of your so-called “development” projects,” added Mittal.

A high-level World Bank delegation will soon travel to Tanzania. “The government’s plan to expand the park cannot go forward against the will of local communities, who will lose everything from such an expansion. In addition to preventing forced evictions, the Bank must focus on how to remedy the harms caused to the villagers who have lost loved ones to ranger violence or had their lives devastated by livelihood restrictions. Comprehensive reparations for all victims of this project are urgently required,” concluded Mittal.