World Bank investigating alleged crimes at $150 million Ruaha tourism project

What you need to know:

  • The bank has been accused of “enabling” alleged violence by the government to make way for a $150 million project expected to protect the environment and attract more tourists to Ruaha National Park.

Dar es Salaam. The World Bank is investigating allegations of killings, rape and forced evictions involving villagers near the site of a proposed tourism project funded by the lender in Ruaha.

The bank has been accused of “enabling” alleged violence by the government to make way for a $150 million project expected to protect the environment and attract more tourists to Ruaha National Park.

The “resilient natural resource management for tourism and growth” (Regrow) project will almost double the size of the park, which is 130km (80 miles) from Iringa.

"The World Bank takes the allegations very seriously, and we are looking into them, working with the Borrower and Bank’s Inspection Panel,” said a World Bank spokesperson.

The spokesperson added: A dedicated bank mission went to Tanzania in response to complaints received by the bank, to get firsthand information. If a borrower is not implementing a project in line with the bank’s environmental and social standards, we want to know about it and more importantly want to address the issues of concern promptly," said the spokesperson.

Villagers living near Ruaha told researchers at the Oakland Institute thinktank that rangers had killed and beaten cattle herders and fishers, had raped women and confiscated thousands of herd of cattle, under the premise that they had encroached on the national park.

In April 2021, rangers reportedly shot and killed William Nundu (38), a fisher, and allegedly killed two herders, Sandu Masanja (28), and Ngusa Salawa (14).

The regional police commander claimed that they were killed by wild animals while illegally entering the park, according to a report published by the institute on Thursday.

More than 21,000 people from dozens of villages around Ruaha are also facing eviction by the government, the report claimed.

The executive director of the Oakland Institute, Ms Anuradha Mittal said; “Regrow project is not about protecting wildlife or conservation. Instead, the bank is financing an oppressive and violent economic growth model based on boosting tourism revenues.”

She said the World Bank should have scrutinised the Tanzanian government’s record on human rights before financing it.

Two community members, with the help of Oakland, have also submitted a complaint to the World Bank saying they had not been consulted about the evictions or provided adequate resettlement plans for the projects, which were causing “harm to their identity, culture and rights.”

A community leader who spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity called the government’s actions “heavy-handed and unlawful”. He said communities in more than 40 villages will lose ancestral and lawfully owned land.

“Many farmers were barred from cultivating their farms this year causing hunger and poverty. Many of the residents of the villages in question face an uncertain future and psychological pain,” he said.

“I want the World Bank to immediately halt the project and conduct forensic investigation on the allegations of gross violation of human rights in the project area.”

Roland Ebole, an Amnesty International researcher focusing on Tanzania and Uganda, said abuses around the park have been reported since 2008 when the government first began to scope out plans for its expansion.

“We find villagers being accused of herding inside areas they have been restricted from and they are told to pay fines of high amounts or have their cattle confiscated. I know villagers who have been willing to pay fines but officials hold them in custody for days,” said Ebole.

In 2021, the then regional commissioner for Mbeya, Mr Albert Chalamila said that two rangers were arrested as investigation was ongoing.

Efforts to get the comments from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism and from the Regrow project could not yield.

In 2017, the World Bank approved a $150 million credit from the International Development Association, through the Resilient Natural Resource Management for Tourism and Growth Project (Regrow) which would be implemented in six years since then.

The project was expected to increase conservation and management of unique protected areas in southern Tanzania, and promote alternative livelihoods for rural communities.

The project which also included infrastructure development was expected to protect natural assets and benefit nearly 40,000 households around the protected areas.

The project was also expected to position the “southern circuit” as an engine of growth through tourism development and associated benefits; enable communities in the project area to enhance their incomes by linking them with resilient livelihoods; promote increased conservation of national parks and game reserves; reduce human-wildlife conflict and strengthen resilience to climate vulnerability and change; and contribute towards safeguarding flows from the Great Ruaha River into the Ruaha National Park.

The southern circuit includes several National Parks (Katavi, Kitulo, Mahale, Udzungwa Mountains, Mikumi and Ruaha), Game Reserves (with Selous being the largest), two rift valley lakes (Nyasa and Tanganyika), areas of cultural interest, and access to the primary gateway town of Iringa.