An opposition MP and activists in Tanzania are urging the World Bank to withdraw a $500m (£381m) loan to the country, amid concerns over deteriorating human rights, particularly for women and girls.
In a letter addressed to the bank’s board members, Zitto Kabwe 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.
This money will be seen as an endorsement of a misogynistic regimeAnonymous Tanzanian analyst
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 $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 $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.
The new loan could provide “urgently needed support to Tanzania’s education sector and schoolgirls in particular”, rights groups acknowledged in their letter, but said the government “cannot be trusted to implement this project as designed”.
In a country where “parliament, the judiciary, the controller and auditor general and opposition parties had been neutered”, said the letter, the bank had an “extra obligation” to act.
The groups suggest the bank makes the loan conditional on legislation that affirms the rights of pregnant schoolgirls to education, restores access to family planning, and reforms a law allowing the government to de-register NGOs. The letter also calls for the release of journalists and civil society activists.
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,” said Murunga. “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.”
A Tanzanian social analyst, who did not want to be named for fear of repercussions, said: “Girls at school are unsafe. They get beaten, sexually harassed, and sex for grades is a common thing. The comments by Tanzania’s leadership in the country have given an open licence to abusers of girls.
“It is really sad. The reason the bank withdrew the loan in 2018 in the first place remains, and is getting worse. There are no assurances that the government won’t continue to shut out girls who are pregnant, in the most humiliating way. This money will be seen as an endorsement of a misogynistic regime.”