World Bank suspends Tanzania tourism fund over abuse allegations

Wildlife in Ruaha National Park.

Photo credit: File

The World Bank has suspended new disbursements from a $150 million fund to expand a national park in southern Tanzania, a spokesperson said on Wednesday, after the lender received allegations of killings and evictions by rangers last year.

Two anonymous complainants have accused rangers from the Ruaha National Park of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, evictions, torture and cattle seizures perpetrated against local villagers, according to the World Bank's independent complaints mechanism.

"The World Bank is deeply concerned about the allegations of abuse and injustice related to the... project in Tanzania," a spokesperson said in a statement. "We have therefore decided to suspend further disbursement of funds with immediate effect."

Government spokesman Mobhare Matinyi said the allegations were false but that the government was investigating "to see if there was any misconduct from any staff so that it takes appropriate action".

He said the suspended final tranche of the loan amounted to $25 million.

Several Tanzanian government initiatives to expand tourism have faced criticism from human rights advocates, including in the north of the country where thousands of Maasai have been evicted from their traditional homelands.

A report last year by the Oakland Institute, a California-based think-tank, accused Ruaha park rangers of sexual violence, and said local communities across Tanzania were bearing the cost of generating tourism revenues under the guise of protecting the environment.

The government says expanding the tourism sector is key to economic development and that it has provided fair compensation to people evicted from their homes.

The World Bank project was approved by its board in 2017 and is expected to end in February 2025.