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Tanzanian activists ask World Bank to block $500m school programme

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Via Financial Times

Tanzanian civil society groups have called on the World Bank to postpone the approval of a $500m loan to the government, saying President John Magufuli’s administration cannot be trusted to implement the project.

The programme, to be discussed at a meeting of the World Bank’s board on Tuesday, is designed to improve girls’ access to secondary education. But civil society leaders say it would be a mistake to give the sum to a government that has previously excluded pregnant girls from school and encouraged women to “free their ovaries” to boost the country’s population.

“Awarding $500m at this time would be a slap in the face of girls and women who are treated in this way, and will be taken as a full-throated endorsement of this violently misogynist regime,” the group, calling itself the Concerned Citizens of Tanzanian Civil Society, said in a letter sent last week to the World Bank board, seen by the Financial Times.

“We ask that the bank postpone the approval of the loan until the government puts in place clear measures to demonstrate . . . its commitment to gender equity and the rule of law.”

Mr Magufuli was elected in 2015 on a promise to tackle corruption and mismanagement but has spent more energy, his critics say, silencing those who question his methods. At the same time, he has gone on a self-styled campaign to clean up Tanzanian morals, placing him on a collision course with donors and rights groups.

In 2017 he enraged women’s rights campaigners by saying that pregnant girls would not be allowed to attend school, telling a rally: “As long as I am president no pregnant student will be allowed to return to school . . . After getting pregnant you are done.”

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But the objectification of women under Mr Magufuli goes further, civil society leaders say. His government’s policies and public statements have created an environment that has led to an increase in violent attacks on women and girls, said one of the civil society leaders who drafted the letter, declining to be identified.

Tanzania’s government spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

A World Bank spokesperson confirmed the board had received the letter but added: “It would be premature to comment prior to consideration by our board.”

The World Bank delayed the project and other funding to Tanzania in 2018 due to issues including its treatment of women, a new law that made it illegal for anyone but the government to publish figures and threats to arrest members of the LGBT+ community.

When a separate $450m poverty-reduction programme was approved in September, the World Bank stated that the government had addressed many of those issues, although activists and opposition leaders say nothing has changed.

“Regrettably, it appears the bank’s approval of the . . . project in September only emboldened this government,” Zitto Kabwe, an opposition MP, said in his own letter to the World Bank, seen by the FT.

Mr Kabwe warned that the continued detention of journalist Erick Kabendera and the exclusion of candidates from November’s local elections demonstrated the government was not committed to reform. “This government can no longer claim to represent the Tanzanian people but rather the interests of a few,” he said.

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