World Bank’s treatment of indigenous communities under fire again

Months after it assured protesters it would protect indigenous communities, the World Bank approved a $70-million loan for a massive agribusiness project in Tanzania and included a waiver of the need to consult with, and win broad support of, affected indigenous groups, reports the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Activists fear the waiver will set a precedent for overriding the concerns of local communities, even though the Bank says its board grants exemptions from its safeguards policy on a case-by-case basis.

At issue is the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT), a large-scale project to establish commercial farming on 350,000 hectares — an area nearly as large as Rhode Island — increase farm revenue by $1.2 billion and lift 450,000 farm households out of poverty over a 20-year period. Livestock herders say the SAGCOT system has prompted authorities, mostly at the local and regional level, to evict them from their grazing lands so it can be to offered to farmers working with wealthy investors, write Sasha Chavkin and Dana Ullman.

“We have been told to leave by local government without reason, but we know why,” herder Nevdu Gileksa told ICIJ. “They are called investors. We are called invaders.” Livestock herders said the government has a longstanding disapproval of indigenous pastoralists. Earlier this decade, thousands of herders were evicted from the Kilombero and Morogoro valleys.

Initially, the World Bank said Tanzania would have to follow its rules to protect indigenous peoples. The policy requires that the communities be consulted and that they give “broad support” for projects that will affect them. It is a higher level of protection than accorded to other citizens that are displaced, and recognizes that indigenous people are often marginalized in their countries and often share land communally rather than hold formal legal titles, said ICIJ.

When the World Bank’s board agreed to waive its indigenous peoples policy for the SAGCOT loan, a project appraisal cited Tanzania’s stance that the policy was inconsistent with its constitution’s emphasis on equal treatment for all ethnic groups, said ICIJ. At a forum last month, an official from the land ministry said pastoralists should not be allowed to claim status as indigenous groups because “all” Tanzanians are indigenous. “We need to find a permanent place for them and reduce their cattle,” said the official.

The story is part of a global series of investigative reports on the World Bank that included FERN’s article from Indonesia, “Children Left Vulnerable by World Bank Amid Push for Development.”

The U.S. representative on the World Bank Board abstained from voting on the SAGCOT loan and the waiver. A U.S. statement “chided the bank,” said ICIJ, for accepting Tanzania’s argument because it followed the indigenous peoples policy on previous and ongoing projects.

“There needs to be greater clarity on when the waiver policy can be applied,” said Nadia Daar of Oxfam International. Daar said the waiver appeared to be little different from an opt-out clause that the World Bank had dropped because of protests. Human rights advocate Edward Porokwa told ICIJ, “It feels like they are giving a go-ahead to Tanzania to continue violating the rights of the people.”

Tanzania has requested a waiver for its Additional Financing for Tanzania Productive Social Safety Net project. The Bank board is expected to vote soon on the project and the waiver.