The World Bank has postponed a vote on a $500m loan to the government of Tanzania after local civil society groups and an opposition leader criticised the programme. The lender’s board was due to meet on Tuesday to approve the loan but the discussion was delayed following a request from a board member, the World Bank said.
“The board will be setting a future date for its consideration of the project,” it said, without confirming why the member had requested the postponement. In a letter to the World Bank last week, critics said the loan to improve access to secondary education in the east African country would be a mistake and urged it to delay the funding. Since President John Magufuli’s election in 2015 he has courted controversy, limiting press freedoms and restricting opposition activity.
In 2017, he angered women’s rights campaigners by endorsing a law that allows public schools to ban pregnant girls and has since encouraged women to “free their ovaries” to boost the country’s population. Civil society groups said that approving the project would have amounted to a “full-throated endorsement” of Mr Magufuli’s policies, and asked the World Bank to postpone the decision until the government put in place measures to demonstrate a genuine commitment to gender equality and the rule of law.
The decision to delay the funding followed an emergency meeting on Monday of World Bank members to discuss the concerns raised by the civil society groups, according to a person briefed on the meeting. The World Bank originally postponed the project and other funding to Tanzania in 2018 because of issues including its treatment of women 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 said nothing has changed. With national elections scheduled for this year, Zitto Kabwe, an opposition MP, said awarding the government $500m would be equivalent to “endorsing Magufuli”.
Mr Kabwe, who also wrote to the World Bank last week demanding the delay, warned that Mr Magufuli’s growing control of all corners of the Tanzanian administration would have made it difficult for the World Bank to account for the spending. “You need checks and balances,” he said.
This article was originally published by The Financial Times.