Tanzanian Activists Seek to Block $500 Million World Bank Loan

(Bloomberg) --

Tanzanian activists are urging the World Bank to delay a $500 million loan for education in the East African nation because of President John Magufuli’s calls to restrict pregnant girls from attending school.

While the funding is supposed to help improve girls’ access to secondary education in the region’s second-largest economy, the government regularly prevents pregnant students and young mothers from attending classes, members of Tanzania’s civil society told the Washington-based lender.

“It would be inappropriate if not irresponsible for the bank to approve” the funding, the group named Concerned Citizens of Tanzanian Civil Society said in a letter seen by Bloomberg. The lender should only back the loan if the government affirms the right of pregnant schoolgirls to attend and ends compulsory pregnancy tests, the group said.

The lender’s board is scheduled to discuss the project on Tuesday, according to a World Bank spokesperson, who declined to comment further.

Magufuli, who’s expected to seek re-election in October, has been hailed for improving government efficiency and fighting graft during his first five years in office. He’s also been criticized for what advocacy groups including New York-based Human Rights Watch say is suppression of basic freedoms, and economic policies that have discouraged private investment.

After the World Bank’s vice president for Africa, Hafez Ghanem, met Magufuli in November, the presidency said the funding for education projects was still available. A government spokesman didn’t answer calls seeking comment.

Chama Cha Mapinduzi, the ruling party, accused critics of misrepresenting the options available to pregnant schoolgirls. In a post on Twitter, it said there were alternative learning systems for them.

The activists’ letter also pointed to other concerns, including the detention of journalist Eric Kabendera without bail and the exclusion of thousands of opposition candidates from November’s local elections. The activists didn’t identify themselves, citing fear of persecution.

The bank can either back gender equality and human rights by placing conditions on the funding, or approve the project and “be complicit with the abuses of this government in an election year,” according to the letter.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.