Tanzania conservation plan takes another hit as EU withdraws funding

Saturday June 15 2024
EA Ngorongoro 2#1

Maasai herders graze their cows in the Ngorongoro conservation area. FILE | AFP


The European Union Commission has joined the World Bank in cutting funding for Tanzania's wildlife conservation programmes in light of concerns over human rights violation allegations.

The commission on June 5 cancelled the country's eligibility for a proposed €18.4 million ($19.76 million) grant to be shared with Kenya, under a new biodiversity protection initiative for East Africa.

The decision is understood to have been based on controversial evictions of the indigenous Maasai people from Tanzania's Ngorongoro and Loliondo areas, which have continued unabated for the past two years to make way for expanded conservation tourism activities.

Kenya's southern and northern ecosystems will now be the sole beneficiaries of the grant to which new conditions have been added to further ensure respect for the rights of Indigenous communities in the targeted areas.

In April this year, the World Bank suspended funding for a $150 million conservation and tourism development mega-project in southern Tanzania as it continued to investigate allegations of human rights abuses related to that project's implementation.

The investigation, which began in December 2023, is expected to be completed this month and will form the basis of a review of the bank’s further participation in the Resilient Natural Resource Management for Tourism and Growth project aimed at, among other things, expanding the Ruaha National Park.


In an update last week on requirements for getting a grant for the Eastern Rift Savannahs and Watersheds (ERiSaWa) component of its NaturAfrica programme, the European Commission (EC) conspicuously removed all mention of Tanzania from the plan while retaining Kenya and setting a new deadline of July 18 for proposals.

Corrigendum No. 4 uploaded onto the EC website's Funding & Tenders Portal targeted two ey Landscapes for Conservation and Development (KLCDs) in the Southern Kenya-Northern Tanzania ecosystem that were initially earmarked for support under ERiSaWa.

It said both KLCDs were of high biodiversity importance and offered sustainable socio-economic opportunities to local communities, but underlined several times that its new call for proposals "will include only activities in southern Kenya and the northern Kenya ecosystem.”

Local and international critics have constantly slated Tanzania over the Maasai resettlements from Ngorongoro/Loliondo to Msomera, a faraway area in the eastern Tanga region, despite court rulings against the move and amid claims that it was looking to create new trophy hunting space for elite Middle East clients in the northern tourism circuit.

Read: Tanzania spends millions to move, build new life in Tanga

But government authorities have maintained that the evictions are legal because under Tanzanian law, all land is publicly owned and no single ethnic group can claim exclusive ownership over any part of it.

The NaturAfrica programme is geared towards protecting biodiversity and ecosystems while improving governance and management of natural resources and unlocking their economic value through community participation and empowerment

The EC notice said grant proposals under the programme should be "visibly guided" by a human rights-based approach prioritising inclusive governance alongside conservation and green economy and with commitments to upholding gender equality and empowerment of women, youth and vulnerable populations in the local communities.

"Successful applicants are expected to apply Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) from beneficiary communities and institute human rights policies, grievance and redress mechanisms and other preventive measures to ensure respect of their human rights," it stated.

The proposals should also include effective mechanisms to monitor the actions and behaviour of staff, especially those in positions of authority; investigate all allegations or suspicions of human rights violations; and support independent investigations by third parties.

The date of the notice, June 5, coincided with World Environment Day.

The Maasai International Solidarity Alliance (MISA) and Survival International, both lobby groups for indigenous people's protection, hailed the EC's decision to exclude Tanzania from the NaturAfrica program and said it sent a "strong message" against victimization of local communities in wildlife conservation initiatives.

“The corrigendum published by the EC is a clear sign that it acknowledges the negative impacts of exclusive conservation on Maasai rights and on pastoralism as a livelihood and a highly valuable land-management system in the context of the climate crisis,” MISA said in a statement.

Survival International’s director Caroline Pearce said in a separate statement: “The whole conservation model in East Africa is based on the brutal theft of indigenous people’s lands for protected areas and trophy hunting. Safari tourism is just one way of wealthy outsiders making money from these lands.”

The World Bank's earlier suspension of funding for the REGROW project was based on complaints by surrounding communities that rangers from the state-run Tanzania National Parks Agency (TANAPA) were committing acts of intimidation against them as part of a bigger operation to get them to move elsewhere.

The alleged acts range from rampant seizures of their livestock to direct threats on their lives. They also claimed that the bank was guilty of violating its own guidelines on Involuntary Resettlement and Protection of Indigenous Peoples by "enabling" these actions.

Read: Tanzania removes Maasais out of Ngorongoro reserve

Government spokesperson Mobhare Matinyi said at the time of the funding suspension that it would not affect the project's continued implementation since most of the total $150 million sponsorship package (about two thirds) had already been disbursed.

Tourism and related services are among the major drivers of Tanzania’s economy, registering a record growth of 7.3 percent in 2023 with revenue gains of over $3.3 billion.

According to TANAPA, income receipts across the country's 22 game parks increased by 94 percent from almost $68 million in 2021/2022 to $130 million in 2022/2023 alone as the tourism sector continued to rebound from Covid pandemic lows.