Dar es Salaam — The World Bank will be hard-pressed this coming week to deliver a verdict on a Sh1.15 trillion soft loan to Tanzania meant for quality and inclusive education, it has emerged.
The World Bank's board of directors is due to meet on Tuesday with the suspended loan to Tanzania being one of the issues on the table on whose decision is eagerly awaited by the government as well as the general public back here.
But it has also emerged that rights activists from the country and abroad, as well as Kigoma Urban MP Zitto Kabwe have separately petitioned the lender against releasing the money, arguing the government has not demonstrated publicly any good intent on the use of the colossal sum on advancing the interests of girls and women in Tanzania.
Some $300 million (Sh690bn) which was part of the revamped loan was withdrawn in 2018 over concerns about expelling pregnant girls and the introduction of a law that made it a crime to question official statistics.
Whether to grant the country the Sh1.15 trillion funding or not, will also be the last assignment of the Breton Woods institution's country director for Tanzania, Burundi, Malawi and Somalia, Ms Bella Bird, whose tour of duty ends on Friday. Ms Bird has been in the country where she was based since July 2015.
Sources within the lender's Dar es Salaam office as well as in government told The Citizen that Ms Bird's voice would be key in the decision making about the loan as she has been instrumental in shaping the bilateral relations between the institution and President John Magufuli's administration. During her tenure, the bank has advanced to Tanzania $3.5 billion (Sh8.05 trillion) in loans and grants, going mostly to infrastructure development and poverty reduction initiatives.
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Yesterday, a senior government official who spoke to The Citizen on condition of anonymity was emphatic that the WB would grant the said loan.
"We are very positive about it and I believe the World Bank will vote to release the funds on Tuesday," the senior official told The Citizen, asking not to be named because only the ministry of finance was supposed to speak about the matter.
According to the official, those campaigning against the loan did not take into consideration the quality education needs of millions of young Tanzanians.
"Listen, we don't look at the girls who get pregnant alone but also those who do not. We made this very clear to [the bank] while assuring them that those who get pregnant will not be left to fend for themselves. The government would devise strategies to help the girls have access to education. This can be done in many ways including through the adult education system," explained the source.
Ms Bird also alluded to the girls debate in an exclusive interview with The Citizen before she flew out to Washington (Read the full interview in The Citizen tomorrow). Asked about pending issues as she was set to leave, Ms Bird said: "There is the issue of supporting pregnant girls to complete their education. Encouraging girls to stay in school longer by providing safe and good quality secondary education opportunities is one of the most effective ways of reducing early marriage and pregnancy, which are a problem in Tanzania. We are continuing our dialogue with the government to strengthen measures to protect girls from pregnancy and find ways of supporting them to finish their education in case they become pregnant."
A news report by Cable News Network (CNN) yesterday also hinted to the possibility of the loan being granted in a report quoting world bank sources in Washington. CNN reported that the revamped $500 million loan pledges to provide pregnant girls and new mothers with "Alternative Education Pathways" but falls short of calling for a reversal of the ban.
According to CNN, a World Bank spokesman for Tanzania said that since 2018 the bank has worked with the Tanzanian government to find a solution. He said the purpose of the reworked loan program was to "enhance the quality and provision of education."
"The programme has been redesigned ... to ensure girls and boys who drop out, including pregnant girls, have alternate education options for themselves."
Asked why the bank didn't require a guarantee that girls who get pregnant would be allowed to continue in state schools if they wish to, the spokesman repeated the current solution was a result of an agreement between the World Bank and President Magufuli, CNN reported.
World Bank Vice President Hafez Ghanem held talks with President Magufuli at State House in Dar es Salaam in November 2018 in a meeting that agreed to re-look at the suspension of the loan facility, with a commitment by the government to review its stand on school-re entry by pregnant girls.
According to a World Bank document outlining the loan, about 5,500 girls were not able to continue their secondary education due to adolescent pregnancy and young motherhood in 2017. Around a quarter of Tanzanian girls aged between 15 and 19 are mothers or pregnant. According to the United Nations Population Fund, the percentage of teenage girls who have given birth or who were pregnant increased to 27 per cent in 2016 from 23 per cent in 2010.
Child marriage, as young as 15, which has been barred since 2016, remains an issue -- 36 per cent of women aged 25-49 have been married before they turned 18, according to official data from 2016, the latest available.
But activists said in their letter to the Bank's executive board that nothing that shows the government's commitment to change its current policy was forthcoming. They want the board to stop the loan until the country passes a law that guarantees the rights of pregnant girls to attend regular secondary schools and ends mandatory pregnancy tests.
Opposition leader Zitto Kabwe told CNN that the new loan would enable the stigma around pregnant girls in Tanzania to continue.
"The way the loan is been structured [means] the young girls who get pregnant for whatever reason will be put in separate schools," he told CNN. "This is not right. I am wondering how can the World Bank allow this."
Mr Kabwe also sent the World Bank a letter about the loan, highlighting the worsening human and gender rights situation in the country. He asked the bank to suspend lending to the government "until basic checks and balances are restored in Tanzania."
Elin Martínez, senior researcher at the Children's Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, called the reworked programme a "workaround."
"The government has not fulfilled the promises and the conditions that were set last year," she said. "We thought that the World Bank was not going to proceed with that loan until the government adopted a policy where it actually explicitly said 'we will end the discrimination against girls.'"
"That has not happened. [The government] will not remove the discriminatory ban, that's quite clear now," CNN quoted her as saying.