International Community Responds Harshly to Tanzania’s LGBT Crackdown
Recent years have seen a noticeable uptick in repression in Tanzania, specifically with regard to a pattern of growing authoritarianism and intolerance of dissent. Campaign groups have accused Tanzania of “following a dangerous path,” with reference to recent events such as the detention of foreign journalists and imprisonment of opposition leaders. This repression has become more pervasive since John Magufuli became the country’s president in 2015.
Perhaps the most noticeable measures taken have been in regard to the Tanzania’s stance on LGBT rights.
Homosexual acts are illegal in Tanzania and punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Anybody suspected of having “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” is subject to intense interrogation, repression, and detainment.
On October 31, Paul Makonda, governor of Dar es Salaam, called for the creation of a surveillance unit to identify, track down, and arrest homosexuals throughout the country, primarily with the help of social media. Makonda also encouraged citizens to report any signs of homosexuality and said officials have received over 5,000 calls and messages providing the names of about 100 individuals.
“I have received reports that there are so many homosexuals in our city, and these homosexuals are advertising and selling their services on the internet,” Makonda said in a video last week. “Therefore, I am announcing this to every citizen of Dar es Salaam. If you know any gays...report them to me.”
Makonda’s statement was met with widespread disapproval from the international community. The outcry prompted the Tanzanian central government to say it neither supported nor condemned Makonda’s remarks.
The central government added that the it would “continue to respect all international human rights conventions which it subscribes to.”
But in early November, Kangi Lugola, Tanzania’s Minister for Home Affairs, clarified the government’s stance on homosexual activity: “Tanzania is not the right place for such acts; we will never allow such things to happen. We have laws that forbid such things.”
In response to the crackdown, the European Union withdrew the head of its delegation to Tanzania, ambassador Roeland van de Geer. The EU has pledged more than $700 million in support to the east African nation between 2014 and 2020 and said it would conduct a broader review of its relations within the country as a result of these developments.
The World Bank has suspended all visiting missions to Tanzania “until we are assured of the safety and security of all employees.”
The U.S. has also expressed “deep concerns” about the current state of LGBT rights in the country. The U.S. Embassy in Tanzania warned its citizens to be cautious after Makonda announced the crackdown. A security alert read: “Review internet footprint and social media profiles. Remove or protect images and language that may run afoul of Tanzanian laws regarding homosexual practices and explicit sexual activity.”
Canada, which gave Tanzania more than $125 million in direct aid last year, has reacted differently to the issue, instead taking a tentative “wait-and-see” approach. Jacqueline Hansen of Amnesty International explains the logic behind this decision: “All too often LGBT rights are seen by some countries as a northern, western creation. So sometimes, if the push to protect LGBT rights comes from countries like Canada, it can actually have a negative effect...We know from previous experience that if foreign aid is cut because of LGBT rights, that can actually fuel backlash against LGBT people in that country. So in this case, we would encourage Canada to leverage other channels, to continue engaging in quiet diplomacy.”
It is not the first time policies and legislation in Tanzania have targeted the LGBT community.
In 2016, the national government “threatened to publish the names of gay Tanzanians and ordered the closure of 40 walk-in clinics backed largely by foreign NGOs and governments.” In the same year, the government banned lubricant, which it claimed encouraged homosexuality. Banning it would supposedly help to stop the spread of HIV. Human Rights Watch claims that many community organizations have been prohibited from engaging in HIV outreach and many activists have been arrested.
Just last week, ten men were arrested for allegedly holding a same-sex marriage ceremony on the island of Zanzibar. They will reportedly be subjected to forced anal examinations to determine their sexual histories, which the UN Committee against Torture has spoken out against, stating that they “have no medical justification.” Others claim that they violate international law.
Many in Tanzania’s LGBT community have begun to live in secrecy to avoid the full wrath of anti-gay rhetoric and policies.