Being gay in Tanzania is now tantamount to a curse, as the anti-gay crackdown in Tanzania is gaining momentum and sending hundreds into hiding. The regional governor of Dar es Salaam is on a manhunt to identify and arrest people who are believed to be gay.
Last week, Paul Makonda, who is the Governor of Dar es Salaam, announced that he was forming a task force to identify, track down, and arrest gay people in Dar es Salaam — a region in the East African country of Tanzania with a major city by the same name that’s home to about 4 million people. They could potentially face lengthy jail terms. Makonda called for Tanzanians to report gay people and he said that he had received more than 5, 000 calls or messages naming about 100 people.
“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, according to CNN. “Therefore, I am announcing this to every citizen of Dar es Salaam. If you know any gays … report them to me.”
There is an atmosphere of fear that is engulfing Dar es Salaam in the midst of this. LGBT people are living in intense fear. In spirited attempts to avoid arrest, some have gone into hiding while others have decided to relocate from Dar es Salaam.
An LGBT activist speaking to The Guardian on condition of anonymity said, “They are raiding houses. It is a horrible thing. It is just going to get worse. So many people are leaving the city, running away. They are targeting the activists, saying we are promoting homosexuality. We have to hide.”
James Wandera, who founded the LGBT Tanzania Voice spoke to VOX and said, “We try to find safe places until things cool down.” This mirrors how terrible the situation is in Dar es Salaam ever since the regional governor made his declarations. Sensing the international backlash which this has created, the Tanzanian government is trying to distance itself from this, saying that it is not government policy but only reflecting Makonda's opinion.
There has been a repeated harassment and targeting of gay people ever since John Magufuli, the country's president, took power. Makonda was appointed by Magufuli and is seen as a close ally of the leader. Some arrests of suspected gay men have been made outside his jurisdiction. Tanzania has come under pressure from human rights groups, warning it is taking "a dangerous path."
The deteriorating human rights in Tanzania
This crackdown is a representation of the bigger problem in Tanzania - deteriorating human rights and lack of respect for the rule of law. Human Rights Watch says the government has shut down LGBT-friendly clinics, prohibited community organizations from doing HIV outreach targeting key populations and arrested activists holding workshops on legal advice.
In 2016, Tanzania banned nongovernmental organisations from distributing free lube to gay people as part of efforts to control the spread of HIV/AIDS, even though some health experts warned shutting down such outreach programmes could put the wider population at higher risk of infection.
Tanzania is a deeply conservative country and the harsh rhetoric towards gay people is fuelled by politicians like Makonda and even Magufuli himself. The trajectory that Tanzania has taken since around 2014 is clear - a brazen persecution of gay communities. The hostile climate towards gays is getting stronger.
LGBT people face a 30-year jail sentence in Tanzanian for gay male sex, a holdover from colonial-era laws, mirroring severe penalties for same-sex relationships across many African countries.
Header image: ABC