Close your eyes and imagine for a second. Imagine that you are living in a country where the very fabric of who you are puts you at risk of persecution. Imagine that you are living in a country where an inherent part of your being is the reason you are being targeted for a life sentence. Imagine that you are living in a country where you are forced to try and hide a part of yourself that you cannot control.
Right now as I write, and as you read, this is the reality for hundreds of LGBTQ+ individuals in Tanzania. These people have been forced to flee or go into hiding after a senior official commenced a taskforce with the sole aim of identifying and punishing gay people. Paul Makonda, the head of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city, announced in late October that he had put together a team of officials and police that would intensify persecution of LGBTQ+ individuals, who would face lengthy prison sentences if arrested. Makonda is a devout Christian who has stated that homosexuality “tramples on the moral values of Tanzanians” and that he would prefer to anger Western liberal countries than to anger God. Makonda subsequently released an interview on YouTube, calling for Tanzanians to report gay people to the authorities, an action with an unmistakable whiff of Nazi Germany surrounding it.
The Guardian spoke to LGBTQ+ activists who told stories of their houses being raided and people fleeing the cities for the countryside, describing the situation hauntingly as “open season on gay people”. The activists stated that lists of names had been published on social media in order to “out” people. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, responded to the worrying situation in Tanzania by releasing a statement warning that, “this could turn into a witch-hunt and could be interpreted as a licence to carry out violence, intimidation, bullying, harassment and discrimination against those perceived to be LGBT.”
While the Tanzanian foreign ministry has not explicitly endorsed Makonda’s actions, the office has been a supporter of several homophobic measures since 2015. The government has reacted to the creation of the “task force” by saying that the action is the personal position of Paul Makonda and not of the official government. Tanzania’s colonial constitution and laws prohibit same-sex relations and in October 2017, 13 health and human rights activists were arrested and detained for promoting “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature”, an offence which can lead to 30 years or more in a jail cell. Furthermore, in October 2016, the Minister of Health imposed a directive which suspended the provision of HIV/AIDS services and ordered the closure of clinics supporting LGBTQ+ individuals.
On November 6, 10 men were arrested on the island of Zanzibar after police were tipped off about a possible same-sex marriage ceremony. Amnesty International officials expressed fear that the individuals would be subjected to forced anal examinations, the government’s method of choice for finding “proof” of homosexual activity among men.
Since the introduction of the barbarian persecution team, Denmark, Tanzania’s second biggest aid donor, has decided to suspend 9.8 million dollars of pledged aid money, while the World Bank has stated that it will not go through with a plan to loan Tanzania 300 million dollars.
It is absolutely chilling to think that such hatred and intolerance still exists in such an open atmosphere and it is even more chilling to think that these ideas are being spread under the guise of “religious beliefs” and “morality”. While it may seem like such heinous persecution exists only in another world and another time, the reality is that this fear is just daily life for hundreds of individuals in Tanzania.
Sign up to our newsletter to get our top stories straight to your inbox.
Image courtesy of Jiroe at Unsplash