Many things happen when the government stays silent about what queer persons are undergoing in African countries and it continues to put the lives of LGBTI people at risk.
The LGBT community in Tanzania has actively experienced repeated waves of repression since 2016. There was a time the Tanzania government banned non-governmental organisations from distributing free lubricants to gay people as part of SRHR, a move most people didn’t understand the essence of.
There was also a raid around last year where around 12 men were arrested in Dar es Salaam in a hotel meeting that the government said was promoting homosexuality.
Amnesty International also reported that the men who were arrested recently were suspected of conducting a gay marriage because authorities found them sitting in pairs that is “two by two”.
What is more shocking is that the mere act of sitting together as men warranted an arrest from a government that is extremely homophobic and repressive in nature. The authorities didn’t have any tangible proof that these men were engaging in acts that were against the “order of nature” yet they were arrested on mere speculations.
What makes this even more outrageous is that the conviction for having “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” can lead to 30 years or more in jail in Tanzania and these men would have been jailed for 30 years plus due to mere speculations.
Last week, the regional governor of Dar es Salaam, Paul Makonda, stated that he was seeking to identify and arrest people he believed to be gay.
He said that he was forming a task force to identify, track down, and arrest gay people in Dar es Salaam. Makonda also encouraged citizens to report on those they believed to be gay, and said officials had received more than 5,000 calls or messages so far, naming about 100 individuals.
Fear was the main mood in Dar es Salaam as many people went into hiding to avoid arrest, with some moving to different areas so as to be safe.
On Sunday, national authorities issued a statement which neither condemned the crackdown nor condone Makonda’s move.
“The government of the United Republic of Tanzania would like to clarify that these are [Makonda’s] personal views and not the position of the government,” the foreign affairs ministry said in an official statement.
They added that the government would “continue to respect all international human rights conventions which it subscribes to”.
There were reports of a prevalent sense of calm since the government announcement as it’s believed that the government bowed down to pressure from international groups like European Union and United States of America warning the Tanzania government of fire consequences if they continued to remain silent.
However, there have still been reports of physical attacks on homosexuals although not documented.
The anti-LGBT crackdown in Tanzania is part of a bigger, more alarming pattern that has had Tanzania recently witnessing an increasingly aggressive targeting of gay people under President John Magufuli, who was elected in 2015, activists told RTE, an Irish outlet.
President Magufuli said last year that “even cows” should condemn homosexuality and openly threatened to deport or arrest gay rights activists in the country.
Makonda has been among the most vocal anti-LGBT leaders in the country. He has used harsh anti-LGBT rhetoric in the past and promised clampdowns against the gay community, including, threatening to arrest people who were connected to gay men through social networks like Facebook and groups.
Tanzania as a country also still have some archaic laws like the anti-sodomy laws although homosexuality itself is not criminalized like it is Kenya, Uganda or Nigeria.
Also, Tanzania’s policies weren’t as repressive as those in other countries in the region, although it has in recent years, moved toward more persecution of gay persons.
This latest crackdown in Dar es Salaam in addition to Makonda’s statements is an indication of an increasingly unfriendly climate for queer persons in Tanzania and the many ways the government is aiding it.
The question is, what is next for queer persons in Tanzania and East Africa as a whole?