Tanzania’s justice minister has announced controversial new plans to suspend the registration of any charity or non-governmental organisation that supports homosexuality.
Claiming that he was protecting the “culture of Tanzanians”, Harrison Mwakyembe’s announcement comes just days after the country’s health minister imposed a partial ban on the import and sale of lubricants to discourage gay men from having sex and “curb the spread of HIV”.
The sudden crackdown has come as a surprise in a country that has until recently been tolerant of its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Unlike in neighbouring Uganda – where pride events were disrupted by the police last week – Kenya and Zimbabwe, gay Tanzanians have not experienced the same levels of violence and discrimination, and politicians have until now generally ignored the topic.
James Wandera Ouma, the founder and executive director of LGBT Voice Tanzania, one of the only registered organisations openly promoting LGBT rights, has said the plans are proof that “the environment for the LGBT community is very bad right now and it’s getting worse.”
Ouma said that the political mood shifted in early July, when Paul Makonda, the regional commissioner for Dar es Salaam, the country’s biggest city, told citizens during a religious rally that he had started a crackdown against gay people.
Makonda said he would use social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook to identify and arrest people suspected of being gay. “If there’s a homosexual who has a Facebook account, or with an Instagram account, all those who ‘follow’ him, it is very clear that they are just as guilty as the the homosexual,” he told a cheering crowd.