Fear grips Tan­za­nia’s queer peo­ple

A com­mis­sioner’s threat of a crack­down has re­sulted in them go­ing into hid­ing or flee­ing the coun­try

Mail & Guardian - - Africa - Carl Col­li­son

For a lit­tle over a week he has had to live in hid­ing. Speak­ing to the Mail & Guardian from his two-bed­room house out­side Dar es Salaam city cen­tre, the hu­man rights ac­tivist and openly gay man says: “As a com­mu­nity we are still liv­ing in fear. Since Mon­day last week, I haven’t stepped out­side this house. We are in dan­ger.”

The coun­try’s queer com­mu­ni­ties are liv­ing in fear af­ter Dar es Salaam’s re­gional com­mis­sioner, Paul Makonda, told re­porters on Oc­to­ber 29 that he had formed a task force to round up and ar­rest those peo­ple sus­pected of be­ing queer. He also urged cit­i­zens to re­port any­one they knew who are — or are sus­pected of be­ing — queer to the po­lice.

The ac­tivist is so fear­ful of be­ing iden­ti­fied that, not only does he not want to be named, he also be­lieves that the use of any name — no mat­ter how com­mon — as a pseu­do­nym could im­pli­cate oth­ers. “Even if you use a name like ‘John’ or ‘Joe’ for me, they will find some gay man whose name is ‘John’ or ‘Joe’ and say, ‘You spoke to the me­dia’. You see, we are in real, real dan­ger here.”

Same-sex re­la­tion­ships are il­le­gal in Tan­za­nia and carry a max­i­mum sen­tence of life im­pris­on­ment.

An­other ac­tivist, who chose to be iden­ti­fied as An­gelo Justin, says: “The sit­u­a­tion is so bad be­cause it is hate speech and has cre­ated vi­o­lence within our com­mu­ni­ties. Some peo­ple are run­ning from one re­gion to an­other, oth­ers are flee­ing the coun­try.”

Justin says there is no clar­ity about the num­ber of peo­ple dis­placed by the threat of vi­o­lence. “We are still do­ing an anal­y­sis of the sit­u­a­tion. But it is a big num­ber.”

Cor­rob­o­rat­ing this, the first ac­tivist says: “As I am talk­ing to you, I have 22 peo­ple who want to seek asy­lum. Peo­ple are tired, say­ing this is some­thing that is not go­ing to stop.”

Although a state­ment by the gov­ern­ment dis­tanc­ing it­self from Makonda’s call for a crack­down was is­sued by the for­eign af­fairs min­istry this week, it did lit­tle to quell peo­ple’s fears.

“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 state­ment read.

The ac­tivist is not con­vinced. “When you look at that state­ment, it does not say the gov­ern­ment re­grets what Makonda did or that they are warn­ing him not to do what he has done.”

Justin says he “would like to ac­knowl­edge the state­ment is­sued by gov­ern­ment”, but adds: “But we are hop­ing they will take mea­sures against [Makonda].”

For Neela Ghoshal, Hu­man Rights Watch’s se­nior re­searcher on les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der rights (LGBT), the state­ment is “clearly a good sign that Tan­za­nia cares about in­ter­na­tional pres­sure, which is a good thing when it comes to hu­man rights”.

“But this doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean that peo­ple are safe, be­cause the min­istry of for­eign af­fairs has no di­rect con­trol over the po­lice.”

By the time of print, 10 men had been ar­rested on sus­pi­cion of be­ing gay. Ac­tivists have raised con­cerns that men will have to be sub­jected to forced anal test­ing, a method of­ten used in the coun­try to “prove” same­sex re­la­tions.

The ac­tivist adds that it is not only the po­lice that LGBT peo­ple are afraid of. “On so­cial me­dia, even peo­ple who know us will send mes­sages say­ing, ‘I will send your name to Makonda and if you don’t want me to do that, give me some money’.”

His two-bed­room house, which is about an hour from Dar es Salaam, might be a prison for now, but he re­alises he is still in a much bet­ter po­si­tion than most.

“My house is in a good area. Peo­ple here mind their own busi­ness. My house has a fence, so it’s okay. And I have my dogs pro­tect­ing me. But what about the rest of the com­mu­nity? My col­leagues and I are re­ally fear­ing for them.”

As for “the big num­ber” who have al­ready fled the coun­try to avoid the threat of vi­o­lence or im­pris­on­ment, Justin says: “I would love for them to come back one day. Be­cause this is their home. They are cit­i­zens of this coun­try.” The paint­ing Tutu, which dis­ap­peared 40 years ago, was ex­hib­ited in La­gos last week. Known as Africa’s Mona Lisa, the paint­ing by Nige­rian artist Ben En­wonwu of Princess Ade­tutu Ade­miluyi was found in a Lon­don flat last year. It was then auc­tioned off for $1.5-mil­lion and was con­sid­ered the most ex­pen­sive piece of art at the three­day ArtX La­gos fair. The 1974 paint­ing is of great im­por­tance to Nige­ria, rep­re­sent­ing na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion fol­low­ing the Bi­afran War.

Cy­ber-up­skilling

In part­ner­ship with France, Sene­gal has opened a cy­ber­se­cu­rity school aimed at equip­ping African gov­ern­ment and se­cu­rity of­fi­cials with the skills to com­bat cy­berthreats and acts of ter­ror. The school is be­ing housed tem­po­rar­ily at the Na­tional School of Ad­min­is­tra­tion in Dakar but it will be moved to Di­amna­dio, a new town be­ing built 30km from the cap­i­tal.

Good taste

One of the most con­tentious is­sues among West African coun­tries is over a dish called jollof, which is pre­pared mainly with rice and a tomato sauce. The United King­dom’s Prince Charles, at the end of a tour of the re­gion, was asked which na­tion had pre­pared the best ver­sion. Di­plo­mat­i­cally, he said he would not dare to com­pare “for fear of spark­ing a diplo­matic in­ci­dent”.

Crack­down: Dar es Salaam re­gional com­mis­sioner Paul Makonda has threat­ened to round up and ar­rest peo­ple in Tan­za­nia sus­pected of be­ing queer. Photo: Khal­fan Said Hassan/AFP

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