Tan­za­nia’s crack­down on ho­mo­sex­u­als casts shadow on Cana­dian aid strat­egy

The Globe and Mail Metro (Ontario Edition) - - NEWS - GEOFFREY YORK

When a prom­i­nent Tan­za­nian politi­cian an­nounced plans for a sur­veil­lance squad to hunt down and ar­rest ho­mo­sex­u­als last week, it was just the lat­est sign of an in­ten­si­fy­ing re­pres­sion that has ter­ri­fied many Tan­za­ni­ans – and cast doubt on Canada’s long­stand­ing sup­port for the coun­try.

For decades, Tan­za­nia has been a dar­ling of Canada’s for­eign pol­icy. The East African coun­try, known for its sa­fari tourism and min­eral wealth, has be­come one of the lead­ing re­cip­i­ents of Cana­dian aid – in­clud­ing an es­ti­mated $2.3-bil­lion in devel­op­ment fund­ing since the 1960s – along with mil­i­tary train­ing, peace­keep­ing as­sis­tance and bil­lions of dol­lars in min­ing in­vest­ment.

But if the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment’s largesse was partly in­tended to build sup­port for hu­man rights and demo­cratic val­ues, the strat­egy seems to have failed.

A spokesman for For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land said the Tan­za­nian threats against gay peo­ple are “of great con­cern” to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. “The rights of LGBTQ2 peo­ple must be re­spected,” Adam Austen told The Globe and Mail on Fri­day. “We have raised this is­sue di­rectly with the gov­ern­ment of Tan­za­nia.”

Hun­dreds of peo­ple have re­port­edly gone into hid­ing in Tan­za­nia, fear­ing per­se­cu­tion by po­lice or fel­low cit­i­zens after the an­nounce­ment by Paul Makonda, the ad­min­is­tra­tive chief of the coun­try’s big­gest city, Dar es Salaam, who urged cit­i­zens to re­port any sus­pected ho­mo­sex­u­als to the au­thor­i­ties. Ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity is al­ready crim­i­nal­ized in Tan­za­nia, with po­ten­tial jail sen­tences of up to 30 years.

Within days of his an­nounce­ment, Mr. Makonda said he had been del­uged with more than 5,000 mes­sages nam­ing more than 100 sus­pected ho­mo­sex­u­als.

The na­tional gov­ern­ment dis­tanced it­self from the an­nounce­ment, say­ing it was not of­fi­cial pol­icy. But shortly af­ter­ward, Tan­za­nian po­lice ar­rested 10 men in the Zanz­ibar re­gion and held them for sev­eral days on sus­pi­cion of at­tend­ing a gay mar­riage cer­e­mony. On Fri­day, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral me­dia re­ports, po­lice said they plan to con­duct phys­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tions of the men to seek ev­i­dence of same-sex ac­tiv­i­ties.

The per­se­cu­tion of ho­mo­sex­u­als is the lat­est in a grow­ing wave of hu­man-rights abuses in Tan­za­nia. The pat­tern be­gan after the 2015 elec­tion of Pres­i­dent John Magu­fuli, who por­trayed him­self as a cor­rup­tion fighter. Crit­ics have warned that the coun­try has fallen into creep­ing au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism since then.

Po­lice have ar­rested jour­nal­ists, op­po­si­tion lead­ers, for­eign min­ing ex­ec­u­tives, lo­cal busi­ness­men, blog­gers, mu­si­cians and many oth­ers. Sev­eral news­pa­pers and ra­dio sta­tions have been banned, and blog­gers have been hit with puni­tive taxes that forced many to shut down. When two re­searchers from the Com­mit­tee to Pro­tect Jour­nal­ists ar­rived this week to in­ves­ti­gate the sit­u­a­tion, they too were ar­rested and held for five hours.

Mr. Magu­fuli has banned fam­ily-plan­ning ad­ver­tise­ments, com­plain­ing that women who use con­tra­cep­tion are “lazy.”

His gov­ern­ment has even banned the pub­li­ca­tion of any sta­tis­ti­cal data that con­tra­dicts the gov­ern­ment’s of­fi­cial statis- tics. A poll­ster who pub­lished sur­veys show­ing Mr. Magu­fuli’s de­clin­ing pop­u­lar­ity had his pass­port con­fis­cated by the au­thor­i­ties.

The es­ca­lat­ing re­pres­sion is pro­vok­ing protests around the world. The Eu­ro­pean Union re­called its am­bas­sador from Tan­za­nia this week, ex­press­ing con­cern about the “de­te­ri­o­ra­tion” of hu­man rights and the rule of law. The World Bank an­nounced on Wed­nes­day that it is sus­pend­ing all vis­it­ing mis­sions to the coun­try “with im­me­di­ate ef­fect.” It said it is wor­ried about the “safety and se­cu­rity of all em­ploy­ees” be­cause of the threats of “ha­rass­ment and dis­crim­i­na­tion” against the gay com­mu­nity.

The United States has also de­nounced the hu­man-rights abuses. “We are trou­bled by the con­tin­ued ar­rests and ha­rass­ment of marginal­ized per­sons, in­clud­ing les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der peo­ple and oth­ers who seek to ex­er­cise their rights to free­dom of speech, as­so­ci­a­tion and as­sem­bly,” U.S. State Depart­ment spokes­woman Heather Nauert said in a state­ment.

The United Na­tions High Com­mis­sioner for Hu­man Rights, Mi- chelle Bachelet, ex­pressed alarm at the threats to ar­rest gay peo­ple. “This could turn into a witch hunt and could be in­ter­preted as a li­cence to carry out vi­o­lence, in­tim­i­da­tion, bul­ly­ing, ha­rass­ment and dis­crim­i­na­tion,” she said in a state­ment.

“Les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der peo­ple in Tan­za­nia have al­ready been sub­jected to grow­ing vi­o­lence, ha­rass­ment and dis­crim­i­na­tion over the past two years. And those de­fend­ing their rights … have them­selves been in­creas­ingly tar­geted, even ar­rested.”

Cana­dian diplo­mats, for their part, have raised sim­i­lar con­cerns with Tan­za­nia’s For­eign Min­is­ter and with Mr. Magu­fuli him­self, ac­cord­ing to a fed­eral of­fi­cial.

He said he hopes Ot­tawa’s of­fi­cial dis­avowal of the threat­ened sur­veil­lance and ar­rest of gay peo­ple will have an ef­fect. But if the ar­rests con­tinue, Canada will work with its diplo­matic part­ners to de­ter­mine the next steps, he said, ex­plain­ing that Canada is work­ing with an LGBT task force in Tan­za­nia that in­cludes diplo­matic mis­sions from the United States, Bri­tain, the EU, Swe­den, Ire­land and the Nether­lands.

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