A few weeks ago, the governor of Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania, threatened to round up and arrest LGBTQ people, calling on the public to identify and report anyone they knew to be LGBTQ. These statements have escalated fear among the LGBTQ community and contributed to an already deteriorating human rights environment for LGBTQ people across the country. There has since been much international attention paid to the situation in Tanzania.
Tanzania continues to criminalize homosexual acts with up to 30 years in prison through a British colonial-era anti-sodomy law. The statements made by the governor are not isolated and are part of the growing crackdown against LGBTQ people, and a larger trend of repression against journalists, political opposition leaders, and a shrinking space for civil society in the country.
While RFSL does not have any formal partnerships with LGBTQ organisations in Tanzania, we have closely followed the development of events through our contacts, cooperation with organisations in the region, and through other organisations that work directly with LGBTQ groups in the country.
State sanctioned violence and discrimination against LGBTQ people is a human rights violation. We at RFSL, along with many people in Sweden, are seriously concerned by the statements of the governor of Dar Es Salaam and the worsening situation for LGBTQ Tanzanians.
These events, specifically the governor’s statements, have led to a debate on whether countries which currently provide developmental assistance to Tanzania should respond by withdrawing aid to the country. These conversations have taken place in the media within the international community in Sweden, as well as in other donor countries such as Denmark, Norway, and Canada.
LGBTQ organizations in Tanzania however are voicing that there are potential risks involved in such actions from Sweden and other donor countries. Several actors that RFSL have spoken to are strongly critical of the withdrawal of developmental aid as a response to the situation, recognizing that such actions are problematic in many ways and could even make things worse, not only for LGBTQ people but others whose lives benefit from aid.
Additionally, there could be even more retaliation against the LGBTQ community if the reduction of aid is directly linked to LGBTQ rights and people. Political leaders, the general public, and other civil society organisations could shoulder the blame on LGBTQ people, and accuse them of being the reason for the reduction in aid.
The withdrawal of aid could also increase diplomatic tensions between Tanzania and other countries, jeopardizing opportunities for engagement in constructive dialogue and potential avenues of positive diplomatic influence. Furthermore, this response may also harm other human rights defenders and civil society organizations that receive aid and support.
Before any steps are taken in relation to Sweden’s decision on how to structure aid to Tanzania, it is vital to consult with local activists and organisations to fully understand the consequences of such actions to the LGBTQ community. Consideration should also be given to how best to direct aid and assistance so that human rights defenders are prioritized and can continue their work in the country.