Tanzania ramps up anti-gay panic, risks HIV expansion

Tanzanian Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu claims that lubricants encourage homosexuality. (Photo courtesy of Alchetron.com)
Tanzanian Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu says she’s concerned that anti-AIDS programs for gay men promote homosexuality. (Photo courtesy of Alchetron.com)

Tanzania is  intensifying its anti-gay crackdown, declaring an end to HIV/AIDS services at 40 health drop-in centers that serve the LGBT community, accusing them of promoting homosexuality. The health ministry on Saturday announced plans to publish a list of Tanzanian homosexual sex workers whom it finds online.

The Citizen of Dar es Salaam reported on Feb. 19:

The United States [on Feb. 18] warned the government against its decision to ban HIV/Aids services at 40 health facilities, and introduce new guidelines for Key Populations (KP), saying the move could cause a flare-up of the epidemic among those afflicted.

In a statement, the US embassy in Dar es Salaam said the decision could impact HIV/Aids programmes funded by the American government, and impede progress made over the years in addressing the epidemic in Tanzania.

“The Government of Tanzania has not provided to the United States, any official notification of these changes, which could impact US Government funded programs… ” reads part of the statement posted on the embassy’s official Facebook page on Friday night.

Earlier in the day, the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Children and the Elderly banned the provision of HIV/Aids services in the facilities, known as drop-in-centres, which the authorities have accused of clandestinely promoting homosexuality. And in her response regarding the US statement, Health minister Ummy Mwalimu told The Citizen … that since October last year, discussions between funding agencies and the government on the matter had been on-going, and it reached a point where the government had to make a decision. …

The minister was emphatic that the key principle in carrying out HIV/Aids interventions for Key Populations was that the services offered to those afflicted by the disease should not contravene the laws of the land, including those that prohibit the promotion of homosexuality.

Ms Mwalimu announced that health workers in the banned centres would now be shifted to public health facilities where they would be allowed to offer HIV/Aids services to those afflicted by the disease.

She said the government’s decision was an informed by a recent investigation by a special task force appointed by her ministry, which revealed that drop-in-centres, mainly funded by foreign agencies, were providing lubricants such as K-Y jelly that lured many youth to engage in homosexuality.

But the US embassy said: “We anticipate that the Government’s publicly-stated decision… would result in fewer Tanzanians receiving life-saving services and expand the epidemic among those most in need of viral suppression.”

The HIV prevalence among gay men is higher, at 25 per cent, compared to other groups. …

[A]ccording to the US embassy, the absence of the banned facilities–drop-in-centres–would create a gap in the provision of HIV/Aids amenities across the country.

Location of Tanzania in East Africa.
Location of Tanzania in East Africa.

“Data clearly shows that the delivery of services for the most-at-risk populations through community outreach, including drop-in/resource centres, is an effective way to reach these populations and to reach other vulnerable and underserved populations, including youth who generally do not access health facilities,” said the embassy in its statement.

Sources show that currently, about 3,000 health facilities have no capacity to provide HIV/Aids services. This means there will be a shortage of centres to take care of people living with HIV/Aids, as soon as government’s ban is implemented.

The minister says the government will intervene through special outreach services by deploying health workers from public health facilities to cover the gap.

Since last year, the government announced plans to scrap off sections in some HIV treatment guidelines that allowed provision of the lubricants to gay men and women in the country.

“Lack of access to appropriate lubricants and violence against sex workers all have close links to higher prevalence of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs),” notes part of the guidelines [for Key Populations].


Hamisi Kigwangalla, Tanzanian deputy health minister. (Photo courtesy of Gay Times)
Hamisi Kigwangalla, Tanzanian deputy health minister. (Photo courtesy of Gay Times)

The threat to publish the names of suspected homosexuals in Tanzania has been defended by the deputy health minister in a fierce row on Twitter. …

The country’s deputy health minister Hamisi Kigwangalla said on Twitter that the government was investigating “the homosexuality syndicate” and would arrest and prosecute those involved in the gay sex business. …

Tweeters accused him of homophobia and infringing on the right to freedom of expression online.

But Hamisi Kigwangalla argued that homosexuality did not scientifically exist and was a social construct. …

The 42-year-old, who is a medical doctor by profession, argued that homosexuality could only be associated with an urban lifestyle.

He said that in the small town in central Tanzania where he came from, there were no homosexuals.

Earlier this month, Dr Kigwangalla ordered three men he accused of being gay to report to the police for “spreading” homosexual activity through social media, in violation of the law.

It is not clear whether they have been charged.

This was the online conversation between Kigwangalla and an LGBT-friendly Twitter user who urged him to back away from his anti-gay posturing:

Tweeter: “Consider the fact that your move will only fuel more hatred, violence and increased mob lynchings”

Response: “Fulfils my duty as head administrator of the rules and policies of our country! I do not have any trouble with the ‘community'”

Tweeter : “Freedom of choice, freedom of expression and right to privacy are constitutional justifiable rights. May God change your heart”

Response: “Freedoms/rights have boundaries and both are protected by law! The law in Tanzania has boundaries when it comes to sexuality”

Tweeter: “It seems politics has made you forget the basics of science. Homosexuality is partly a result of biogenetics”

Response: “There is no literature to suggest so. Homosexuality has no any scientific backing! I am a scientist and I read a lot [more] than you think”

The Advocate reported on Feb. 19:

Paul Makonda (Photo courtesy of HIVisasa.co.tz)
Paul Makonda (Photo courtesy of HIVisasa.co.tz)

[Tanzanian] politicians have largely ignored the gay community — which was not subject to levels of discrimination seen in other countries such as neighbouring Uganda — until a recent spike in anti-gay rhetoric by the government.

In July last year, the regional commissioner for the port city of Dar es Salaam, Paul Makonda, announced a crackdown against gays, followed by arrests in clubs. Some people who have been openly gay on the internet stopped posting after Makonda threatened that police would arrest those who follow them on social media.

Dozens of men suspected of being gay have been detained and taken to hospital for  anal exams to confirm their homosexuality. [Editor’s note: Such exams are at best inappropriate and inconclusive; at worst, torture.]

Also in July last year the government banned the import and sales of sexual lubricants, which Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu said encouraged homosexuality which led to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at info@76crimes.com.


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