LGBTQ Witch Hunt in Tanzania

Trump’s US won’t help stop it

Tanzanian LGBTQ activist protests President Magufuli’s 2017 closure of HIV support centers. Story in DW.

Fear and panic have been spreading among transgender and gay people in Tanzania since last Monday. Community leaders and activists are begging for international assistance, which is probably not going to come.

Please don’t miss the end of this story for information on what you can do to help.

19-year-old Michael is so terrified that he hasn’t left his house in four days. 24-year-old Nathan hasn’t been home in four days. He’s hoping to avoid the witch hunt by sleeping away and keeping a low profile.

Both young men live in Tanzania, a nation in eastern Africa, where according to Reuters, gay and transgender people fear for their lives after a senior government official called on the public to report suspected ‘homosexuals.’

Paul Makonda, regional commissioner for Tanzania’s main city of Dar es Salaam, announced the crackdown on Monday. He said a team would be set up to identify and arrest the “many homosexuals”, who face up to 30 years in jail.

Makonda told a news conference on Tuesday that he had already received over 5,700 messages from the public — with over 100 names of suspected gays.

A 17-member committee is also being set up, he said, which would be tasked with identifying gay people on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter and arresting them.

Edwin Sesange, a well-known African LGBTQ advocate and reporter for Gay Star News, confirmed the essentials of the Reuters story for me today and added that according to his contacts in Tanzania, arrests have already started. He says that reports are trickling in slowly because many transgender and gay Tanzanians have deleted their social media accounts and destroyed their phones and other devices.

According to Sesange, while most of Africa retains brutal colonial-era anti-homosexuality laws, life for trans and gay people in Tanzania used to be less difficult than in notoriously anti-LGBTQ Uganda and Nigeria. Then three years ago, President John Magufuli came to power, and governmental tolerance began to erode.

Activists claim, and Sesange confirms for me, that LGBTQ people in Tanzania are now frequently abused and blackmailed, even raped by police or vigilantes, and assaulted or killed by mobs. Many have found themselves unemployable due to rising intolerance, and have felt forced to sell sex on social media sites.

Now government forces are going after them on those sites and other sites where Tanzanian LGBTQ people have traditionally communicated.

LGBTQ people in Tanzania are asking for help —

They want international NGOs and government agencies to pressure the government to abandon the repressive campaign. Authorities abandoned a 2016 crackdown due to widespread condemnation by the international community, led by the Obama Administration State Department.

So, LGBTQ people in Tanzania have reason to be hopeful. The world stepped up last time and said no. International leaders told Magufuli that using state power to imprison and do violence against minorities is unacceptable, and that if he persisted, he would face severe economic consequences.

He listened, and he backed off.

Tragically, with Trump in power in the US, everything has changed.

According to Daniel Villarreal writing on July 29 in The Hornet, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, have said that America will no longer pressure African nations to repeal their anti-LGBTQ laws.

Mulvaney announced the new policy at a press conference of the ‘U.S. Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom,” saying —

Our U.S. taxpayer dollars [were] used to discourage Christian values in other democratic countries. It was stunning to me that my government under the previous administration would go to folks in sub-Saharan Africa and say … ‘We know you have a law against gay marriage, but if you enforce that law, we’re not going to give you any money’.

Consistent with the habits of the Trump Administration, Mulvaney was lying.

The United States has never tied foreign aid to same-sex marriage. South Africa is the only nation on the continent that legalizes same-sex marriage, and the US has never pressured any African nation (or any nation anywhere on Earth) to adopt same-sex marriage.

Instead, US policy was to leverage foreign aid money to discourage African nations from putting LGBTQ people in prison and from encouraging violence against LGBTQ people.

That practice has now ended.

The US State Department isn’t going to lift a finger to help LGBTQ Tanzanians who are fleeing for their lives and hiding from arrest. The anti-LGBTQ campaign is going to continue, and the only hope many people are going to have, according to Sesange, is for LGBTQ NGOs to smuggle them out of the country.

What a long way we’ve fallen as a nation!

Only four years ago, according to The Guardian

President Barack Obama’s administration has taken the US gay rights revolution global, using American embassies across the world as outposts in a struggle that still hasn’t been won at home.

American diplomats are working to support gay rights in countries such as Poland, and to oppose violence and other abuse in countries like Nigeria and Russia.

“It is incredible. I am amazed by what the US is doing to help us,” said Mariusz Kurc, the editor of a Polish gay advocacy magazine, Replika, which has received some US funding and other help. “We are used to struggling and not finding any support.”

The election on Tuesday really is a contest for our national soul —

We Americans are facing an existential spiritual crisis. Do we stand with Trump and his embrace of racism, nationalism, and homophobia? Or do we wish to be a people who stand for the rights of the marginalized and oppressed?

Michael wouldn’t be shaking in fear right now, and Nathan wouldn’t have fled his home if Trump had lost the election in 2016. LGBTQ Americans wouldn’t be watching their hard-earned rights evaporating before their eyes. White supremacists, alt-right nationalists, and open supporters of fascism like John Bolton wouldn’t hold prominent positions on the American public stage.

Each and every one of us who value freedom and equality must go to the polls on Tuesday.

We must cast our ballots for whichever Democratic candidates are standing for election at any level. We must send a message to Trump and to our fellow Americans who support him.

We must shout out a collective, Enough!

Enough racism. Enough nationalism. Enough homophobia.

Enough Trump! This is not who we are!

When it come time to vote, remember Michael and Nathan, will you?

Somebody needs to.

Want more essays and fiction?

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for instant updates!



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store