Tanzania is one of the 35 countries on the African continent that criminalizes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) individuals; in Tanzania ‘homosexual acts’ are punishable with up to 30 years to life in jail. The LGBTQI community in Tanzania has faced a long history of intolerance. However, since the 2015 election of president John Magnufuli, the community has been subject to growing violence, harassment, and discrimination.
On October 29 2018, Paul Makonda, the Regional Commissioner for Dar es Salaam announced plans to form an “inter-agency task force” or “surveillance squad” comprising members of the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority, the police and the media to identify and arrest LGBTI people in the country. Makonda’s statement – believed to be a political move to secure the support of Magnufuli and members of Tanzania’s political and religious elite – turned into a witch hunt aimed at suppressing, scaring, and hurting LGBTQI individuals.
Magnufuli’s authoritarian approach to freedom of the press made it difficult to access reliable and accurate reporting in the region at the time. Additionally, nonprofits working with the LGBTQI community were driven underground and numerous activists went into hiding.
There were a number of mass arrests that occurred during the crackdown in 2018, including the arrest and anal examinations of numerous cisgendered gay men, and transgendered women following a police raid. Due to the severity of the threats made during the crackdown, and evidence provided of police subjecting indeviduals to anal examinations - which violate the Convention against Torture, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the African Convention on Human and Peoples' Rights - the international community became very involved in the crisis and collaborated to respond accordingly to raise awareness and protect those arrested during the wave of violence.
In collaboration with numerous local and international human rights defenders, Rainbow Railroad launched a joint response including both advocacy and direct intervention. Through our direct intervention efforts we were able to relocate persons involved in the initial arrests and anal examinations - these indeviduals are now safely living outside of Tanzania. We continue to monitor the situation and explore resettlement options for those who continue to be victimized by the community and state-level persecution that is ongoing in Tanzania.
During the 2018 crackdown, much of the international community response was centred around whether to continue to provide development assistance to the government.
In general we are cautious with boycotts, always deferring to our partners on the ground for a direct response. Unfortunately, due to safety, there is a limited LGBTQI civil society in Tanzania, but we have various touchpoints to help us continue to monitor the situation.