Published On: Sun, Dec 2nd, 2018

Canada should do all it can to stop anti-gay terror in Tanzania

A human rights crisis is unfolding in the African country of Tanzania. And Canada, with its expertise in quiet diplomacy over confrontation, may be able to take a leading role to help end this emerging disaster.

The alarming erosion of human rights in Tanzania began in 2015, when John Magufuli was elected president.

Paul Makonda, the governor of Dar es-Salaam, Tanzania’s most populous city, created “anti-gay patrols” to hunt homosexuals down, and urged citizens to report any suspected homosexuals to authorities.
Paul Makonda, the governor of Dar es-Salaam, Tanzania’s most populous city, created “anti-gay patrols” to hunt homosexuals down, and urged citizens to report any suspected homosexuals to authorities.  (KHALFAN SAID HASSAN / AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

He undermined press freedoms. He called women who used birth control “lazy,” insisting they have as many children as possible. He banned young girls who are pregnant from attending school.

And, most seriously, he turned his attention on how to rid the country of gay people. Tanzania’s harsh approach to homosexuality is part of a disturbing trend in some other African countries such as Uganda and Nigeria, as well as in Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Brazil under newly elected president Jair Bolsonaro.

But the situation is worst in Tanzania, where Magufuli has unleashed what amounts to a campaign of terror against homosexuals.

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First his government closed down HIV clinics after accusing them of encouraging homosexuality. Then it threatened to publish the names of gay Tanzanians in a country where they could face 30 years in jail under current laws.

And at the end of October, Paul Makonda, the governor of Dar es-Salaam, Tanzania’s most populous city, created “anti-gay patrols” to hunt down homosexuals and urged citizens to report any suspected homosexuals to authorities.

While claiming the crackdown is not official government policy, Magufuli has done nothing to stop it.

The plight of gay people in Tanzania has become so serious that the West must urgently press the country to reverse course.

What is not so clear is how to do that without causing a further backlash against Tanzania’s LGBTQ community and harming the most vulnerable who benefit from aid, such as girls who want to attend school.

Indeed, if carrots and sticks were the answer, the West’s effort to promote gay rights would have been won.

After all, Tanzania is one of the biggest recipients of foreign aid. Canada alone has given $ 2.3 billion in development funding since the 1960s, including $ 125 million last year.

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But when Denmark announced in mid-November it would withhold $ 9.8 million U.S. in aid because of the crackdown, that country’s leadership did not blink. Instead, Magufuli rejected outside pressure and announced last week that he prefers Chinese to Western aid because it comes with fewer conditions.

This is where Canada comes in. While it is sometimes criticized at home for its quiet, behind-the-scenes diplomacy, Amnesty International says that’s exactly the route to take right now.

Withdrawing aid dollars could lead to a further backlash against LGBTQ people, Amnesty warns. And it said action against the crackdown will also backfire if it comes from Western nations, hated as former colonial rulers, rather than African ones.

So what is Canada doing? Behind the scenes, it has raised concerns about the crackdown on homosexual men with Magufuli and his foreign minister.

It also chairs the Equal Rights Coalition, a group of 40 nations that that promote LGBTQ equality around the world. And it is working with an LGBTQ task force in Tanzania that includes diplomatic missions from the United States, Britain, the EU, Sweden, Ireland and the Netherlands.

While it may be difficult for gay men in Tanzania to wait for quiet diplomacy to work, they can take hope in the fact that sometimes the less confrontational approach wins the day.

In this situation diplomacy may not just be the right course, it may be the only effective course. On that front, Canada is well-placed to lead the way and help stop the erosion of gay rights around the world.

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Canada should do all it can to stop anti-gay terror in Tanzania