A Call on Tanzania to Just Love

by Kelly McClintock

In the country of Tanzania, homosexuality is criminalized by law and ridiculed by leadership. Homosexual men are particularly targeted under Tanzanian law, which provides that “carnal knowledge…against the order of nature” be severely punished – up to life in prison, and a minimum of thirty years.”[1] Sadly, Tanzanian laws regarding homosexuality reflect societal views, at least according to a 2007 Pew Research Study. A major cultural shift must occur, beyond the change in national laws that must occur, in order for Tanzania to honor basic international human rights standards.


Although the government targets homosexuality, generally, the laws do not criminalize lesbian intimate relations – at least on the mainland. Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous region island off the coast of Tanzania, criminalizes homosexuality amongst men and women.[2] But, Zanzibar punishes “acts of lesbianism” less harshly than it punishes males partaking in “carnal knowledge…against the order of nature.”[3] Zanzibar also punishes those celebrating a “union whether amounting to marriage or not” between same-sex couples.[4]


Tanzania has an obligation to treat all human beings with dignity and, according to the United Nations, may not discriminate against any person regardless of sexual orientation.[5] The basis for international LGBTIQ rights lies within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which unequivocally states, “[a]ll human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”[6] Despite defying international law, Tanzania will receive $535,300,000 in foreign assistance from the United States – in the year 2018 alone.[7] In response to Tanzania’s unabashed homophobic and draconian laws discriminating against same sex couples, the United Kingdom threatened cutting financial aid from the country in the past.[8] However, Tanzania received £173m in 2018 (that’s $246,386,081 in U.S. dollars).[9] Not surprisingly, empty threats from international governments leave the Tanzanian government unfazed. In 2017, President John Magufuli said that NGOs campaigning for gay rights should be challenged – regardless of whether the country loses foreign aid.[10] Under President Magufuli today, life for LGBTIQ persons in Tanzania is worse than ever.


Proof that Tanzania is persecuting LGBTIQ persons in unprecedented ways? The government is actively shutting down health centers providing HIV/AIDS treatment (keep in mind – ninety-six percent of U.S. foreign aid goes to fund health services).[11] In February 2017 alone, forty private health centers providing treatment to AIDS patients were shut down after the government accused them of promoting homosexuality.[12] The Health Minister for the country shamelessly pronounced in a recent interview that the government supports anal exams to determine if a man has had intimate relations with another man.[13] In 2017, dozens of men were arrested and taken to hospitals to undergo the exams.[14] These exams have been universally condemned by medical experts, have no scientific value, and are unethical.[15] The U.N. declared the exams constitute torture.[16] In fact, Human Rights Watch has only documented this practice in eight other countries since 2010.[17] Early 2017, the government threatened to publish the names of “known LGBT people.”[18] The government banned all LGBTIQ rights activist groups, threatened to arrest those campaigning for equal rights, and deport any foreigners promoting equal rights.[19] As of 2016, sexual lubricants cannot be sold or imported to the country of Tanzania because, according to Ummy Mwalimu Health Minister, sexual lubricant promote homosexuality and the spread of HIV.[20]


The challenge LGBTIQ persons must overcome to achieve equality in Tanzania is great. Part of that challenge lies within the hearts and minds of Tanzanian people. According to the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Report, ninety-five percent of Tanzanians believe homosexuality should be rejected.[21] Only three percent of people believe it should be accepted.[22] Of all the countries surveyed in the world, only six countries reported higher disapproval rates.[23]


I do not pretend to know how to start a cultural paradigm shift in Tanzania. But a change in statutory law would be a good place to start. And follow-through on threats to cut foreign aid would also make a difference. When neighboring Uganda passed a law imposing the death penalty for homosexuality in 2014, the U.S. cut foreign aid.[24] Ugandan Parliament almost immediately annulled the law.[25] Tanzania effectively imposes a death sentence on its homosexual citizens as well, by punishing acts of homosexuality with up to life imprisonment. Tanzania promotes torture of its citizens to collect evidence of homosexual acts. The international community’s lack of response – and indeed outcry – has emboldened Tanzanian leaders. Of course, there are millions of innocent citizens who would undeniably suffer, and even die without the vital services foreign aid provides. This likely has something to do with the fact that the U.S. and the U.K. still fork over billions of dollars in foreign aid. It is time pressure increases on governments like Tanzania’s. It is not a matter of a Western agenda, but simple human rights. It is also a matter of choosing love over hate – which seems pretty simple to me.


[1] Tanzania Penal Code, Ch. 16 of the Laws (Revised) (Principal Legislation) [Issued Under Cap.1 s. 18] (1981), http://www.un.org/depts/los/LEGISLATIONANDTREATIES/PDFFILES/TZA_penal_code.pdf.

[2] George Kazi, Zanzibar Penal Decree Act No. 6 OF 2004, Sections 150, 153 (Aug. 16, 2004), http://defensewiki.ibj.org/images/9/90/Zanzibar_Penal_Code.pdf.

[3] Id.

[4] Id. at Section 158.

[5] United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, Fact Sheet: International Human Rights Law and Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity, Free & Equal United Nations, https://www.unfe.org/system/unfe-6-UN_Fact_Sheets_v6_-_International_Human_Rights_Law__and_Sexual_Orientation___Gender_Identity.pdf (last visited Apr, 16, 2018).

[6] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, G.A. Res. 217A (III), U.N. Doc. A/810 at 71 (1948).

[7] Tanzania Foreign Assistance, FOREIGNASSISTANCE.gov, https://www.foreignassistance.gov/explore/country/Tanzania, (last visited Apr. 14, 2018).

[8] Peter Baklinski, ‘Let them cut off aid:’ African countries revolt against UK threat to cut aid over homosexuality, LIFESITE (Nov. 8, 2011), https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/let-them-cut-off-aid-african-countries-revolt-against-uk-threat-to-cut-aid.

[9] United Kingdom Department for International Development, DFID Tanzania,  https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/661016/Tanzania1.pdf, (last visited Apr. 16, 2018).

[10] Conor Gaffey, Gay In Africa: ‘Even Cows’ Disapprove Of Homosexuality, Says Tanzania President Amid Crackdown, Newsweek (June 27, 2017), http://www.newsweek.com/gay-africa-tanzania-john-magufuli-629333.

[11] Kevin Sieff, Tanzania suspends U.S.-funded AIDS programs in a new crackdown on gays, The Washington Post (Nov. 23, 2016), https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/tanzania-suspends-us-funded-aids-programs-in-a-new-crackdown-on-gays/2016/11/23/ec6ced6e-ab5c-11e6-8f19-21a1c65d2043_story.html?utm_term=.fd1f635af363.

[12] Gaffey, supra note 10.

[13] Lindsay Maizland, Tanzania’s president is cracking down on LGBTQ rights. He says cows would approve, Vox (June 28, 2017), https://www.vox.com/world/2017/6/28/15885748/tanzania-president-homophobic-cows-lgbtq-crackdown.

[14] Id.

[15] Gaffey, supra note 10.

[16] Maurice Tomlinson, 400 million LGBT people in jeopardy worldwide, Erasing 76 Crimes (Mar. 28, 2018), https://76crimes.com/2018/03/28/400-million-lgbt-people-in-jeopardy-worldwide/

[17] Gaffey, supra note 10.

[18] Id.

[19] Maizland, supra note 13.

[20] Gaffey, supra note 10.

[21] Pew Global Attitudes Report, Pew Research Center (Oct. 4, 2007), http://www.pewglobal.org/files/pdf/258.pdf.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Gaffey, supra note 10; Sieff, supra note 11.

[25] Id.