Tanzania’s Crackdown on the LBGTQ Community

What do you think of when you hear the phrase, “morality crusade”?[i] To the President of Tanzania, John Magufuli, it means discrimination against teenage girls who become pregnant[ii], and most recently, to hunt down homosexuals with the public’s help.[iii] This call has led to thousands of Tanzanians living in fear as the government calls for the public’s help in the form of reporting gay people to authorities.[iv] Not only have governmental officials received thousands of messages after ordering the public to name any person suspected of being gay, but the Tanzanian government has also created a 17-member committee to identify gay people on social media and arrest them.[v]

While homosexuality is illegal in Tanzania, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender activists remained active over the last decade.[vi] However, since the government made its call to turn in anyone suspected of being gay, many LGBT activists are forced to remain silent or flee their areas due to fear of violent attacks from police and members of the public.[vii] The government’s statements condemning homosexuality have undone the work of activists by fueling violence and awakening  suppressed homophobic attitudes in Tanzania.[viii]

The current crackdown on LGBT communities is creating a breeding ground for a humanitarian crisis.[ix] Specifically, this crackdown has led to the closure of organizations that support gay people through HIV programs.[x]  Without such programs, gay people who have HIV, whether they contracted the virus from someone of the same or different sex, cannot get medicine and are unable to negotiate safe sex or have readily available access to contraceptives.[xi]

Under Tanzanian law, gay male sex is punishable by 30 years to life in jail.[xii] Such laws in Tanzania, and elsewhere in Africa, are vestiges of the legacy of British colonial-era laws.[xiii] Many critics say that it colonial-era laws are an anchor for hate and have been used to nourish dictatorships and oppress citizens. While the colonial countries such as the UK, Germany, and France have long repealed such repressive laws, they linger on in many African countries.[xiv]

The international community has not been silent during this attack on the LBGT community and has even withdrawn loans in response to such repressive legislation and practices.[xv] U.N. High Commissioner of Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, expressed alarm over the situation in November 2018, stated that the discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Tanzania “could turn into a witch-hunt and could be interpreted as a license to carry out violence, intimidation, bullying, harassment and discrimination against those perceived to be LGBT.”[xvi] The European Union also recalled its ambassador to Tanzania in a response to Tanzania’s “deterioration of . . . human rights and rule of law.”[xvii] Finally, the purse strings of Tanzania have been attacked as well in response to their repressive LBGT practices, among others.[xviii] In mid-November 2018, the World Bank withdrew a $300 million loan to Tanzania in response to a number of controversial laws passed by the national legislature in recent months that curved freedom of speech through criminal punishment and fees to produce media—print and online—content.[xix]

The citizens of Tanzania may have to attack their laws in the same way gay rights activists attacked repressive anti-gay laws in Uganda.[xx] In 2014, Ugandan activists sought to overturn the country’s tough anti-gay law that called for gay people to be jailed for life and obliged Ugandans to denounce them to authorities, by petitioning the supreme court to declare it invalid.[xxi] The judges struck  down legislation.[xxii] Even so, Ugandan activists warn that criminalization of homosexuality is still valid under colonial-era law.[xxiii] This situation mirrors the current events in Tanzania.[xxiv] In order for the Tanzanian citizens to fight their current authoritarian government, they must petition their own supreme court to strike down such practices by the government which are authorized under colonial-era law.[xxv]


[i] George Steer, What to Know About Tanzania’s Anti-LBGT Crackdown, TIME (Nov. 16, 2018), http://time.com/5456826/tanzania-anti-gay-world-bank/ [https://perma.cc/T583-NGQS].

[ii] Vague Tanzanian laws state that a student may be expelled for “an offence against morality.” After the education ministry presented draft guidelines for pregnant girls to re-enter school in 2017, John Magufuli, president, made his views known when he stated, “After getting pregnant, you are done.” put in note about girls who are pregnant being done with school. Further, President John Magufuli was widely criticized by campaigners after he told a rally crowd: “As long as I am president … no pregnant student will be allowed to return to school … After getting pregnant, you are done.” In Tanzania, Getting Impregnated Also Means Getting Expelled From School, The Economist (June 14, 2018), https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2018/06/14/in-tanzania-getting-impregnated-also-means-getting-expelled-from-school [https://perma.cc/L8BH-MJDR]; Rebecca Ratcliffe, ‘After Getting Pregnant, You Are Done’: No More School for Tanzania’s Mums-To-Be, The Guardian (June 30, 2017), https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/jun/30/tanzania-president-ban-pregnant-girls-from-school-john-magufuli [https://perma.cc/H36M-ZXGN].

[iii] Steer, supra note 1.

[iv] Vanessa Romo, Tanzanian Leader Launches Anti-Gay Crackdown, Expects to Round Up Hundreds, NPR (Nov. 2, 2018), https://www.npr.org/2018/11/02/663692128/tanzanian-leader-launches-anti-gay-crackdown-expects-to-round-up-hundreds [https://perma.cc/9JNQ-L4C5].

[v] Id.

[vi] Jason Burke, Hundreds In Hiding As Tanzania Launches Anti-Gay Crackdown, The Guardian (Nov. 5, 2018), https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/05/tanzania-gay-people-in-hiding-lgbt-activists-crackdown [https://perma.cc/DYU8-XK8B].

[vii] Id.

[viii] Nita Bhalla, Gay Witch-Hunt Sparks Fear and Panic in Tanzania’s LGBT+ Community, Reuters (Nov. 1, 2018), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tanzania-lgbt-rights/gay-witch-hunt-sparks-fear-and-panic-in-tanzanias-lgbt-community-idUSKCN1N65PB [https://perma.cc/9TMC-RV7V].

[ix] Rebecca Ratcliffe, Thousands “Living in Dear” After Tanzania Calls On Public To Report Gay People, The Guardian (Nov. 1, 2018), https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/nov/01/thousands-living-in-fear-after-tanzania-calls-on-public-to-report-gay-people [https://perma.cc/W4EG-86K4].

[x] Patience Akumu, A Tainted Imperial Legacy That Fuels the Oppression of Gay People in Africa, The Guardian (Nov. 4, 2018) https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/nov/04/tainted-imperial-legacy-that-fuels-oppression-of-gay-people-in-africa [https://perma.cc/HU5K-24P2].

[xi] Id.

[xii] David Smith, Uganda Anti-Gay Law Declared ‘Null and Void’ By Constitutional Court, The Guardian (Aug. 1, 2014), https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/01/uganda-anti-gay-law-null-and-void [https://perma.cc/3J5C-89QT].

[xiii] Id.

[xiv] Akumu, supra note 10.

[xv]  Steer, supra note 1.

[xvi] Id.

[xvii] Id.

[xviii] Id.

[xix] Id.

[xx] Smith, supra note 12.

[xxi] Id.

[xxii] Id.

[xxiii] Id.

[xxiv] Elvind Nicolai Lauritsen, Ugandan Anti-Gay Laws Have Not Curbed Homosexuality, ScienceNordic (Apr. 11, 2016), http://sciencenordic.com/ugandan-anti-gay-laws-have-not-curbed-homosexuality [https://perma.cc/D7S5-JAC6].

[xxv] Smith, supra note 12.