Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

Tanzania: Africa, Want Aid? Recognise Gay Rights!

opinion

Many will agree with me that the one statement that drew the most ire from Tanzanians, as well as from the rest of Africa, as the year came to a close, was David Cameron's call to African countries to recognise gay rights as a prerequisite to receiving aid from the UK.

He said this at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth, Australia in October, this year, adding that those receiving UK aid should "adhere to proper human rights" and reform legisor behaviour between members of the same sex or gender.

Tanzania and the rest of Africa seethed and hissed between clenched teeth as the enormity of what had been said began to sink in. All and sundry termed it as preposterous, unthinkable and 'unAfrican.'

Those who could, took to podiums and explicitly made their views on the issue known; columnists wrote extensively on the issue and I can assure you, it was not in adulation; Radio programmes, especially the often wacky morning talk shows, kept stoking the hearth of an already steamy affair.

Social sites on the internet were a hive of activity as the issue of recognizing gay rights was dissected, discussed, disparaged and trashed!

You would have been forgiven for thinking that a hornet's nest had been stirred - the hullabaloo was as though tangible!

Religious and political disparities and affiliations were put aside as people came out, all guns blazing, to counter the Western idea whose primary aim was to sally African values and culture.

As though to prove that Cameron's statement had the blessings of the powers that be in the Western world, the United States of America also spoke on the issue.

President of the US, Barack Obama and Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, announced that America will do all it can, including promising foreign aid, to promote gay rights across the globe. Obama made the statement in a presidential memorandum which said it would weigh how countries deal with gays when deciding about foreign aid.

The US administration vowed to combat efforts by other nations that criminalise homosexuality.

Of gay rights, Hillary had this to say:"Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct, but in fact they are one and the same."

Tanzania's political and religious leaders were clearly not amused by Cameron's statement and gave their no-nonsense stand on the same.

Tanzania's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bernard Membe,was among the first to speak. He said:

"Tanzania will never accept Cameron's proposal because we have our own moral values. Homosexuality is not part of our culture and we will never legalise it... We are not ready to allow any rich nation to give us aid based on unacceptable conditions simply because we are poor. If we are denied aid by one country, it will not affect the economic status of this nation and we can do without UK aid."

The Prime Minister of Tanzania, Mr Mizengo Pinda, said in Parliament: "Tanzania has refused to accept homosexuality because the country wants to safeguard its people's moral standards."

Pinda reiterated that even if UK made true its stance to deny aid to countries which do not accept homosexuality, Tanzania would not give in.

The President of Zanzibar, Dr Ali Mohamed Shein, said: "We have strong Islamic and Zanzibari culture that abhor gay and lesbian activities and for anyone who tells us that development support is linked to accepting this, we are saying no. We are guided by our tradition, we have families of a father, mother and children. What Cameron is doing might lead to the collapse of the Commonwealth."

Academicians did not stand looking from the sidewalk but joined in and voiced their views. One such person was Prof Mwesiga Baregu, a Political Science and Public Administration lecturer at Saint Augustine University (SUA).

He said: "The statement made by British Prime Minister Cameron reveals either his naivete or outright unfitness for the position he holds. It was blatantly arrogant, offensive and inflammatory."

Some religious leaders came out in the open to say what they thought about the UK's aid condition.

Catholic Archbishop of Dar es Salaam, Polycarp Cardinal Pengo, said: "Homosexuality is craziness. How can people of the same sex have a sexual relationship...they are meeting to do what? Homosexuality is a curse before God and as a religious leader, there is no way I can support the practice."

On the other hand, Archbishop Dr Alex Malasusa, head of Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) said: "Allowing homosexuality is like justifying Sodom and Gomorrah that were both wiped out by God, according to the Bible."

Sodom and Gomorrah were two ancient cities in the Middle East which, according to the Old Testament of the Bible, were destroyed by God as a punishment for the immoral sexual behaviour of their people.

Chief Sheikh, Issa bin Shabaan Simba said: "We Africans, just like other human beings, have our own culture and tradition as well as our own religions and beliefs which we are entitled to respect and protect."

A West African president, John Atta Mills of Ghana, said: "Mr Cameron was entitled to his views but he did not have the right to direct other sovereign nations as to what they should do."

The issue of linking aid to Africa to other demands accentuates the fundamental need for African states to be self reliant. This is a goal that every African country should have and work hard towards achieving.

You see, if you are in dire need of a carrot and someone comes dangling one in your face, saying: "Want this? There is something I want you to do..." and goes on to tell you to do something that is not agreeable to you, that should light up warning bells in your system for it is nothing short of blackmail.

That is the very same path that UK and US want us to tread. They know what we need, they have it but want us to first champion their sinister agenda.

To sum up, the words of Mwalimu Nyerere in addressing attendants at a presidents' forum in California in early 1999 may sound like a premonition today. He said: "Unless this (economic liberation) is done, our political independence will always be in danger - he who controls money, they say, also controls politics."

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