Anti-gay rhetoric has steadily been on the rise in Tanzania since President John Magufuli took office. It is not the rhetoric that citizens need to be mindful of, however. The government is taking surveillance and intimidation action towards perceived homosexual activity. Now, it seems, the mere act of sitting in a pair is being viewed as criminal.
On 29 October, Dar es Salaam's regional commissioner, Paul Makonda, declared that a government taskforce would undertake the capture of people believed to be part of the LGBTQI+ community and called on the public to report the names of suspected homosexuals.
At a news conference in Dar es Salaam he told reporters that he had "information about the presence of many homosexuals in our province", claiming that they "boast on social networks".
"Give me their names," he said. "My ad hoc team will begin to get their hands on them next Monday."
In the past, Makonda, who is a fervent Christian and loyal ally of President John Magufuli, has claimed that "homosexual behaviour tramples on the moral values of Tanzanians and our Christian and Muslim religions," as the East African reported.
His government did not back up his declaration, however. "The government of the United Republic of Tanzania would like to clarify that these are (Makonda's) personal views and not the position of the government," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
The statement added that the government would "continue to respect all the international human rights conventions it subscribes to".
Following Makonda's announcement, Amnesty International has reported that 10 men have been arrested on suspicion of being gay in Zanzibar. The men were arrested when police raided a party at Pongwe Beach on 3 November after receiving a "tip-off" from members of the public about a same-sex marriage happening at the event.
Seif Magango, Amnesty International's deputy director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, said, "It is mind-boggling that the mere act of sitting in a pair can assume criminal proportions. The police clearly have no grounds to file charges against these men in court, despite arresting them three days ago."
His statement holds true as no charges have been brought against the 10 men currently being held at Chakwa police station in Unguja.
Magango said the arrests were "a shocking blow following the Tanzanian government's assurance that no one would be targeted and arrested because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity".
"This appalling attack on Tanzanian people simply exercising their human rights shows the danger of inflammatory and discriminatory rhetoric at senior levels of government."
He went on to express fear over the possibility of the men being subjected to forced anal examination, which the government used to "prove" same-sex sexual activity in men. "This must not be allowed to happen - these men must be released immediately."
Not just rhetoric
Despite the government's false assurances, its actions tell a different story. In 2016, the country banned the import and sale of sexual lubricants as part of a sustained crackdown on the country's LGBTQI+ community.
At the time, the Minister of Health, Ummy Mwalimu, told local media, "The government has banned the importation and use of the jelly to curb the spread of HIV. It is estimated that 23 percent of men who have sex with men in Tanzania are living with HIV/AIDS. I have instructed stakeholders working with gay people to remove the products from the market."
In 2017, Tanzania's then Minister ofHome Affairs, Mwigulu Nchemba, told a rally that "those who want to campaign for gay rights should find another country that allows those things". He also said that those who continued to work for LGBTQI+ rights would be arrested or deported and could see their organisations being shut down.
It is important to mention that the arrest of the 10 men is not the first of this nature. Last year the BBC quoted regional police commander Hassan Ali Nasri saying the following about the arrest of 20 people: "They are implicated in homosexuality. We arrested them and are busy interrogating them. The police cannot turn a blind eye to this practice."
This, plus the closure of HIV/AIDS clinics and the deportation of South African lawyers accused of promoting homosexuality, are just some of the concerning events occurring in Tanzania.
It is clear that although the official rhetoric is one of compliance with the preservation of human rights, the activities being supported and bolstered by the Tanzanian government are ones of human rights abuses and continued intolerance.