No end in sight for Tanzania’s anti-LGBT crackdown

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04/24/2020

When James Wandera Ouma is asked what gives him hope as a gay man living in the east African nation of Tanzania, he can’t think of anything. “There’s no joy,” Ouma says. “There’s no happiness in life. You may have happiness in your own house, but when you go outside, you are afraid.” Ouma is the executive director of LGBT Voice, one of just a handful of community advocacy groups operating in one of the world’s harshest countries for queer and trans people. In November 2018, Paul Makonda, the regional commissioner of Tanzania’s capital Dar Es Salaam, announced that authorities would begin rounding up individuals suspected to be LGBTQ. Same-sex intercourse is punishable by up to 30 years in prison in the country, and Makonda urged the public to report anyone they thought might be violating these laws. The Tanzanian government walked back Makonda’s statements after condemnation from the World Bank, saying they reflected his “personal opinion.” But Ouma says the arrests never stopped. In the year and a half since, he knows of more than 30 people who have been arrested in mainland Tanzania and 20 people in Zanzibar. Ouma, who has been publicly out for 24 years, estimates that he has been arrested more than nine times throughout his life.

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