James Wandera Ouma
A leading LGBT activist in Tanzania has warned that his government is trying to kill gay people by denying them vital HIV services and has called for a tourist boycott of the country.
Speaking on The Mamba Show on GaySA Radio, James Wandera Ouma, the founder and Executive Director of LGBT Voice Tanzania, addressed growing state homophobia, including the closing down of 40 HIV facilities that provided services to men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people.
“It is like killing the LGBT community,” he said. “They want the HIV among the LGBT community to increase; they don’t want to treat, prevent and to take care of LGBT people.”
Ouma explained that the government’s actions would have a devastating impact. Most members of the LGBT community, he said, are too afraid to make use of mainstream clinics and hospitals in Tanzania, where homosexuality is illegal.
Tanzania’s health ministry justified closing down the facilities by accusing them of “promoting homosexuality” because they provided lubricants, condoms and counselling to MSM.
Ouma said that for those who cannot afford to pay for expensive private services, “that means you are going to die. It means death!”
He revealed that activists are planning to litigate against the move. “We need to take the government to court and demand the right to access the services. LGBT people must not be excluded.”
The situation, he said, was increasingly dire in Tanzania. “Life is becoming very difficult for the LGBT community, especially for gay men and trans people. Everyone is afraid of getting arrested, everyone is afraid of getting detained, everyone is afraid of getting attacked on the streets.”
He warned that if the government goes ahead with its recent promise to publish a list of gay people this could lead to a spike in attacks against the LGBT community. “This will cause a lot of havoc, chaos. Violence will erupt on the streets.”
Tanzania is a popular tourist destination, especially among South Africans, something which Ouma believes should be leveraged to put pressure on the government.
“Boycotting will be one of the things to do – and not quietly, not silently, but announcing and publishing that ‘we are boycotting going to Tanzania because of the persecution of the homosexuals’. We need external pressure to make our government accountable. Our government is violating human rights.”
He appealed for the world to be more vocal in opposing the government’s homophobic policies. “We have a Tanzanian embassy in South Africa. South Africans who believe that Tanzania is violating human rights, especially the rights of LGBT people, [they] can demonstrate, they can organise marches, come up with statements.”
He urged people to “raise their voices where they are. Say something [about] what is happening and the world will know.”
A defiant Ouma admitted that he “was not safe” for speaking out but insisted that he was not afraid. “I am ready to die for the rights of LGBT people. I am ready to die for equality. I am ready to go to jail. There must be people who will sacrifice.”
Sex acts between men are illegal in Tanzania and carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. While sex acts between women are not specifically banned in most of the country, they are illegal on the semi-autonomous islands of Zanzibar and are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment.
Listen below to Ouma’s full interview on The Mamba Show (every Thursday between 3-6PM) only on GaySA Radio.