Yesterday I was visited by Dr. Pierre Somse, UNAIDS Deputy Director for Eastern and Southern Africa. We had a long meeting. Among other things, he was keen to learn my position regarding speculations among the donor countries as well as the international community that Tanzania is ‘harassing and discriminating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people’, and that we are ‘banning HIV/AIDS programmes targeting HIV/AIDS interventions on these people and we are de-registering all NGOs with interventions on LGBTI’. He reported that there is an environment of fear and uncertainty in the HIV/AIDS programming work.
He said these speculations followed an intervention by our Minister where ‘she ordered no more distribution of lubricants until further notice’ and my visit to an NGO named CHESA which was purportedly accused of carrying out programmes on LGBTI and that ‘I ordered arrest of their officials etc.’
I responded as:
1. Tanzania is a country built on the strong foundation of respect for human rights, dignity, personal freedom, democracy and rule of law.
2. The Tanzanian government recognizes, respects and highly regards efforts and support by various stakeholders, including international NGOs, donor countries, local NGOs and the general community, in the HIV/AIDS response.
3. Tanzania upholds professionalism and has been using best practices emanating from scientifically proven and rigorous research and HIV/AIDS programmes used in the HIV/AIDS response.
4. Tanzania has its own constitution, laws, regulations, guidelines and modes of operation; our country takes very seriously our national values and beliefs, customs and traditions, and we will, always, protect them.
5. Tanzania assures our friends, partners and the donor community of our continued collaboration and my office is open for any dialogue when there is any uncertainty. Let it be known that I operate on an ‘open-door’ policy.
6. Despite the fact that we have been insisting that the most important of the key and vulnerable populations for us is the ‘adolescent girls and young women group’, I can not deny the presence of LGBTI people in our society, and the risk they pose in fueling the spread of HIV/AIDS in the society, and I understand that is why our Ministry, before even I was appointed to this position, had its own ‘National Guideline for Comprehensive Package of HIV Interventions for Key Populations’, which I am aware that it provided authority for programmes to distribute ‘lubricants’ to LGBT etc.
7. Let all be aware that, before I came to this office, the government had de-registered NGOs such as ‘Sisi Kwa Sisi’ and banned a number of programmes which violated the requirements of the laws of our land, customs and traditions, with respect to issues around LGBTI people. This task is a continuation of the same as well improve working relationship between the government and partners.
8. We have information that some NGOs have been implementing programmes ‘in the name of HIV/AIDS response in the LGBTI people’ and went beyond their scope, in fact they have been promoting homosexuality. Some NGOs have been implementing programmes in jurisdictions without LGBTI people; I have vivid complaints by villagers in various areas of Tabora and Shinyanga where some programmes have been distributing ‘lubricants’ and educating them on how to use them! NB: we all know that some of these communities are even skeptical when it comes to taking and or receiving education about ‘condoms’ and how to use them, what is of ‘lubricants’? We have evidence that some NGOs have been defaulting their mandatory returns; some have been withholding, against the law that registers NGOs, information regarding their various programmes and their various sources of funding. A good example is CHESA, which omitted to provide reports regarding their programmes and donors, and when asked to do so, mis-reported and under-reported – they had funds from JHPIEGO which they received but purposively omitted to report, while JHPIEGO was honest enough as to report the work that they were doing in partnership with CHESA!
9. Despite the presence of LGBTI people in our country, we do not subscribe to the assertion that ‘there is a gender continuum’, we still recognize the two traditional sexes, i.e. Male and Female, and there is nothing in between or beyond! So any effort to claim otherwise is not allowed in Tanzania.
10. Tanzania does not allow activist groups carrying out campaigns that promote homosexuality and the assertion that there is a ‘gender continuum’ that must be recognized and protected.
11. Any ‘act or attempt to commit unnatural offences’ is illegal and severely punished by law (refer Cap 16 of the Laws of Tanzania, The Penal Code, Sect. 154 and 155.)
12. We, so far, have not de-registered any NGO that carries programmes on LGBTI, we are investigating those which have been reported to have broken the law. The various state organs are working on the matter keenly and closely. If there will be found any violation of the laws, customs and traditions, appropriate actions shall be taken in accordance to the laws and regulations of our country.
13. Our technical team is looking into the technical aspects of carrying out implementation of programmes using the ‘public health approach’ without breaking the laws, regulations, customs and traditions. The government will publicize its way forward when consensus is reached regarding our position and approach on LGBTI programming.
(i) I demand the team that is carrying out the ‘Mapping and enumeration study for Intravenous drug users (IDUs), Men having sex with men (MSMs) and female sex workers (FSWs)’ to never share their findings with any one within or outside the country, without permission of the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children.
(ii) We will collaborate with the Tanzania Commission for AIDS (TACAIDS), - the Civil Society Desk, in embarking on a vetting task for NGOs and enlist credible NGOs in their website as well as our website. We further advise international NGOs and partners interested to work with credible NGOs to contact the government for a letter of clearance so that programmes brought in our country in good faith shall not be tarnished by irresponsible and unprofessional people carrying out illegal activities.
(iii) The government shall use its machinery to properly vet all NGOs in terms of programme activities, funding sources and other motives.
(iv) The government requires all NGOs working with our Regional Secretariats and Local Government Authorities to revisit our national guidelines on how to work in partnership with these authorities, where they would be reminded of community entry/exit steps, community mobilization strategies, procedures for behavior change communications, procedures for supportive supervisions, requirements of sharing their implementation plans, research results, progress reports and summative programme reports.
(v) Whenever you are not sure if you have crossed the line, visit the office of the Director of NGOs at the Ministry for clarity and guidance.
Dr. Hamisi Kigwangalla, MP.
Deputy Minister – Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children.