One of Tanzania’s largest donors of foreign aid is revoking nearly $10 million in funding over fears of an anti-LGBTQ crackdown.
On Wednesday, Denmark Minister for Development Cooperation Ulla Tornaes claimed the country would be pulling $9.8 million from the country after provincial governor Paul Makonda threatened mass arrests of LGBTQ people in Dar es Salaam.
In a series of tweets, Tornaes claimed “respect for human rights is crucial.”
“I am very concerned about the negative development in Tanzania,” the development minister said, calling Makonda’s remarks “totally unacceptable” and “homophobic.”
As INTO previously reported, Makonda urged Dar es Salaam residents to “report” anyone suspected of being LGBTQ. In an Oct. 29 press conference, he accused gay men in the capital of “advertising and selling their services on the internet.”
“These homosexuals boast on social networks,” said the ally of President John Magufuli.
Homosexuality is currently illegal in Tanzania under the country’s colonial-era sodomy laws. Convictions could result in a sentence of up to life in prison.
In addition to requesting information that could lead to arrests of individuals who contravene those laws, Makonda announced the creation of a 17-member task force to surveil social media accounts and find evidence of same-sex behavior.
Although Makonda said he wasn’t concerned about international backlash, the fallout has been swift.
The European Union claimed it would revisit its relationship with the African country should the campaign move forward. Even the Trump administration, not exactly known for its support of LGBTQ rights, said it was “deeply concerned” about the climate in Tanzania.
Heather Nauert, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, called out the “atmosphere of violence, intimidation, and discrimination” against LGBTQ people in a Friday statement.
“We are troubled by the continued arrests and harassment of marginalized persons, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and others who seek to exercise their rights to freedom of speech, association and assembly,” she claimed.
Although the World Bank didn’t directly cite LGBTQ rights in its reasoning, it announced shortly after Makonda’s press conference that it would be revoking a $300 million loan to Tanzania.
In a press release, the World Bank took issue with its policy of banning young pregnant girls from attending school.
Although federal authorities have distanced themselves from the incarceration campaign by claiming the comments reflected Makonda’s “personal opinion,” the blowback is likely to continue. Tornaes hinted that Denmark would be pulling an additional $6 million from Tanzania’s government.
The development minister told Reuters she would be redirecting that funding to nongovernmental organizations instead.
“Currently, about half of our cooperation goes through the government,” Tornaes claimed. “I will look at changing that, so we don’t work directly with a government leading a politic that goes in the wrong direction on human rights issues.”
Losing that partnership could be devastating for the country of 57 million.
The Danish government reportedly gave $52 million to Tanzania in aid last year. That sum represents the second-highest amount of funding Denmark offered to any country.
Makonda has yet to backtrack his promise to begin rounding up LGBTQ people in Dar es Salaam. He told the news publication Voice of Africa that the campaign is not intended to criminalize queer and trans people but to “cure them.”
“We have a team of doctors and psychologists to help them to change,” Makonda said.
According to reports, 10 alleged LGBTQ people were already arrested at a gay wedding on the Tanzanian archipelago of Zanzibar. Last year, 12 women and eight men were apprehended while attending an HIV/AIDS workshop on the semi-independent islands.
Although Makonda’s statements brought international attention to Tanzania’s anti-LGBTQ crackdown, it began in earnest three years ago.
Since Magufuli took office in 2015, LGBTQ people have been increasingly targeted in Tanzania. His government has forced the shutdown of HIV/AIDS clinics, banned the sale of anal lubricant, and deported queer activists.
In blasting LGBTQ advocacy groups, Magufuli famously claimed that “even cows disapprove” of “homosexual practices.”
Hundreds of LGBTQ people are reportedly in hiding.