Words: Will Stroude
Tanzania's government has distanced itself from comments from a leading regional politician that he would begin rounding up LGBT people in the east of the country.
Last Monday (29 October) Paul Makonda, Regional Commissioner of Tanzania's largest city Dar es Salaam, announced that he was creating special squads to catch LGBT people, and encouraged citizens to report people suspected of being gay.
"Give me their names," Mr Makonda was quoted by AFP as saying. "My ad hoc team will begin to get their hands on them next Monday."
On Wednesday (31 October), Makonda tweeted that "more than 100 gay" people had been reported by their fellow citizens and that authorities would "take action".
Mashoga zaidi ya 100 kutoka kwa wananchi. Tutachukua hatua.— Paul Makonda (@Paul_Makonda) October 31, 2018
The reports prompted the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam to issue a security alert on Saturday (3 November) for Americans living in Dar es Salaam, advising them to "remove or protect images and language that may run afoul of Tanzanian laws regarding homosexual practices and explicit sexual activity."
The EU has also released a statement, saying: "The EU regrets the deterioration of the human rights and rule of law situation in Tanzania and will be conducting a broad review of its relations with Tanzania."
Now, the Tanzanian government has attempted to distance itself from the anti-gay crackdown.
According to the BBC, the government released a statement on Monday (5 November) saying Mr Makonda's comments are a "personal opinion which does not represent the official position of the United Republic of Tanzania..."
They added:"The United Republic of Tanzania will also continue to respect and uphold all human rights as provided for in the country’s constitution."
It's worth noting that while the Tanzanian constituion explicitly protects characteristics including sex, race and religion, sexual orientation is not mentioned.
Homosexuality is illegal across Tanzania, with same-sex sexual relations between men are punisahable with up to 30 years in prison.
Anti-gay rhetoric has been on the rise since the election of President John Magufuli in 2015. His government has consistently spoken out against what it sees as the 'promotion' of homosexuality by Western human rights organisations working in the country.