Tanzania’s crackdown on LGBTQ+ rights: “The government is making [us] hide”


The tragic death of Mliembe Suleiman, an openly lesbian woman, alongside a series of arrests and sentencing has highlighted the ongoing challenges faced by the LGBTQ community in the country.

On April 22, 2023, Milembe Suleiman, a 43-year-old Tanzanian lesbian, was brutally killed and mutilated in a suspected homophobic attack. Suleiman’s death has its roots in a long history of discrimination, which for her started with getting arrested in December 2017 for proposing to her girlfriend.

“She was married to a Rwandan man, but they separated due to abuse. She later married another man and had a child with him. They also separated, and she continued with her life,” Paulina Seleman, Suleiman’s sister, says about Suleiman’s challenges in the pursuit of a life true to her identity.

Her death also closely follows the widely publicised homophobic investigation by Catherine Kahabi. An investigation that received the endorsement of Dr Harrison Mwakyembe, a former minister and representative at the East African Legislative Assembly.

As a result of her investigation, Kahabi submitted a list of those involved in corrupting the nation’s youth: the names and contacts of people advocating for LGBTQ+ rights in Tanzania. One of the names on the list was an American, who Kahabi asserted used toothpaste and perfumes with pride colours to induce homosexuality by increasing feminine hormones in men.

Only two days before Suleiman’s death, a Tanzanian court ordered the invasive examination of the anuses of Noel Ndale Mushi, Kelvini Maliki Ngao, and David Brayan Johnson to determine if they engaged in homosexual acts. The court order is one of the extreme measures Tanzania has been taking against LGBTQ+ people.

It is part of the state’s sanctioned margnialization and oppression against LGBTQ+ Tanzanians that traces back to 2016 when Paul Makonda, Dar es Salaam’s Regional Commissioner, launched an anti-gay surveillance force amidst other human rights abuses that saw him get banned from the US.

In April, Muharami Hassan Nayonga was sentenced to 30 years in prison after a court convicted him of violating the country’s sodomy law and a month earlier, the women’s wing of the ruling party called for the castration of homosexuals.

Due to the increased dangers of being queer in Tanzania, Soma, who is in his late 20s, has been forcing himself to become straight. 

“It was easy before 2015,” he says, “There was some freedom then. Even though we could be judged wrong by society, law enforcement was not involved.”

Beyond Dar es Salaam, police intimidation contributes to the feeling of uncertainty a lot of LGBTQ+ individuals face. 

In May, Wilbroad Mutafungwa, the Mwanza Regional Police Commander, reported the arrest of various individuals engaged in same-sex relations across the region. One of these women was Salome Rashidi, who was arrested after reports from her neighbours.

Two others, Ismer Abdalah and Jeremiah Elkana were also arrested for wearing female clothing.

“I fear trying to find a partner because it may turn out to be a misfortune,” Soma says. 

The misfortune Soma talks about could range from being arrested by law enforcers pretending to be queer or heterosexual men who blackmail gay men, a practice that is widespread in other parts of the continent such as Nigeria and Egypt. 

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