I write to you as a fellow proud African. A citizen of your neighbour country, Kenya. A person who has visited and loves the beauty that your country has to offer; the mountains, the lakes, the parks and most of all, the people. The unmistakably Tanzanian politeness makes me cringe every time I come back to Nairobi and see how we Kenyans relate to each other. And before any Kenyan reading this gets on the defensive, I should tell you, I am as Kenyan as we come. I am a gay man. At this point, you may want to stop reading this and dismiss it as western propaganda but I urge you to read on. It will only take a few minutes of your time and I assure you, this is far from any western propaganda.
The reason I write to you is because I have watched in awe how your government and a section of the Tanzanian population has been treating people of different sexual orientation and gender identity. From calling for their arrest to stopping the supply of lubricant to having sections of the society call for murder. This is a sad and scary trend and is no way for a society to treat a section of itself.
I’ll start by saying that the Tanzanian population (and in the same way, the Kenyan and Ugandan populations) has within it, people who are black, white, left handed, right handed, living with disabilities, living with albinism, gay, lesbian, transgender, intersex among many other identities. These people have existed in our society since time immemorial (except perhaps the white people who have also been a part of the human race). Homosexuality was not introduced by the west. Anthropological studies (which you may very well dismiss as western propaganda) have shown the existence of people of different sexual orientations and gender identities even before colonization. There are so many resources with this information and please feel free to contact me for links to them.
Having said that, you twitted yesterday, “I am a social justice activist. I am a professional. I know those stuffs. Same sex inclinations are not natural!” Allow me to tell you my story. A story that is the same for many, if not all, gay and lesbian people. At no point in my life did I make the choice to be attracted to people of the same sex as I am. As I grew up and began understanding myself and learnt about what sex is and what the feelings I had were, I realized that unlike the rest of the boys I grew up with, I was not attracted to girls. I am sure that the scenario is the same for people who are attracted to those of the opposite sex. You don’t decide to choose your attraction, you just have it. In my case, I tried to be different. I tried to fit in to what society wants me to be. It did not work. I prayed on it. I contemplated hurting myself. I finally got to the point of accepting that this is who I am. That was the only choice I made, not to be gay but to accept myself for who I am.
I was brought up in a Christian family. Most people in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya were brought up in families of a certain religion. Most religions in one way or another condemn homosexuality. If my sexual orientation was determined by how I was nurtured, I would not have turned out to be what I am. My parents brought me up in a society that vilified me for the feelings I have towards other men. Feelings I cannot control. To this day, my mother does not like that I have these feelings. But there is nothing I can do about them. There is nothing any gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person can do about the person they are. We are all as we are.
If you ever sat down with members of the community and listened, and I mean really listened to their stories, you will realize that my story resonates with them. Unfortunately, some of us never got to the point of self-acceptance. Some of us hated themselves so much that they decided that it would be better if they didn’t exist in this world any more. A world that hates them for who they love. A world that discriminates against them in access to opportunities because of the gender they identify with. A world that has government officials declaring them worse than terrorists and calling for their arrest and murder due to something they have no control over. These people took their own lives. Lives that might have amounted to so much had society allowed them a chance to prove themselves worthy.
Banning of the supply of lubricants will not curb homosexuality in any way. What that does, and as a medical doctor I am sure you understand is increase the number of risky sexual practices. Use of condoms without lubricant or using condoms with oil based lubricant will increase the risk of the condom breaking and increase the risk of transmission of HIV and other STIs. Now you may say that banning distribution of lubricant will stop people from having sex but that would be burying your head in the sand. People will still have sex and unfortunately the sex will be risky sex. Let me quote some statistics. As of 2015, There were 1.4 million people living with HIV with the number of new infections being 54,000. That accounts for 5% of the Tanzanian population. HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men was 22.2% and heterosexual sex accounted for the vast majority (80%) of all HIV infections in your country with women being particularly affected. Now due to the crackdown on the LGBTI community, men who have sex with men will try, like I did, to fit in to the society. They will get into sexual relationships and marry women but that will not stop them from having sex with other men. With the risk brought on by the banning of lubricants, HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men is going to increase from the 22.2% and the attempt by this population to adhere to society’s norm will increase the risk of transmission to women and other heterosexual men and the vicious cycle continues.
In your tweets yesterday you kept repeating that Tanzania has not signed the “Kyogo Protocol”. I have searched all over and haven’t encountered a Kyogo Protocol. I did find a Kyoto Protocol which has nothing to do with homosexuality but all to do with climate change. What I have found however is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Tanzania is a state party to this Covenant. It says that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. Having said that, the protection of the rights of every citizen of Tanzania, Uganda or Kenya should not be hinged on the ratification of any international instrument. It should come from us as human beings. We will never all be the same. We do not all subscribe to the same religion, we are not all of the same skin colour, we are not all of the same sexual orientation or gender identity. The one thing that binds us all together is the fact that we are all human beings. Our differences are what makes our society beautiful. We should all strive to understand our differences and accept them as a part of what our society is. That way, in the spirit of Ubuntu, we shall all live in harmony.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org should you wish to engage in further conversations. I am sure there are many other Tanzanian individuals who would wish to tell you their story. Allow them to. Understand where they come from and the struggles they have to go through on a daily basis because of something they have absolutely no control over and think about what you as a leader, as a deputy minister for health and as a human being can do to improve the lives of not only the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in your country but the general population.