Zanzibar /Dar/Arusha. Tanzania has categorically rejected overtures from the United Kingdom to grant legal rights to same-sex partners.Addressing a press conference yesterday, Zanzibar President Dr Ali Mohammed Shein said: The issue of gay rights is not acceptable in this society and so amending or introducing any laws to grant such rights is out of the question.Coincidentally, Dr Shein spoke on the same day that two Union government Cabinet ministers voiced similar anti-gay rights sentiments. They are Mr Bernard Membe (Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation) and Ms Sophia Simba (Gender, Children and Community Development).
Like Dr Shein, the two ministers said the Tanzania government would not succumb to pressure of any kind following threats by UK Prime Minister Mr David Cameron to cut development aid to countries that did not recognise gay rights.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Bernard Camilius Membe
“Changing the law simply because we need aid is next to impossible. We have our values….That is not acceptable; we would rather do without it,” declared Dr Shein in response to media queries.
The Zanzibar president was speaking at a meeting in State House during which he fielded questions on a wide range of issues focused on the performance of the Government of National Unity, one year after its installation .
In Dar es Salaam, Mr Membe, said Tanzania will not listen to any country that tried to influence its decisions regarding unnatural sex relations.
“We have our own culture and it should be known and understood that we shall not receive any command from anywhere using whatever sanctions to undermine our way of living. The UK should understand this,” the minister said at a press conference in his office. He was flanked by his deputy Mr Mahadhi Juma Mahadhi, Permanent Secretary Mr John Haule and other directors.
It was the first major statement by the State following recent remarks attributed to Mr Cameron, who was quoted as threatening aid cuts to countries that continue to ban the practice which has taken root mainly in the Western world.
The UK position was raised informally during the recent meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of State in Perth, Australia. President Jakaya Kikwete and Mr Membe represented the country.
Yesterday, Mr Membe termed as “dangerous,” the move by the UK to tie development aid to the gay issue. “Mr Cameron’s move could seriously hurt bilateral relations among members of the Commonwealth. He will however be solely responsible if the movement broke up,” warned the minister.
UK’s Queen Elizabeth II is the custodian of the Commonwealth club comprising 54 states that were formally colonized by Britain. It was reported that during the Perth meeting, only 13 countries were receptive of the Cameron advances.
Minister Membe revealed that Tanzania recently refused to accept posting to Dar es Salaam a gay diplomat from a country whose name he did not disclose. He said such norms, even if raised during the forthcoming constitutional review, could not be allowed at the expense of the community’s morals.
The minister said Tanzania continues to enjoy good relations with the UK despite the saga. The debate around the same-sex marriages has come at a time when Tanzania is planning to host UK’s Prince Charles and his wife Camilla for a cultural visit shortly.
Speaking separately in Arusha, Ms Sophia Simba said the government would not condone the gay culture under the pretext of protecting the rights of minority groups.
"We can't allow our culture to be influenced by weird behaviours from the Western world. It is even a taboo to discuss this matter", she said when responding to sexual and gender-based violence.
She said although Tanzania has not been particularly targeted, it was aware that some donor countries were using it as an aid string to poor countries.
"We are aware of this. But I must be frank that our country will not bow to such pressure even if it existed,” the minister said, ahead of today's ministerial conference on sexual gender-based violence in the Great Lakes Region.
Ms Simba insisted that Tanzanian and African culture in general was against any form of weird sexual behaviours practised by gay people and does not even recognize the so-called rights of the gays or those who adhered to the practice.
Media reports yesterday also quoted a section of religious leaders as warning the government against bowing to pressure to allow gays or same sex marriages.
Neighbouring countries of Kenya and Uganda have also voiced opposition to the UK on the same matter. Officials in these countries also said that they would rather miss aid than approve the gay movement.
Reported by Mkinga Mkinga and Zephania Ubwani