Popular Tanzanian listserves wanabidii and wanazuoni have been abuzz for the past week or so with argument on maybe our most divisive topic: sexuality. The Tanzania debates were sparked by the inclusion of openly gay activists in Dar es Salaam’s annual “Gender Festival”, organised by the Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP).
In a report by TGNP’s Esther Macha activists Abdul Zungu from Dar es Salaam and Saida Ally from Nairobi tell us of familiar stories of exclusion, hate and discrimination but also of moments of acceptance. The report (in Swahili) is worth reading in full, not for its novelty but for its being a run of the mill plea for acceptance and tolerance in what is in many ways a run of the mill and, now in its tenth year, a somewhat mainstream event.
The acceptance shouldn’t surprise us: Dar people make space for numerous ways of life. Dar in the late 1990s to my mind had a gay scene similar in visibility and scale to that of Dublin in the late 1980s, only it was more fun. And I only came across it due to its seamless intersection with mainstream Dar nightlife – as well as the efforts of my then colleague, a tireless clerk, and her husband.
But that shouldn’t blind us to the hate and exclusion. Some, but not all, of the contributions to the discussions underline that. But mostly they are attempts to understand.
The debates so far have been low key and in some ways typically Tanzanian – heated defence of principal on both sides, but people quick to defend their opponents’ integrity when others go too far.
We might just work this one out. Eventually. Maybe we’ll have Antony Hegarty out for next year’s Fiesta (which along with the Gender festival also recently marked ten years).