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Finland not withholding aid from Tanzania over homophobia

Finland won’t interrupt aid spending in Tanzania over recent homophobic comments by politicians, says the Foreign Ministry.

Finland's Foreign Ministry building in Katajanokka, Helsinki. Image: Jyrki Valkama / Yle

Finland will not be following Denmark’s lead in withholding aid money from Tanzania after the governor of Dar-es-Salaam Paul Makonda called for residents to denounce gay people to the authorities so they could be detained. Homosexual acts are illegal in Tanzania, and sentences can range up to thirty years in prison.

Even so, Finland will not stop sending aid money to the country, which is scheduled to receive some 52 million euros between 2016 and 2019.

“When there is this kind of concerning situation in Tanzania it isn’t any kind of ‘business as usual’ situation for us,” said Theresa Zitting of the ministry’s Africa desk. “But we don’t feel that we want to touch development spending right now.”

Denmark leads way

Denmark announced on Thursday that it was cutting aid spending in Tanzania after homophobic comments by Makonda. On the same day the World Bank said it was cancelling a planned 300 million USD loan as a result of the comments.

Zitting says that Finland is concerned about human rights in the country. She says that Finland’s goal is to deepend and broaden co-operation there to try and improve the human rights situation, but adds that some 25 million people in Tanzania--40 percent of the population--live in extreme poverty and any cuts in aid spending would hurt them.

Zitting said that Finnish aid spending is focused on increasing employment in the forest products sector, governmental reform, tax collection and women’s participation in politics.

Pregnant girls pulled out of school

Zitting regards Makonda’s comments as one populist politician’s campaign, which is already showing signs of subsiding. The Tanzanian government has not shown any signs of joining the rhetoric, according to Zitting.

“Thankfully Makonda has not gained the support of large sectors of the population,” said Zitting. “Of course we hope that it will remain his own personal project that will wither away.”

In addition to homophobic posturing, Tanzania has also stopped pregnant girls from attending school. Tanzanian president John Magufuli has even said that girls should not be allowed to return to school after they’ve given birth.

Zitting says Tanzanians have tried to explain that they provide schooling in some other way for these girls.

“That doesn’t reassure us that much and we’ll keep an eye on this in the future,” said Zitting.

Human Rights Watch, opposition parties and the EU have long criticised the Magafuli administration. The EU withdrew its ambassador to Tanzania earlier in the month.

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