Tanzania is galloping towards the end of the year high on its high horse of indignation. The issue, gay rights and David Cameron’s alleged suggestion at the Commonwealth Business Forum in Perth last week that the UK may cut aid to those countries that do not embrace the human rights of homosexuals. Homosexuality is a crime in Tanzania carrying a prison sentence of life imprisonment.

Tanzania’s Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation minister Bernard Membe is quoted in IPP Media’s the Guardian newspaper this morning as stating Tanzania can do without British aid and was prepared to end diplomatic ties with Britain if it imposes conditions on the assistance it provides to press for adoption of laws on homosexual rights. “We cannot be directed by the United Kingdom to do things that are against our set laws, culture and regulations: we are not ready to allow any rich nation to give us aid based on unacceptable conditions simply because we are poor” he said.

“Tanzania can do without British aid”

Does Tanzania have a point? Probably yes if this was the only issue trotting around the ménage, but it’s not and the other issues reduce the credibility of Tanzania’s snorts of indignation on this important issue.

What David Cameron actually said in Perth was that aid should be withheld to countries that do not "adhere to proper human rights." It would be nice to know to which rights exactly Mr Cameron is referring to. Those of the European Convention perhaps, those in the Magna Carta or what? Importantly what order of priority does Mr. Cameron attach to each and whether he would include among the rights to promote in other countries ones which he hopes to reduce for citizens of the UK?

It is of course true, that the peoples in different aid receiving countries have their own concerns distinct from others and from those of us in Britain as to what constitutes an abuse of their rights. Good British policy might be arrived at by looking at each country and identifying what deficiencies in rights are regarded as most important by both UK stakeholders and local citizens and to act first, on the basis of that assessment.

The criteria for making that judgment might be the statement of foreign policy priorities set out by Mr. Cameron’s Foreign Secretary last year: strengthening security, promoting prosperity (including sustainable development, and British trade), and looking after British citizens (good consular services); and strengthening a rules-based international order.

Surely the Tanzania government could not bolt at the above as a measure of the kind of human rights Mr. Cameron asks to be considered in return for copious amounts of British aid, so why the indignation?

To be sure, Tanzania doesn’t have a good record on human rights: a situation that has got worse not better under the reins of president Kikwete. Despite an increase in foreign aid over the past ten years there has been no decrease in poverty and its aid budget has been cut by its development partners (2010-2011) for its failure to create a conducive business environment.

Tanzania has failed absolutely to strengthen a rules based international order with the institutions such as the police and judiciary (the very institutions in situ to protect its citizens) being voted amongst the most corrupt in east Africa, with the 2011 East African Bribery Index finding that corruption was on the increase despite President Kikwete's commitment to donors that he is serious about fighting the vice.

Does the issue of gay rights in Tanzania deserve these frenzied whinnies of indignation from its government? Probably not if the issue was put to the vote by its citizens who, it is here suggested, would rank the issue of poverty and their perceived rights more highly than the rights of homosexuals of whom the majority no little about.

Only last week, Mbeya Regional Commissioner Abbas Kandoro ordered pregnant girl students to be arrested and charged in a court of law (although he doesn’t state what the crime is). The Tanzanian government may be better advised to put its stable in order on other important issues before running the risk of losing UK aid which critically relieves poverty and feeds the votes upon which it relies on for support!

By Sarah Hermitage.

The author is a British lawyer and antic corruption activist and one of the British investors in the Silverdale farm case in Tanzania.
Sarah.hermitage@btinternet.com