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Tanzania’s president is cracking down on LGBTQ rights. He says cows would approve.

John Magufuli stands at a red lectern with a crowd in the background.
Tanzania’s president John Magufuli.
Daniel Hayduk/AFP/Getty Images

Tanzania’s president, John Magufuli, who has been leading a crackdown on LGBTQ rights in the country, just said he believes that “even cows disapprove of” homosexuality. And before you ask, no, he didn’t say that as a joke.

In a strikingly homophobic rant last week, Magufuli slammed foreign NGOs that campaign for gay rights and Tanzanian LGBTQ activists, saying, “Those who teach such things do not like us, brothers. They brought us drugs and homosexual practices that even cows disapprove of,” according to the AFP.

Unfortunately, his remarks aren’t all that surprising. Far from Western eyes, Tanzania is rapidly becoming one of the worst countries in the world for LGBTQ individuals. Homosexuality is a crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison, and under Magufuli, who came to power in 2015, the government is cracking down even more.

Tanzania isn’t the only African nation enforcing harsh laws targeting LGBTQ citizens. Homosexuality is illegal in 38 of 54 countries in Africa, and is punishable by death in Mauritania, Sudan, and Somalia, according to Amnesty International.

Magfuli doesn’t go that far, but his government is steadily making life harder for Tanzania’s LGBTQ community.

Last weekend, for example, the government threatened to arrest and deport anyone campaigning for gay rights, the AFP reported. It also said it would shut down any organizations working to protect gay rights.

"If we establish that any organization registered in our country is campaigning for gay rights ... I will deregister that organization,” Tanzanian Home Affairs Minister Mwigulu Nchemba said on Sunday, according to Reuters. “If a Tanzanian national is doing that campaign, we will arrest him and take him to court ... and if it is a foreigner, we will immediately order him to leave the country.”

In April in an interview with BuzzFeed, Tanzania’s deputy health minister, Hamisi Kigwangalla, said he supports anal exams, which he said would prove whether someone is having gay sex. But the test is widely considered to be a violation of human rights by medical experts and activists. This year, dozens of men have been arrested and taken to the hospital for examinations, according to the AFP.

On top of that, the Tanzanian government shut down 40 private health centers that were providing HIV/AIDS treatment. The government argued that the health centers were helping promote gay sex. In November last year, it even shut down US-funded programs providing care for LGBTQ individuals, according to the Washington Post.

All of which means that Magfuli’s comments, ludicrous as they may seem, are no laughing matter.

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