Partnership, Policy Making, and Conditionality in the Gender Field: The Case of Tanzania

Siri Lange & Marit Tjomsland. Africa Today. Volume 60, Issue 4. Summer 2014.


Since the late 1990s, a tripartite partnership among donors, governments in the global South, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) has been the overarching framework for development cooperation. In the early years, the World Bank pressured developing nations to cooperate with NGOs (Fisher 1997), but in recent years, the idea of partnership has been endorsed by African leaders (Bräutigam and Segarra 2007:170; Contu and Girei 2014:10). Partnership is now a naturalized part of development work, a taken-for-granted model, yet it has been criticized for being just a new way for the North to impose its agenda on developing countries (Ferguson and Gupta 2002; Hearn 2007; Mercer 2003). The power balance in development cooperation is gradually changing, however, especially because of the entrance of China as an important investor, lender, and development partner, making aid-dependent African governments less reliant on the North.

This article discusses the role that NGOs and donors have played in making gender-related policies in Tanzania in recent years. Tanzania is interesting for a study of the partnership model for several reasons. First, it is among the countries that have received the most aid, and it has been a “donor darling” for more than fifty years-from its socialist era, when Scandinavian countries saw it as a model for Africa, through structural adjustment and conditionality, and finally in the present period of partner- ship. The government therefore has considerable experience in dealing with donors under different aid modalities. Second, because of Tanzania’s political stability, a large number of foreign NGOs have established themselves in the country, partnering with national NGOs (NNGOs) that provide services at local levels, but also with donor-funded national civil society organizations (CSOs), which perform prescribed watchdog functions. Third, it aims at becoming a middle-income country by 2025, and the prospects for reaching this goal have considerably improved with the discovery of large amounts of natural gas. There are signs that the Tanzanian government is gradually moving away from its tradition of being a compliant development partner to taking a more self-assured stand (Swedlund 2013). Through examples of concrete processes, we argue that, although women’s organizations and donors played a central role in making gender-related policies in the 1990s, their opportunities for doing so in the 2010s are far more limited. This is partly because of the government’s new self-confidence and partly because the issues that NGOs and/or donors now want to address in policies and laws- abortion, the priority of formal law over customary law, and gay rights-are more controversial than the issues that were addressed in the 1990s.

This article is structured as follows. The remaining part of this introduction summarizes relevant debates on the role of partnership in development aid. The main body of the article first presents partnership in a historical context in Tanzania and then describes the framework for partnership in the 2010s and how partnership functions in making policies today. We focus on three processes: the formulation of a new gender policy, initiated by the Ministry of Community Affairs, Women, and Children; the drafting of a new maternal health bill, initiated by NGOs; and attempts by donors to make the government change laws that criminalize homosexual practices. Each of these examples demonstrates how different actors work to get other partners involved in their ambitions to influence policy. The conclusion argues that Tanzanian governmental bodies have the final say in making gender-related policies today.

Partnership in Aid and Development

The 1980s are remembered as an era of structural adjustment and aid conditionality, but the idea of partnership started developing at this time, and it gradually gained momentum in the 1990s, when the World Bank pressured some governments to include NGOs in their development efforts. By the late 1990s, the World Bank had published partnership-for-development documents that stated that partnership and national ownership were the only way to tackle the challenges of development (Bräutigam and Segarra 2007:149; Fisher 1997:451). One of the first effective results of this pressure was that loan-taking countries were asked to develop a poverty reduction strategy paper (PRSP) in collaboration with CSOs (Contu and Girei 2014; Gould 2005). The conditions for new loans were trade liberalization, macroeconomic stability, fiscal discipline, and respect for human rights (Gould 2005:62).

The idea of partnership was embraced by neoliberal supporters of structural adjustment and their critics (Ferguson and Gupta 2002; Fisher 1997). Endorsed by UN agencies like the UNDP, it has been firmly institutionalized in international agreements, including the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness of 2005 and the OECD Accra Document of 2008 (Contu and Girei 2014; Jensen and Wintehereik 2012:89).

In the late 1990s, some donors channeled as much as 40 percent of their programmatic funds through private voluntary associations and NGOs. These organizations were seen as a counterweight to the state, easier to monitor for accountability, and “sources of pressure for social justice and democratization” (Tripp et al. 2009:74). With the growth of NGOs in Africa, an Africanization of the NGO sector has gradually taken place, and many now receive direct funding, while NGOs from the North have found a new role as capacity builders for NNGOs (Contu and Girei 2014:6; Hearn 2007:1101; Igoe and Kelsall 2005).

Over the last decade, a substantial body of literature on the role of NGOs in African development has emerged. Up to the mid-1990s, the literature was dominated by those who made policies and the NGO community itself, which saw support to civil society as a way to promote bottom-up development (Hearn 2007:1096). NGOs were seen as magic bullets-an expectation that has been hard, or even impossible, to live up to (Igoe and Kelsall 2005). Anthropologists were among the earliest critics of the euphoric celebration of civil society. In many African countries, the partnership model has made the state no longer able to exercise the power normally associated with sovereign states. Ferguson and Gupta (2002) warn against disdaining the state and seeing states as opposed to societies. Their use of the concept of governmentality to analyze aid relationships has been criticized (Mosse 2005:2), but other observers have argued along similar lines, pointing out that the boundaries between states and NGOs, and among nation-states, donors, and the World Bank/IMF, are unclear and blurred (Gould 2005; Igoe and Kelsall 2005:5; McLoughlin 2011:246; Mosse 2005:1). NNGOs are involved in a range of formal and informal linkages with their partners, through networks, family ties, and professional links. NGO leaders are not uncommonly recruited to high-ranking positions in government (Brass 2012: 209; Fisher 1997:441; McLoughlin 2011:246). Perhaps the most usual criticism against the focus on NGOs in partnership for development is that they are externally oriented-in effect, running donors’ errands-and support for them is thus a form of recolonization (Fisher 1997:453; Hearn 2007:1100; Mercer 2003):

The heavy-handed, unpopular “direct rule” by the international financial institutions and international NGOs of the 1980s and 1990s has been replaced by the self-policing or “indirect rule” of Africans. (Hearn 2007:1107)

In this article, we look specifically at policy making in the gender field. Authors who have studied women’s organizations are more positive about the roles of NGOs than scholars who have looked at the roles of NGOs more generally. In the case of women’s organizations at the national level in Africa, Aili Mari Tripp argues that the agenda has “for the most part been set within Africa” (Tripp et al. 2009:76). This finding is supported by an analysis of data from seventy countries which shows that variation in policy development is positively correlated with “feminist mobilization in civil society” (Htun and Weldon 2012:560).

The aim of this article is to document empirically the way that national women’s organizations, foreign NGOs, and donors have sought to influence the making of gender-related policies in Tanzania in recent years. This study is based on in-depth interviews with thirty-three actors within the partnership on gender and development in Tanzania. The great majority of them, twenty-eight, were Tanzanians, while five were expatriates. Three government institutions and two donors were covered, as well as eight NNGOs and six international NGOs (INGOs). The interviews, conducted in January 2012, focused on the policy-making role of the organizations or institutions and their relationships to other actors. Follow-ups on specific policy processes have been done via e-mail. Informants have been granted full anonymity with regard to controversial viewpoints and statements. The first author interviewed several of the same NGOs for a study in 2000 (Lange 2000), studied partnership processes at the district level in the mid- 2000s (Lange 2008), and has reviewed development cooperation involving NGOs. This long-term engagement provides important background for the present study.

Historical Context: Partnerships and Policy Making in the 1990s and Early 2000s

The relation between the Tanzanian government and CSOs is colored by a history that has seen changing spaces for civil society over the years, and, not least, shifting donor policies. During the struggle for independence, occupational associations and the cooperative movement played central roles; however, after the achievement of independence, in 1961, associational freedom was gradually restricted, and some organizations were disbanded. In the period of socialist one-party rule, from 1965 to 1992, all mass organizations, including the Women’s Organization (Umoja wa Wanawake), were under the ruling party. By the 1980s, the country was in an economic crisis, and the government gradually opened up for nonstate actors in education and security. By 1990, trade unions and cooperatives were detached from the ruling party, and two years later, multiparty government was introduced. Between 1993 and 2000, the number of CSOs grew from fewer than 250 to more than 8,000 (Tripp 2000). Close to half of all NGOs in the country are based in Dar es Salaam (Mercer 2003; REPOA 2007). Many of them have been disbanded, and only a handful have become policy making partners, being regularly invited by donors, INGOs, and governmental bodies to take part in consultative meetings and workshops, and sometimes as hired consultants. Women’s organizations constitute approximately one-third of all human rights organizations in Tanzania (Tripp et al. 2009:83).

How the Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA), helped by donor funding, took part in policy making in the late 1990s-and how the NGO, as part of the ideology of partnership, stepped back when needed and let politicians take ownership-are illuminating (Johannesen 2006). TAMWA is one of the oldest women’s organizations in Tanzania, established in 1987. Female journalists make up the bulk of its members. Its main methodology is to bombard the media on certain topics, attracting attention and spurring debate (Mhaville 2012). As part of a donor-sponsored program on gender violence between 1997 and 1999, it organized a symposium on gender violence for members of Parliament (MPs) in July 1997. The main aim of the symposium was to sensitize MPs on gender-based violence and child abuse, leading the MPs to support amending laws that discriminate against women and children. It was the first time that rape and the sexual harassment of women and children were debated in Parliament. The campaign and symposium were highly successful: in 1998, Parliament unanimously approved the Sexual Offences Special Provision Bill. This was the first time that a CSO had influenced the legislative process. At the request of the Parliament’s administrative office, TAMWA paid the MPs an allowance to attend the symposium (Johannesen 2006:148-49). What the outcome would have been had TAMWA not remunerated them is an open question. In the period before and after the symposium, TAMWA members contributed to twelve newspapers’ thirty-five articles on rape and the sexual abuse of children. Analysis of these articles shows that the discourse gradually shifted: the role of TAMWA was emphasized in the beginning, but the later news coverage portrayed MPs as the major agents (Johannesen 2006:157). This fits well with an ideology of partnership where NGOs and donors undercommunicate their own role and credit local representatives. The donors who sponsored TAMWA’s program on gender violence are invisible and do not appear to have taken any credit at all. Other acts that were amended or introduced in the late 1990s and early 2000s with the active involvement of NNGOs are the Land Act of 1999, the Law of the Child Act, and the revised Law of Marriage Act of 2002 (Kismabu and Lugembe 2012; Mosha 2012; Tripp et al. 2009:127, 132; Yoon 2011).

Women’s organizations’ successful work on law reforms has earned them a good reputation and is an important factor in Tripp’s conclusion that NGOs represent “one of the key challenges to [the] status quo” (Tripp 2000:191). Authors who have studied partnership in connection with the PRSP process in 2001 present a far less optimistic picture, arguing that NGOs’ influence on the final document was limited (Holtom 2007:239, 244; Mercer 2003). While the actual impact of the NGOs on the PRSP was limited, they were nevertheless part of the process, in contrast to the MPs, who saw the document for the first time when the completed draft was presented in Parliament (Gould 2005:73; Mercer 2003:756). There is an irony in this situation, given the image of NGOs as being depoliticized, part of “a segment of society that is separate from politics” (Fisher 1997:446), at the same time as they are invited to take part in making policies. Donors’ focus on participation and good governance “obscure[s] a more covert and insidious expression of power[,] which simultaneously empowers and normalizes the actions of development partners” (Mercer 2003:759).

How does this scenario look more than ten years later? While we do see the same kind of processes that Mercer describes, particularly in connection with the revision of the gender policy, we find strong resistance toward donors’ attempts at interventions in domestic affairs. Before we turn to the concrete examples, we shall briefly describe the framework for partnership and the partners’ perceptions of each other.

The Framework for Partnership and Actors’ Perceptions of Each Other in the 2010s

The main body for governmental policy making on gender in Tanzania is the Ministry of Community Development, Gender, and Children, whose vision and mission mandate that the ministry will coordinate and monitor the NGOs (MCDGC 2012). NGOs are seen as central development partners in changing the mind-set of communities, but nothing is said about the role of NGOs in making policies; NGOs are therefore expected to be implementing partners, rather than partners in formulating policies (McLoughlin 2011:248). Among the donors, the ministry’s main development partner is UN Women, whose key mandate is to “support the national gender machinery and to build their capacity, make them take their commitments seriously, especially towards the international conventions” (Collins-Falk 2012), but in UN Women’s view, the ministry’s mandate is too wide, covering almost everything and therefore nothing. This view was shared by several of the NGO representatives. A widely held perception among both national staff and expatriates was that the government pays lip service to many gender issues, signing conventions and formulating policies, but not doing much to implement them (REPOA 2007). An NNGO employee said, “I worked in the Ministry of Environment before…  Government institutions are totally frustrating. They don’t practice: they just talk!” Many NGOs see donors as more powerful than the government, and only two out of ten see the relationship as a complementary one (REPOA 2007:23). The government and its institutions are blamed for being slow and ineffective; as a national employee of an INGO said: “In the government, things are so slow. We must work closely with the ministry, … but sometimes they seem to frustrate the process.” While some of the interviewed organizations, like the Legal and Human Rights Center, gave us examples of conflicts with government authorities at the local level, the great majority of them talked about their relationship with the government in the language of partnership, and they saw their main role as furthering the government’s policies, helping the government “implement policies that are just left in the shelf.” This is the role that most African governments expect NGOs to play, and NGOs are warned not to involve themselves in politics (Igoe and Kelsall 2005:25; Tripp et al. 2009). Donors, in contrast, expect NGOs to take an active role in accountability and in demanding rights, activities interpreted as political by most governments. Many NNGOs feel that donors increasingly want them to do advocacy work, rather than service provision, and some are ambivalent toward this role, since seeing the government as an adversary is counterproductive, in their view (REPOA 2007:24). In addition to this preference for cooperation for a joint cause, rather than opposition, governmental sanctions against critical NGOs are probably a central factor for some NGOs’ reluctance to criticize the state of affairs. The Non-Governmental Organizations Act of 2002 gives the government the authority to “direct suspension or cancellation” of any NGO (URT 2002:4). This law has been used on several occasions to threaten to deregister NGOs, including the Tanzania Media Women [sic] Association (Miraji 2010) and Hakielimu (Humanitarian News and Analysis 2005). Some years ago, Hakielimu ran a campaign demonstrating what the lavish payments in cash and kind to parliamentarians could have contributed more if they had been spent in the education sector instead. Hakielimu came close to being banned permanently, but it was allowed to continue under certain conditions, following “public support by parliament as well as citizens and back [sic] up by the donor community” (eMjee Development Consult 2009:21). Though Hakielimu has won respect for its work, some people think it goes too far and behaves disrespectfully. A university lecturer at the UDSM Gender Center said:

Hakielimu wants to tell the truth, but they do it in a bitter language. It is as if a child reminds his mother that she should pay school fees-and he does that in a harsh language. He should tell it nicely! And then see if the message is being accepted… . What we know is that the government doesn’t want people to be bigger than themselves.

Here, it is argued that NGOs should understand their subordinate role in relation to the government, like a child to its parents. Negative reactions toward NGO activism have been particularly profound in the periods before elections, when it is often perceived as activism for the opposition parties (eMjee Development Consult 2009:6). The negative experiences that some advocacy organizations have had with the government have made most NGOs cautious about what they do and say, and they accordingly employ a degree of self-censorship. Another factor that may affect their willingness to confront the government and play the role of watchdogs as envisaged by donors is the close personal ties between NGO staff and government staff. Members of an NNGO told us that that many of its senior members now hold good positions in government-which makes it easy for the organization to network (McLoughlin 2011:246). Duncan Holtom demonstrated that personal links and networks played a significant role in the country’s PRSP process (Holtom 2007:237). Donors notice these national networks and sometimes feel excluded from them. A donor said:

There are barriers towards foreigners. It’s a women’s movement, but you can feel very strongly that it is a Tanzanian women’s movement. The relationships between the actors are very personalized: they are relatives and friends.

The framework for partnership in Tanzania is thus complex and multifaceted. On the one hand, a study of NGO-government relations found that that some NNGOs feel closer to INGOs than to the government (REPOA 2007:13); on the other hand, Tanzanians stand together with a sense of togetherness that is perhaps unique in sub-Saharan Africa. Having this framework in mind, we shall now look at three examples of policy making in practice.

Partnership in Practice: Three Examples from the 2010s

In the ideology of partnership, development initiatives are to come from the South, and the government is expected to be in the driver’s seat. In this section, we describe three recent attempts at policy making in Tanzania: revision of the existing gender policy, formulation of a new maternal health bill, and efforts to make Tanzania amend the law that prohibits same-sex sexual relations. Only in the case of the gender policy was the initiative taken by the government; the latter two examples were initiated by NGOs and a donor, respectively.

Revision of the Gender Policy

In 2010, the Tanzanian government began revising the gender policy that had been in place since 2000. Our informant in the MCDGC explained that the main reason for revising the policy was that the present policy did not adequately address the MDGs, aspects connected to HIV/AIDS, and gender- based violence (Kizenga 2012). The process was kicked off with a large-scale workshop organized by the ministry and funded by UN Women. The work- shop included representatives from NNGOs, such as the Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP), the Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA), and TAMWA, plus the Gender Center of the University of Dar es Salaam and the gender desks of various governmental bodies. Only a few INGOs were invited, indicating a wish by the ministry to make this primarily a national process. At the workshop, the ministry presented a completed draft of the policy and did not solicit advice from the gender experts. In the words of one of the INGO expatriates: “We sat for a week and discussed the wording from the start, rather than looking at overarching issues!” Approximately half a year later, in March 2011, a new workshop, also financed by UN Women, was held to review the draft.

UN Women was disappointed to see that the NGOs had not coordinated themselves beforehand, thus missing out on a chance for influence. One of the ministry’s mandates is to coordinate NGO activities, but in practice, it does not have the capacity to fulfill this role-a fact lamented by several INGOs. Some of the INGOs that have gender as a central part of their portfolio therefore decided to form a CSO network on gender, which was later mandated to consolidate the comments from INGOs to the new policy and convey them to the ministry. A national employee of an INGO representing this network stated that the ministry promised to hold a stake- holder meeting but had not done so, and that in other ways, too, it had stalled the cooperation with donors and NGOs:

The review of the gender policy has not been participatory at all. We went and asked for a copy but didn’t get it. It took us two months to get a person from the ministry to present the new policy draft… . There was a long discussion before they allowed us to contribute, and the ministry has not consulted us over the last year.

A year after the network had sent its comments, it still had not received feedback and did not know whether its comments had been incorporated in the policy. In November 2011, Salma Maoulidi, a gender expert and independent consultant, published a comprehensive newspaper article on the policy, in which she openly criticized the minister of MCDGC for not fully understanding the concept of gender. That some of the gender experts who work for NGOs-or as consultants for them-have more competence on gender than the staff of the ministry was pointed out to us by a donor:

In the beginning, I was appalled by the way people talked about the government, but now I agree… The people who actually do the work in the ministries don’t get promoted, so they leave to join NGOs or the UN. TGNP and FemAct are extremely well organized, while the ministry can’t even talk the talk.

Some of the INGOs, including Oxfam, pushed hard to make the ministry arrange another workshop so that they could help sharpen the policy, but the ministry responded that it did not want this support and never allocated time to listen to what the NGOs had to add to the policy (OXFAM 2014). A ministry employee said the following about the ministry’s reluctance to incorporate input from NGOs:

There was a strong discussion regarding our values, norms, and culture in general. The ministry needs our culture to be reflected in the new policy…For example, in the case of the land laws, most of the activists wanted women to have the rights to own and control land, but the ministry people said that disregard of the customary laws may result in conflicts in our society. (MCDG 2014)

Despite the resources that had been put into the policy, including two large- scale consultative workshops funded by UN Women, the ministry decided that finalizing the gender policy would be postponed until the constitution process has been completed. The question of women’s land rights was identified as an issue where the viewpoints of the NGOs differed from those of the ministry. Land rights had been at the center of policy making in the late 1990s, when women’s organizations were at the forefront for amending the land laws, but those rights have been hard to enforce in rural areas, where customary law prevails and is accepted by the legal system.

The ministry, while following the rules of the game by inviting stake- holders like NGOs to participate in reviewing the gender policy, is supreme, and it may choose to exclude the input from the NGOs and postpone the whole process. A process that started in 2010, meant to tailor the gender policy for the MDGS, will most probably not be completed by 2015. This was frustrating for the women’s organizations that are keen to see women’s rights enhanced, but the situation is hardly unique. NGOs feel that in general their viewpoints are accepted only when the government agrees with them, never when there is disagreement (REPOA 2007).

The work of revising the gender policy has much in common with the PRSP process as described in separate articles by Jeremy Gould and Claire Mercer. Fostering partnerships in countries like Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda “has been an expensive public relations exercise, contingent on immense levels of aid-dependency” (Gould 2005:82). Donors criticize the NGOs for not organizing themselves and expect them to talk with one voice, which the government largely ignores (Mercer 2003:757-58). For the ministry, organizing two large-scale workshops with NGOs without seriously considering incorporating their input was probably not seen as problematic, since the whole exercise was sponsored by UN Women. For the case of the gender policy, then, we can conclude that the initiative was taken by the government (through the ministry), and partners were welcomed to take part in the process (funding and participation at workshops), but the ministry appears to have exercised full control throughout.

The Proposed Maternal Health Bill

The initiative to draft a maternal health bill came from INGOs that have worked on maternal health in Tanzania for many years: CARE International and the White Ribbon Alliance, partnering with TAWLA. The reasons for the high maternal mortality rates in the country are complex, but they include early pregnancies and unsafe abortions. At a global level, at least 13 percent of all maternal deaths are related to abortion (Berer 2000:580). In the cur- rent legislation, abortion is illegal unless the mother’s life-or her mental or physical health-is at risk. The proposed maternal health bill proposes actions to improve maternal health, including improved access to abortion and contraceptives. The proposed bill expands the right to abortion in cases where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, the woman is “a mentally disordered person,” or the fetus is suspected of “a severe physical or mental abnormality” (James 2012). The representatives of TAWLA emphasized that one step would have to be taken at a time. A national employee said:

We are pushing for safe abortion. The law is very vague; there’s the right to safe abortion, but abortion itself is illegal. No hospitals offer abortion services, and that’s one reason why many women are dying, but pressing for a legalization of abortion is too early.

The bill gives adolescents the right to access contraceptives without their parents’ consent (James 2012).

Our informants from TAWLA stated that TAWLA and CARE international act as consultants for the Ministry of Health on the draft of the maternal health bill, thus emphasizing the Tanzanian government as the main actor. In 2012, a draft of the bill was presented to the ministry’s committee for safe motherhood and the press was invited. Different media entities have reported the process leading up to the draft bill, as well as the content of the bill itself, differently. Headlines include “Tanzania: NGOs hailed over motherhood bill” (Saiboko 2012), “Radical pro-abort bill being pushed on Tanzania by international organizations” (White 2012), and “Tanzania: New draft Bill seeks to make abortion legal” (James 2012). A Rome-based organization cites an African pro-life leader who calls the bill “pure Western imperialism”; the correspondent does not mention the involvement of NNGOs, but emphasizes that the bill was sponsored by Care International “under a cloak of secrecy” (White 2012). The Tanzanian newspaper The Citizen, in contrast, states that the bill was drafted by TAWLA “with the support of Care International and White Ribbon Alliance” and “it was not immediately clear whether the government is involved in the draft process and if it would finally adopt it” (James 2012).

Media coverage of the maternal health bill demonstrates that the partnership framework is open to interpretation by those who observe the policy outcomes of the partnership process. Some stakeholders read the initiative as pure western imperialism, while others emphasize the role of NNGOs. None of the journalists cites the government’s role in the process. Journalists refer to the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs and the chairman of Parliamentarians for Safe Motherhood Group (PSMG), who both deny “any knowledge on [sic] the document” (James 2012). On the government’s side, the main partner for the NGOs’ initiative was the ministry’s committee on safe motherhood. According to the NGOs, the committee recommended that the draft should be redrafted and should make clear what the gaps in the cur- rent laws are (TAWLA 2014). After this revision, the bill would be presented to the ministry once more and then taken up in Parliament.

The Sexual Offence Special Provision Act of 1998 was supported wholeheartedly by both male and female parliamentarians, but the Safe Motherhood Bill has proved more controversial. A staff member of one of the NNGOs expressed frustration with MPs who had kept silent or even applauded when the president called women who have abortions murderers. Jenista Mhagama, chair of PSMG, when asked about the bill, asserted that the group would, if necessary, reject any “provisions which are against our social and moral values and traditions” (James 2012).

As with the PRSP and the gender policy, elected representatives have not been involved in the process, but they assert their power by stating that they can reject the bill if necessary. In contrast to the gender policy, the initiative in this case originated with INGOs, partnering with an NNGO, but with the clear understanding that the ministry “will be the custodian of the bill once ready to be presented in parliament” (TAWLA 2014). In our next example, the policy initiative originates with donors.

Gay Rights and Conditionality: Where Partnership Ends

While the maternal health bill caused controversies, it was supported by many of the NNGOs and other stakeholders, like health workers. The situation is different when it comes to the rights of sexual minorities. As in many other African countries, same-sex sexual activity between men is illegal in Tanzania, with a penalty of up to life imprisonment (SADC 2012:49). There are no reports to indicate that anyone has been imprisoned as a result of this legislation, but gay activists have been harassed by the police, and the Sisi Kwa Sisi Foundation, a donor-supported NNGO run and led by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons and sex workers, was recently deregistered by the Ministry of Community Affairs, Women, and Children on the grounds that it promoted homosexuality (ushoga).

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other human rights organizations have flagged the rights of sexual minorities since the 1990s (Rodriguez 2012:73). Donors have been slower to focus on this issue, but both Norway and the United Kingdom have incorporated the rights of LGBT people in their development policies. Two NGOs that we talked to had been offered funds to work on gay rights, but both had turned the funds down. A national employee of Norwegian Church Aid argued that they, as religious leaders, did not believe they should promote homosexuals’ rights (Faustin 2012). The Women’s Legal Aid Centre turned down funds earmarked for work on gay rights, arguing that this was not among their priorities: “We have been asked to do advocacy for gays by donors. But we can’t do that when it is not a big issue. Inheritance is a much bigger problem” (Mosha 2012).

In June 2011, despite strong opposition, the United Nations adopted a resolution on human rights, sexual orientation, and gender identity. UN Women in Tanzania has tried to discuss the issue of gay rights with the Ministry of Community Affairs, Women, and Children, but says the ministry is unwilling to push the issue and “won’t go near it” (Collins-Falk 2012). Tanzania has refused to comply with a request from the United Nations Country Team to amend the law that criminalizes same-sex sexual activities, arguing that such freedoms are against the country’s “traditional, cultural, and religious rights” (Human Rights Council 2011:13).

In the partnership ideology, the governments of developing countries, donors, and NGOs work together to achieve certain development goals. Conditionality is not part of this scenario, and there has been little debate about conditionality since the conditionality epoch ended. The question of gay rights has changed this. In the case of DFID, LGBT equality is currently central in the organization’s budget support policy (DFID 2012:9). David Cameron launched this policy at a Commonwealth meeting in October 2011, eliciting strong reactions from several African members. In the case of Tanzania, both the prime minister and the foreign minister clearly rejected any conditional ties related to the acceptance of gay rights, claiming that the country could manage well without UK support:

We are not ready to allow any rich nation to give us aid based on unacceptable conditions simply because we are poor. If we are denied aid by one country, it will not affect the economic status of this nation and we can do without UK aid. (Mbuthia 2011)

The question of gay rights and conditionality has since been brought up in Parliament several times, and the consensus seems to be that Tanzania should not give in to aid conditionality (Daily News 2012). The great majority of Tanzanians, 95 percent, consider homosexuality unacceptable (Pew Research Center 2007:35), and the political leaders therefore know that they have their constituencies behind them when they announce that they would rather do without aid than give in to conditionalities. So far, no country has cut aid to Tanzania on the grounds of gay rights, but in March 2014, Denmark and Norway made substantial cuts in their budget support to Uganda, after the country had passed a law repressing LGBT persons’ rights (Development Today 2014). The funds will be redirected to CSOs.

According to the partnership ideology, development initiatives are to originate in the global South. In the case of gay rights in Tanzania, donors have brought the issue up, while neither NGOs nor governmental bodies have been interested in partnership to further this cause. This case shows that in Tanzania, the claim that NGOs run donors’ errands does not hold true for issues that NGOs do not identify with. Critics of the partnership model have argued that support through NGOs represents a new form of imperialism. In the case of LGBT rights, donors from the North can hardly be accused of doing this for economic gain, but a focus on human rights is perceived by recipients of aid as a form of cultural imperialism.

Concluding Remarks

The late 1990s and early 2000s saw a transformation of women’s rights in Tanzania. Partnerships among the government, elected representatives, and donor-sponsored NGOs worked well in that era, partly because of the skills of the well-resourced NGOs, but first of all because the issues in question were uncontroversial for all parties. Tanzania had ratified several international conventions, including CEDAW, that required the government to make certain legal changes to ensure women’s rights and gender equality. The UN, the Tanzanian government, the donors, and the NNGOs basically had the same goal, but the active participation of the NGOs most probably eased the process and made it happen faster than if the government had implemented those changes by itself. Retrospectively, then, that era was a golden age for successful gender-related partnership in Tanzania.

Laws passed in the late 1990s and early 2000s have proved incompatible with other laws. Examples include the land laws, which stand in conflict with customary land laws, and the Sexual Offences Special Provision Act, which stands in conflict with the Marriage Act. Based on the experiences with lawmaking in the 1990s, the government is now more careful to ensure compatibility between existing and new laws and policies. The revision of the gender policy was postponed to avoid conflict with the revised constitution, and the maternal health bill was sent back to the lawmakers for adjustment to existing legislation.

The World Bank defines partnership as “a collaborative relationship between entities to work towards shared objectives through a mutually agreed division of labor” (1998a:8, our emphasis). But what happens when the objectives are no longer shared? In the 2010s the UN, bilateral donors, and some INGOs started pushing for policy changes that a large percentage of the Tanzanian population, including many of the NGOs and parliamentarians, did not agree with: the right to abortion and the rights of LGBT persons. Several NGOs have been offered funds to work on the rights of sexual minorities but have not accepted them. NNGOs may previously have had a tradition of accepting patronage and played the role of popularizing “Northern development policy” (Hearn 2007:1107-8) and policies that states do not want (Ferguson and Gupta 2002), but the case of gay rights shows that Tanzanian NNGOs are unwilling to be dictated to by donor funding.

Tanzania has been considered an easy country for donors to work with, but while it was remarkably quick to get a PRSP in place in the early 2000s, things now take more time. The country has become gradually less aid dependent since the 1990s. External grants as a percent of GDP have gone down from 30 percent in 1990 (Mercer 2003:749) to 6 percent in 2012, and are predicted to stand at 3 percent in 2015 (World Bank and IMF 2012:62). It should therefore not come as a surprise to donors that Tanzania is less willing to accept conditionality and is refusing to amend its law on same-sex sexual relations when threatened with aid cuts. In addition to less aid dependency, China has entered the scene as a partner that does not interfere with developing countries’ laws relating to human rights. Above all, Tanzania faces the prospect of large revenues from gas in the coming years. Our case studies demonstrate that Tanzanian governmental bodies have the final say in contemporary partnerships on gender policy and that the literature on partnership, which describes donors and INGOs as having undue policy-making influence, appears to be less relevant than before.