The use of condoms against Tanzania’s AIDS plague was condemned by religious leaders and others in a series of widely publicised events in March this year.
On the BBC TV’s Newsnight programme a lady representing the Catholic Church became so excited in her defence of the ‘Catholic way’ that the presenter, Jeremy Paxman, had to ask her to calm down. Such outbusts, he said, were not the way debates were conducted on his programme.
Jonathan Clayton writing in the Times recalled that, on a balmy late afternoon in September 1990, Pope John Paul II visited Mwanza and gave a speech that many believe set the tone for the AIDS crisis in Africa. Those inside the packed church and a huge crowd gathered outside hung on to every word. The Pope promised to give answers about the strange ‘slimming’ disease that had seemingly come from nowhere to destroy local and other communities. He was unequivocal. He said that condoms, then internationally accepted as the only real way to curtail the spread of the disease, were a sin in any circumstances. He lauded family values and praised fidelity and abstinence as the only true way to combat the disease. AIDS activists, including many Catholics were appalled. Clayton wrote: ‘For many, in that one afternoon, the Vatican destroyed more than a decade of patient campaigning and sentenced millions of Africans to death.’
During his recent visit to Germany Pope Benedict XVI reiterated Pope John Paul’s view with passion and thus raised further controversy.
Mwinyi provokes a storm
A few days earlier in Dar es Salaam, on Maulid Day at the Diamond Jubilee Hall, some in the audience were reported to have been incensed when former President Ali Hassan Mwinyi advised Muslim clerics to discuss the use of condoms to help reduce the impact of AIDS.
A Mr Ibrahim Said was so angry that he climbed on to the platform and slapped the face of the former President. The result was that he was arrested and subsequently sentenced to one-year in prison. The Magistrate said the accused was being convicted on his own plea of guilty and the penalty was the right one for the offence, which had attracted widespread public interest. Before pronouncing sentence, the Magistrate gave the accused the opportunity to ask for the court’s leniency but the man then loudly began praying and reciting verses of the Holy Koran. The magistrate intervened and instructed the accused to go on with his prayers silently. The accused complied and then thanked the magistrate for giving him the opportunity to pray to the Almighty God. He had earlier said he attacked the President because he was promoting the use of condoms.
A fatwa (edict) was then issued by the Islamic Association (Jumuiya) in Dar es Salaam which said that extra-marital sex had been forbidden by God and no human being had the authority to amend the Koran. The question of condom use could be discussed in the case of married couples or in case of life and death but not otherwise. “Let Mwinyi inform us when have people died from abstinence,” said the fatwa. It called upon Mwinyi to retract his statement and ask for forgiveness from God. The congregation donated TShs 700,000 for Ibrahim Said. A businessman said that in the government’s eyes Said might be guilty but he would be rewarded in heaven. He agreed to donate TShs 10,000 every month to his family as long as Said was in prison.
At a mosque in Kinondoni Said was proclaimed as a ‘Muslim hero’. Hundreds of worshipers resolved that politicians should be banned from officiating at Muslim functions – Majira.
In Mwanza the head of a mosque was reported to have said that it was wrong for Mwinyi to mix religion with politics, adding that the meeting was an Islamic platform where promotion of condoms should not have been allowed – Mwananchi.
In mid-April Muslim sheikhs and clerics met for four hours under the ‘Mwinyi Baraka Islamic Foundation’ to discuss the speech by the former president. They agreed that Mwinyi had not advocated condom use during the Maulid function but was merely describing the division among clerics on the issue of condoms. A spokesman of the Foundation, Hamis Mataka, told reporters that they had deliberated on two viewpoints elaborated by President Mwinyi. One was that in Islam extramarital sex is forbidden and sinful and should therefore be avoided at all costs. On the other hand those who failed to abstain should resort to safe sex so as to avoid spreading HIV/Aids. The meeting appointed a committee to go and see Mwinyi and apologise to him for the physical assault on him.
During the meeting the Chief of the Muslim Council (Bakwata), Sheikh Issa Simba, complained that there was a proliferation of sheikhs and clerics many of whom he said were ‘unqualified and half-baked’. He called for a procedure for approval of clerics. A committee of scholars and jurists was formed to coordinate such a procedure at national and international level – Nipashe and many other newspapers.
Finally in April Nipashe reported that the person who had slapped President Mwinyi had been transferred to Mirembe mental hospital.
Meanwhile the AIDS rate goes down
There has also been some good news on AIDS. The prevalence rate in Tanzania has dropped to 5.7% from a high of 7% in 2004, according to the most recent HIV/AIDS and Malaria Indicator Survey 2007/08. The study was carried out among people aged between 15 and 49 in all 26 regions on the mainland and in Zanzibar (see TA No 91). The government recently imported 100,000 female condoms (AIDS is more prevalent among women than amongst men) to be distributed countrywide as part of its efforts to empower women.