- European gay activists are calling for an ample travel boycott of the autonomous Tanzanian island of Zanzibar after local authorities earlier this month outlawed homosexuality. Zanzibar, a major tourist destination, on the other hand, has banned gay and lesbian tourists and threatens homosexuals with jail sentences of up to 25 years.
Peter Tatchell, the infamous leading figure of the British gay activist group OutRage!, has reacted strongly to the new and harsh anti-homosexual legislation of Zanzibar, an Indian Ocean island forming the smaller half of the Tanzanian Union during the last 40 years.
The mostly Muslim state last week decided to outlaw homosexuality. The anti-gay bill, which probably will be approved by the Zanzibari parliament in May, provides for jail terms of up to 25 years for men engaged in homosexual relationships and up to seven year's prison for lesbians.
The ban is also widely understood as a ban on gay tourists as the bill does not differentiate between local and foreign "offenders". Zanzibar is one of Tanzania's main tourist destinations and is known to be the favourite gay tourist destination in East Africa, given liberal practices. The growing arrival of foreign homosexuals however was the main cause of government concern, fearing a "corruption" of Zanzibari culture.
British activist Tatchell, however, expects European and American heterosexuals to show solidarity with the gay community and told the London-based 'Observer' that OutRage! was calling for a general tourist boycott of Zanzibar.
Especially gays and lesbians were advised from going to Zanzibar, given their safety on the island, said Mr Tatchell. "I would hope that both gay and straight travellers will boycott Zanzibar," he however added. The British activist hopes the prospect of dramatically lowered tourism may contribute to a change of attitude among Zanzibari lawmakers.
The impoverished island of Zanzibar indeed is heavily dependent on tourism. The tourist industry is the second largest on the island, only closely behind commercial agriculture. Local authorities and businesses have invested large sums in building an infrastructure and marketing the island's impressive cultural history and natural beauty.
The growing impact of tourism in Zanzibar however has not been without problems. Sparsely dressed women and men, sexually overt behaviour among heterosexual couples and a growing number of gay tourists are in a sharp contrast to traditional values in the conservative Zanzibari society.
Some 95 percent of the population is Muslim and profoundly religious. As foreign impulses increasingly have hit the island, Islam has become a stronger force in society. The ban on homosexuality caused no controversy in Zanzibar and was one of the relatively few occasions that united the polarised political establishment here.
The threat of less tourism revenues however may be taken seriously among the business-oriented population. Representatives of the island's tourism authorities have expressed outrage at a possible boycott, given the impact it could have on local economy. They hold Mr Tatchell is irresponsible calling for a boycott and instead urge tourists to understand and respect local culture.
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