Mysterious visitors started drifting in on the second morning of a mid-December training for Tanzanian reproductive health providers. First, organizers said, a woman entered the conference room of the Dar es Salaam hotel, announced herself as a BBC journalist and took a seat. Then unidentified men started coming and going.
“It should have been a big red flag for us,” said Nguru Karugu, health and rights consultant for the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa, a human rights-focused grant-maker that organized the meeting.
Despite the interruptions, organizers continued the sessions helping representatives from eight different NGOs chart development strategies. Their organizations had been selected for the training because they provide health services to key populations — vulnerable communities such as sex workers and men who have sex with men, who often face discrimination in public facilities. Though local NGOs, organizers said some of the groups receive funding that originates with major bilateral donors, including the United States.
As the participants broke up for lunch, non-uniformed security officials swarmed the hotel, according to organizers and witnesses. Together with the unexplained attendees, they shut down the meeting and detained eight of the participants.