On Monday many Tanzanian blogging sites were shut down following the government’s enforcement of harsh new online content regulations. According to a report by Reuters, several websites, including online discussion platform Jamii Forums, have chosen to shut down temporarily in response to the directive.
The directive emanates from a law which was passed last year that sought to deter the publication of content deemed to be ‘indecent, obscene, hate speech, extreme violence’ etc.
The regulation which was provisionally enforced in April this year by Tanzania’s Information Minister Harisson Mwakyembe set high registration fees that require bloggers and forum hosts to pay an initial fee of $484 and an annual fee of $440.
The rules also allow the government to strip online users of anonymity, requiring websites to have in place mechanisms to identify those who interact on the forums and require that cyber (internet) cafes keep user logs for up to 12 months. Additionally, the regulations allow the government to force websites to take down prohibited content, broadly defined to include material that causes annoyance.
The regulations appear to be less about taxation but rather a convenient tool and a part of a wider process to limit freedom of speech and freedom of press.
Failure to comply with these regulations can carry a prison term of up to 12 months and fines of up to five million US$2,200. Most bloggers in Tanzania are individuals without registered companies, making it difficult for them to meet the new regulations.
Bloggers are furthermore required to reveal details of their shareholders, citizenship of owners and share capital.
Digital activists and human rights watchdogs quest to block the implementation of the regulations fell through two weeks ago after they lost a court case challenging the government on what they termed as a crackdown on free speech.
Blogging seems to be a new frontier for young Africans seeking new platforms to connect, discuss, share and analyze. With the rise of mobile phones, African youths are online more than ever. Yet restrictions on freedom of expression pose a real challenge to social media users in Tanzania and Africa. While many constitutions in Africa profess to allow freedom of speech, they seem not guarantee freedom of press.