Want To Blog In Tanzania, Or Read Social Media In Uganda? Pay The Government, Please

from the consequences-of-lugambo dept

Although blogging may have lost its early excitement for many, in some countries it still represents a vital channel for news that may not be available elsewhere. For example, as Global Voices explains:

Blogging emerged in Tanzania around 2007 and became popular as an alternative news platform with educated, middle class people, as well as politicians and political parties. In Tanzania, where media historically holds strong ties to government interests, blogging opened up possibilities for individuals to establish private news outlets that proved immensely powerful in terms of reach and readership.

The current Tanzanian government is not very happy about this uncontrolled flow of information to the people. But instead of anything so crude as shutting down blogs directly, it has come up with a more subtle, but no less effective, approach:

On March 16, 2018, the United Republic of Tanzania issued the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations demanding that bloggers must register and pay over USD $900 per year to publish online.

To put that in context, Tanzania’s GDP per capita was under $900 in 2016, so the new fees are completely out of reach for the majority of people in the country. As Quartz notes, in addition, the registration process is onerous, and the fines for infringement serious:

applicants are expected to fill a form detailing the estimated cost of investment, the number of directors and stakeholders in the platform, their share of capital, staff qualifications, expected dates of commencing operations, besides future growth plans.

But even after providing this documentation, authorities still reserve the right to revoke a permit if a site publishes content that “causes annoyance, threatens harm or evil, encourages or incites crimes” or jeopardizes “national security or public health and safety.” Officials could also force managers to remove “prohibited content” within 12 hours or face fines not less than five million shillings ($2,210) or a year in prison.

The situation is slightly easier in Tanzania’s northern neighbor, Uganda. Under a new order there (pdf), “All online data communication service providers, including online publishers, online news platforms, online radio and television operators” are required to register with the Uganda Communications Commission. However, there’s no mention of fees, or punishments for non-compliance. But if life for Ugandan bloggers seems to be easier than for those in Tanzania, a new daily tax on social media is designed to discourage ordinary users from engaging in what Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni calls “lugambo”, or gossip, online. A report in the local Daily Monitor newspaper quotes the President as saying:

“I am not going to propose a tax on internet use for educational, research or reference purposes… these must remain free. However, olugambo on social media (opinions, prejudices, insults, friendly chats) and advertisements by Google and I do not know who else must pay tax because we need resources to cope with the consequences of their lugambo”

The amount of the daily tax is not clear — a BBC report on the move says it might be either 100 or 200 Ugandan shillings ($0.013 or $0.027) a day — and there are no details yet on how the new law will be enforced and the taxes collected for services deemed to involve “gossip”. But as another Global Voices post notes, this social media tax is just the latest clampdown on the online world in Uganda. It quotes a January 2018 report from Unwanted Witness, a Ugandan NGO, which said:

2017 registered the highest number of Ugandans ever arrested for their online expression and these arrests are clearly targeted crackdown on free flow of information and speech on the Internet.

Different as they are, what the moves in Tanzania and Uganda both show is African governments coming up with new ways to muzzle online commentators that seek to tell people what the official media don’t.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+.

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Comments on “Want To Blog In Tanzania, Or Read Social Media In Uganda? Pay The Government, Please”

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Daydream says:

Serious question: Why?

So, the current Ugandan government wants to raise a $9 USD/annum tax on social media users, so they can pay for positive propaganda, fund a task force to find and peacefully defuse anti-Ugandan sentiment, and support the poor.

*straight face*

But what’s the current Tanzanian government’s excuse? A licensing price that high and prohibitions on ‘causing annoyance’, means that friendly hobbyist bloggers won’t care enough about blogging to pay, serious bloggers out to make a difference will be deterred by the right-to-revoke-a-permit, all they’ve effectively done is make all blogs in Tanzania pirate blogs.

…Ah, I know. It’s to deter minor political parties; parties or even independent runners without a website to their name will struggle to reach their voters, but the ruling party can decide that any political site is a ‘blog’ and that their policy offerings ‘endanger public safety’, as an excuse to censor rivals.
Even if they aren’t censored, the high price tag will drain away money and make it that much harder for parties to campaign.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Serious question: Why?

It sounds like Tanzania and Uganda are not entirely interested in keeping collateral damage low, so long as people are blocked from talking.

I suspect it just means the Tanzanian and Ugandan internets are just going sink into the darknet, and those who set up pirate blogs are going to be even more critical of the current regimes.

Anonymous Coward says:

One can use VPN to hide their activities.

And this shows why, when you travel, you need to have a VPN set up on your home computer you can use, as it can come in handy for a lot of things.

Using a VPN can save a lot money. Just like a few years ago in San Diego, when I used the VPN on my home computer to avoid higher per-day hotel charges, for using the Wifi, if I wanted to stream YouTube or Netflix. I was able to do it paying $10 a day, instead of $25, by connecting to the VPN on my home computer, and then connecting to Netflix and YouTube that way.

I was not breaking either the CFAA or California computer crime laws by accessing my home computer, and then logging on to Netflix that way, and avoiding paying $15 more per day to be able to stream Netflix, YouTube, or other streaming services.

Max says:

I’m a bit confused here – if a Tanzanian were to have an “unlicensed” account on a blogging site in Waikiki, and other Tanzanians would happen to read it, how would the powers that be ever prevent it? Fine any Tanzanian who opens a https connection to that site? Really…? How would they know which one of them is doing the posting? It’s not exactly like posting a hour-long 4k video to Youtube where the data flow direction is rather obvious… What if the poster used a proxy? Or a VPN? Or an email-to-post gateway box somewhere…? Okay, actually I’m totally confused…

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