Tanzania Should Support Its Netizens

By Lillian Nalwoga
Tanzanian citizens are increasingly using social media networks to share information and, to a lesser extent, demand more transparency in the con­duct of public affairs. But there are concerns about the apparent intolerance by Tanzanian authorities of online activity deemed critical of the government.
For over 40 years, Tanzania under the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party has enjoyed political sta­bility and national unity more than most of the coun­try’s neighbours. However, the October 2010 election won by incumbent president Jakaya Kikwete saw CCM’s popularity slide from 80.2% of the vote in December 2005 to 61.2%.
This decline seems to have brought with it a worrying intolerance for critical media, both online and offline. Journalists have been intimidated and harassed by state officials for questioning the government’s democratic credentials. Some political and social demonstrations have been repressed. To fight this new authoritarianism, several Tanzanians, including politicians, have resorted to social media to express their views.
The country has laws that seem to improve citi­zens’ rights to information and the freedom of expression, parts of the legislation are restrictive. Article 18 of the Tanzanian Constitution for instance guarantees the right to freedom of expression, and to seek, receive and impart information. These constitutional guarantees are insuffi­ciently implemented in the Tanzanian domestic legislation. Besides, the government has been implicated in attempts to block websites and weblogs whose content it perceives as a threat.
Despite the above scenario, Tanza­nian web forums such as Jamiiforums serve as citizens’ channels to comment on key issues such as cor­ruption. The website editors have been interro­gated on numerous occasions over issues that government has considered sensitive informa­tion. Unconfirmed reports have also surfaced that the Tanzanian government is attempting to clone these forums to portray information that befits it.
Social media has also played a part in sharing vital information about sensitive topics in Tanzania. Such a case was the Gongo la Mbo­to blasts that killed over 20 people and injured at least 184 people in the Dar es Salaam army base in February 2011.
Although army officials declined to discuss the cause of the blasts, netizens cap­tured events of the blasts by uploading and sharing photos of victims. Tanzanian twitters using #BombsInDar shared information about the possible causes of the blast while calling on government to investigate their cause. The netizens demanded the resignation of the Min­ister of Defence, a call supported by the coun­try’s opposition.
This rise in use of social media can perhaps be attributed to the growth in internet penetration from 5% in 2005 to 11% in June 2010 (Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority statistics). In addition, there are 21 million mobile phone subscribers.
The Tanzania government needs to make information more accessible to the pub­lic for transparency and accountability, as well as to invest in infrastructure, literacy, policy and regulatory frameworks to boost internet usage in empowering citizens.

Uganda moves to block social networks

By Michael Malakata – IDG News Service
In the face of uprisings meant to force regime change in various African countries, the Ugandan government is moving to shut down social media networks, including Facebook and Twitter.
The closure of social media networks in Uganda comes only a month after the Cameroonian government banned social media. In Swaziland, social media networks were also banned early this month in a bid by the government to quell demonstrations over political reforms and the rising cost of living.

OECD Estimates Economic Impact of Shutting Down Internet And Mobile Phone Services in Egypt

The current shutdown of internet and communications services in Egypt will have a pronounced economic impact. It is estimated to have incurred direct costs of at minimum USD 90 million in lost revenues due to blocked telecommunications and internet services. However, this amount does not include the secondary economic impacts which resulted from a loss of business in other sectors affected by the shutdown of communication services, such as e-commerce, tourism and call centres. Read more: