CIPESA Submits Comments on Tanzania’s Proposed Amendment to The Online Content Regulations 2021

By Edrine Wanyama |

The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) has made a submission on the proposed amendments to Tanzania’s controversial Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations, 2020 that regulate online content service providers, internet service providers, application services licensees, and online content users.

On August 24, 2021, the government made a public call for comments on proposals to amend the 2020 Regulations, which entrenched the licencing and taxation of bloggers, online discussion forums, radio and television webcasters, and repressed online speech, privacy and access to information. The move towards amending the Regulations follows a series of concerns expressed in 2017, 2018 and 2020 over the regressive and repressive nature of online content regulation in the country, and its detrimental effect on freedom of expression, access to information, and the right of establishment of media.  

The proposed 2021 regulations largely reflect the previously issued regulations. While they have  some positive elements, they largely fail to address the threats posed to human rights defenders, political dissidents, journalists, academics, civil society organisations and actors.

On a positive note, the proposed regulations reduce licence application fees, as well as annual and renewal fees charged for online media content services and online content aggregators. Thus, online media content service providers will pay application fees of TZS 50,000 (USD 22) down from TZS 100,000 (USD43), initial licence fees of USD 217 from USD 433, annual licence fees of USD 217   from USD 433 and renewal fees of USD 43 from USD217.

The regulations also remove some ambiguous specification of obligations of service providers, such as the proposed deletion of the current regulation  9 (d) which potentially censors a broad variety of content by imposing on service providers the obligation to filter what is considered “prohibited content.” Regulation  9 (d) of the EPOCA Regulations of 2020 requires online content service providers to, “use moderating tools to filter prohibited content.” 

Furthermore, under regulation 3, some level of certainty in the scope of definitions is provided especially for “online media content services” and “online content aggregators”, which are lacking in the current regulations. The proposed regulations also make attempts to define and narrow the scope of categories of licences by removing all fees that were earlier imposed on online content relating to education and religion, and fees chargeable for the provision of Online Content Service Licence Category B (Simulcasting radio and television). 

However, the proposed regulation maintains broad and vague definitions, such as of “hate speech”, which could potentially be misused against individuals, media and private sector players.

Moreover, the licensing requirements under Part II of the EPOCA regulations of 2020, which have not been proposed for amendment, are still prohibitive with very heavy penalties of not less than five million shillings (USD 2,157) or  12 months imprisonment, or both, for operating without a license from the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA). 

Further, the process of applying for a licence under regulation 6 remains tedious, requiring the applicant to furnish TCRA with extensive information including personal information. This comprises certified copies of certificate of incorporation or certificate of registration, tax identification number, tax clearance certificate, national identity cards, and list of owners and management teams, curriculum vitae of staff, editorial policy guidelines and any other documents required by the authority. 

The proposed amendments do not make any attempt to address the wanton restrictions laid down in the Third Schedule to regulation 16 on prohibited content.  This  includes content in paragraph 1 on sexuality and decency, content on personal privacy and respect for human dignity which extends to insults, slander and defamation or exposes news related to a person’s privacy under Paragraph 2(b)

Further, there are restrictions on content  on public security, violence and national security (Paragraph 3), content that is considered to be disrespectful of religion and personal beliefs (paragraph 7), public information that may cause public havoc and disorder (paragraph 8), use of bad languages and disparaging words (paragraph 9) and false, untrue and misleading content (paragraph 10). 

The scope of prohibited content under the Third Schedule is wide and ambiguous, and the provisions facilitate curtailment of freedom of expression and access to information. 

Additionally, the schedule prohibits publication of “content with information with regards to the outbreak of a deadly or contagious disease in the country or elsewhere without the approval of the respective authorities.” The penalty for breach of regulations is a fine of not less than five million Tanzanian shillings (USD 2,174), imprisonment for not less than 12 months, or both. This prohibition undermines freedom of expression and access to health information as it provides room for suspension of content.

Regulation 9(g) maintains  the status quo of the obligations of online content service providers to ensure that prohibited content  is removed immediately upon being ordered by TCRA. This ultimately means the sweeping powers of the authority to determine what content is available for public consumption are still on the statute books. Such powers are also a potential tool for censorship of content and hinder free expression and access to information.

The proposed amendments to the regulations come a few months after the death of Tanzania’s former president, John Magufuli. His reign was characterised by systematic clampdown and curtailment of freedoms including of expression, access to information, assembly and associations. The period before Magufuli’s death was also  characterised  by a lacklustre response to the Covid-19 pandemic.  

The analysis concludes that the proposed amendments provide some ray of hope especially in providing some degree of certainty in definition of key terms and reduction of application and licensing fees. However, the proposals are not sufficient to tackle the deep concerns in the 2020 regulations. 

You can read the full submission here.

New Year, Old Habits: Threats to Freedom of Expression Online in Kenya

By Juliet Nanfuka |
The beginning of 2016 has been marked with a series of arrests and summonses of individuals in Kenya as a result of content shared through social media platforms. Contrary to the constitutional right to freedom of expression, the incidents that relate to up to 10 individuals illustrate the Kenya Government’s continued use of vague legal provisions to stifle online content critical of the state or well-connected business people and high-ranking officials.
On January 22, news broke of an attack by Al-Shabaab militants on the Kenya Defence Forces at the El Adde camp in Somalia. The following day, journalist and blogger Yassin Juma was arrested over updates and pictures  posted on social media relating to the attack. Juma was charged under Section 29 of the Kenya Information and Communications (KIC), 2013 for the improper use of a telecommunication system.
Section 29 of KIC on improper use of system states:
A person who by means of a licensed telecommunication system—

(a) sends a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character; or
(b) sends a message that he knows to be false for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another person, commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding fifty thousand shillings, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or to both.

On January 25, nine bloggers were summoned by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) for questioning over alleged misuse of a licensed telecommunications system. According to DCI investigation officer John Kariuki, the nine bloggers were under investigations following undisclosed complaints made against them. “We have complaints and that is why we are investigating them. No one is targeting them wrongly,” said Kariuki.
In a statement condemning the arrests and intimidation of Kenyans online, the Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) stated that the events were tantamount to “criminalization of civil matters” with users being arrested on charges that ultimately infringe upon freedom of expression. BAKE’s statement lists the arrest and detentions of the following:

  • Anthony Njoroge Mburu (alias Waime Mburu) – arrested and charged for allegedly posting false information under Section 66(1) of the Penal code for content posted on Facebook accusing Kiambu Governor William Kabogo of importing substandard eggs. He is also alleged to have posted content intended to cause harm to Charlotte Wangui, who heads Sea Cross Farm in Kwale.
  • Patrick Safari (alias Modern Corps), a prison warden – arrested for comments on the Al Shabaab attack. He spent a night in jail, and police retained his three phones and laptop after his release.
  • Judith Akolo, a journalist with the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) – summoned for questioning by the DCI for retweeting a post from Patrick Safari (@moderncorps) about a DCI advertisement of jobs within the department which was made public on deadline day (31st December 2015). Her phone was confiscated and her pin code requested. Eddy Reuben Illah – arrested for allegedly sharing images of Kenyan soldiers killed in an Al Shabaab attack on a WhatsApp group called “Youth People’s Union”. He was charged for the “misuse of a licenses telecommunication device”.
  • Cyprian Nyakundi – arrested after tweeting about a construction company that was linked to Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho, in alleged violation of Section 29 of KIC Act on the “misuse of a licensed telecommunication device”.
  • Elijah Kinyanjui – arrested for sharing a photo of a governor’s daughter on Whatsapp. He was also charged under Section 29 of KIC Act.

These arrests and summons add to a history of arrests made under laws marked by vague definitions and excessive powers granted to the state. The KIC (Amendment) Act, 2013 does not clearly define what constitutes content that causes “annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to others,” while the Penal Code has no clear definition of a “rumour” or “report which is likely to cause fear and alarm to the public or to disturb the public peace.”
Further, the Security Laws (Amendment) Act, 2014 allows blanket admissibility in court of electronic messages and digital material regardless of whether it is not in its original form. Meanwhile, the Media Council Act, 2013 contains “broad” speech offences further reinforced by the Cybercrime and Computer related Crimes Bill, 2014.
Kenya’s technology sector is one of the fastest growing in Africa. The high internet penetration rate of 74% has bred a wave of citizen journalism which has flourished in the absence of the checks and balances present in traditional media and  seeks to place social justice and accountability through ICT at the forefront of the country’s governance.
While these  incidents in Kenya are the result of hate speech and rising terrorism fears, they are no doubt placing a chill on freedom of expression for citizens and the media and contributing to self-censorship for the fear of arrest.

Dialogue on Internet Rights and Freedom in Kenya

By Marilyn Vernon |
In Kenya, whereas the use of the internet had expanded into all areas of day to day living, the threat of government surveillance and interference has impacted upon user confidence in the security of their online interactions. This comes after several local bloggers and social media users have been arrested and in some cases charged with misuse of licensed telecommunications equipment.
“The Kenya Government continues to use national security as a bigger right that trumps constitutional rights,” said Henry Maina, Regional Director of Article 19 East Africa. He said arrests and intimidation of government critics for expressing their opinions online “had become the norm” under the guise of national security.
Maina was speaking at an event aimed at promoting awareness on internet freedoms in Kenya. Organised by the Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) under its Internet Freedoms Citizen Education Campaign, the event also aimed to help participants develop a deeper understanding of human rights online based on the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms. The declaration outlines 13 principles of human rights standards in internet policy formulation and implementation in Africa. These include openness, internet access and affordability, freedom of expression, right to information, and freedom of association and assembly.
The other principles are cultural and linguistic diversity, right to development and access to knowledge, privacy and personal data protection, security, stability and resilience of the internet, equality (gender and marginalized groups), right to due process, and democratic multi-stakeholder internet governance.
Kenya has one of the fastest growing rates of internet users in Sub-Saharan Africa, with the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) reporting an internet penetration rate of 54.8%. Coupled with the installation of fibre optic networks, the country also boasts the highest bandwidth with the fastest speed within the East African Community.
Social media remains a key contentious area on internet freedom in Kenya, where content posted has resulted in prosecution on unclear grounds. In December 2014, blogger Robert Alai was arrested and charged with undermining the authority of a public officer contrary to Section 132 of the Penal Code, by allegedly calling President Kenyatta an “adolescent president” in a blog. He was again arrested in February 2015 for offending a businessman online by linking him to a land saga that involved the illegal acquisition of the Langata Primary School playground.
Journalist Abraham Mutai was arrested following tweets he posted on corruption in the Isiolo County Government and was charged with the “misuse of a licensed communication platform to cause anxiety.”Another case in January 2015, involved a Kenyan student, Alan Wadi who was prosecuted and jailed for one year for insulting President Uhuru Kenyatta on social media.
More recently, the eruption of a Twitter storm dubbed #uhuruinkenya which mocked government spending on foreign trips had led to the alleged take down of a website created under the same hashtag. However, the Kenya Network Information Centre (Kenic), Kenya’s domain registry operator, denied taking down the site. The website which, is set to display a “YES” or “NO” when the president is in or out of the country respectively, has since been restored and is accessible within the country.
Also speaking at the event, Nanjira Sambuli, iHub Research Manager, stated that such incidents demonstrated that user vulnerability “is a very real threat” and reiterated the need to help users understand and make sense of digital safety and security, particularly the Terms of Service for social media platforms.
The issue of hate speech across ethnic and religious lines was also discussed, during which participants highlighted the need for user ethics and responsibility such as questioning and verifying sources before sharing information. “Security starts with you as the user,” noted Sambuli.
Kenya is party to a number of international human rights instruments and is a member of the Freedom Online Coalition – an intergovernmental coalition committed to advancing freedom of expression, association, assembly, and privacy online – worldwide. In 2012, Kenya hosted the Annual Freedom Online Coalition meeting in Nairobi. The previous year, it had hosted the global Internet Governance Forum (IGF) under the theme Internet as a catalyst for change: access, development, freedoms and innovation. However, these positive steps in the country’s recognition of internet freedom are subject to legislative and institutional hurdles, thereby making it difficult for citizens to freely enjoy their rights online.
The online conversation around the event was conducted with the hashtag #iFreeKE.
For further reference on what internet freedom means to Kenyan users see the Kenya Internet Freedoms campaign video.

Tough New Election Reporting Rules for Tanzania’s Bloggers

By Wairagala Wakabi |
Tanzania has introduced tough guidelines for broadcasters and online content providers including bloggers, as the country heads to the October 2015 elections at which observers say the ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), faces its strongest challenge ever.
Titled ‘The Broadcasting Services (Content) (The Political Party Elections Broadcasts) Code 2015’, the rules were gazetted on June 26, 2015 and affect bloggers, SMS pollsters, and broadcasters in general. Although media owners were provided with copies of the new rules, they claim to have not received an explanation from government on how to use them.
The new rules, poor access to information, and other election-related threats to media freedom, were among the issues in focus at a training organised by CIPESA and the Media Institute of Southern Africa Tanzania (Misa-Tan) in Mwanza, Tanzania. The training conducted on August 10-11, drew 17 journalists from the Geita, Mara, and Mwanza regions and centred on effective media coverage during this year’s elections.
Section 10 of the 2015 code deals with “online content providers”, defined as “any person or entity who develops files of content for the online users or on behalf of others to be made accessible online.” It places burdensome requirements on online content providers “residing within or outside Tanzania territory” who create “content intended for Tanzania mainland using Swahili or any other languages which have large audiences.”
These requirements include registration with the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA); compliance with Tanzania’s laws and regulations governing the operations of electronic media; and ensuring that information provided in blogs is accurate, fair, factual, and balanced to all parties and independent candidates in the elections.
Furthermore, the rules require online content providers to make efforts to edit interactive discussions likely to hurt the feeling of any person, as well as offensive or blasphemous language that may provoke violence, sedition, or breach of peace. They are also required to “take necessary measures to screen information and reports before posting”, and to provide political parties and private candidates equal opportunities to reply where a report contains inaccurate or unfair criticism based on distorted facts.
Online publishers also have to “take care to ensure the accuracy on publishing election results or public opinion polls” and to adhere to the bloggers’ code of conduct.
However, according to Maxence Mello, publisher of the vibrant online platform Jamii Forums and a promoter of the nascent national bloggers’ association, there is no bloggers’ code in Tanzania. The blogging community is afraid the government could gazette such a code without consulting them, and use it to rein in critical bloggers.
The rules place stringent gate-keeping responsibilities on citizen journalists, including screening information before publishing and providing the right of reply. “How many blogs have accurate information?” ponders Maxence. “It is not easy for blogs to be balanced.”  The new regulations would require blogs to invest in cross-checking information, getting additional sources, and to generally not publish until they have adhered to journalistic principles ordinarily applicable to mainstream media.
Lengo ni chukua control,” says Maxence in Swahili, describing the new rules as aimed at establishing state control on what bloggers and social media users publish and discuss online.
The election rules have also been criticised for requiring the media to carry political parties’ material in brief and free of commentary. “If a journalist reports only the way politicians have stated an issue, will that help citizens make an informed decision?” asked James Marenga, a lawyer with the Dar es Salaam-based National Organisation for Legal Assistance, and one of the trainers at the Mwanza workshop.
Tanzania goes to the polls this October, with CCM – the longest-ruling party in Africa – facing a stronger opposition headed by erstwhile Prime Minister Dr. Edward Ngoyai Lowassa. Dr. Lowassa defected from the ruling party after failing to clinch its flag-bearer position that was taken by works minister Dr. Pombe Magufuli.
Tanzania’s press freedom record has been on a slide, with arrests of journalists and banning of newspapers reported. The country still has laws dating back to the colonial era – such as the Newspaper Act of 1976 – which it has used to control online publishing. With a 69% telephone penetration rate and 11.3 million internet users, more Tanzanians have taken to the online sphere to express themselves.
Besides the elections reporting code, the country has this year introduced numerous laws that hamper media freedom and the right to freedom of expression. These include a cybercrimes and a statistics law that have been passed, as well as a media services bill and a right to information bill that are pending.
The new elections reporting code thus represents a continuation of the President Jakaya Kikwete Government’s law-making that shrinks civic space and restricts the role of independent media in advancing greater transparency and access to information during a crucial election.
Section 14 of the rules cautions that results from SMS opinion polls shall not be treated as representative scientific results. Should a broadcaster wish to use results from SMS opinion polls, they have to indicate the number of respondents and to provide select representative responses.
Where the SMS poll has less than 1,000 respondents, broadcasters shall inform the audience that it is not scientific and the conclusions are not valid and reliable. The rules bar the publishing of poll findings within 30 days before polling day.
The rules also require content service providers (“licensed persons who provide broadcasting content services under and in accordance with the provisions of laws and licence conditions” issued by TRCA) to ensure “proper use of SMS sent by the public to ensure accuracy, integrity, objectivity and balance.”
Tanzania’s constitution guarantees freedom of expression and right to information. These rights need to be strongly respected if the country in order to have a free and fair election and for democratic governance to flourish. To promote a vibrant media role in reporting the elections, CIPESA is working with Tanzanian partners to train reporters, bloggers, and editors. The next training is scheduled for Dar es Salaam in the last week of August.