Fear of suppression as govts rein in use of social media with laws, taxes
The use of social media in East Africa is increasingly becoming a restricted and costly affair as governments institute stricter laws to regulate access and use of social networks, amid fears of growing suppression against Internet freedom and freedom of expression.
Two court rulings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, and a parliamentary session in Kampala in a space of three days delivered mixed fortunes for social media users in the three countries: Reprieve for some, and a blow to others.
In Uganda, legislators passed the controversial Excise Duty (Amendment) Bill, which slaps social media users with a mandatory $0.05 daily levy to access Whatsapp, taking the annual cost of using the messaging application in Uganda to nearly $20.
The Whatsapp levy is part of an initially proposed wider daily tax on all social media platforms in order to raise revenue and tame the spread of gossip and hate messages, but opponents say it aims to stifle criticism against the government.
On Tuesday, Tanzania ordered online content providers to begin complying with its new cybercrime regulations which were published in April, moments after it won the first round of case seeking to block the implementation of the laws.
“Following this ruling ... owners of social media platforms that are used to disseminate news such as blogs, online TV and radio are required to continue with the registration process and observe ethics outlined in the relevant regulations,” government spokesman Hassan Abbasi said in a statement.
The Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations 2018 requires online content providers including online radio stations and video websites to provide the authorities with a lengthy list of details including share capital, tax certificates, estimated investments before being accredited.
Anyone found guilty of breaching the law will be fined about $2,500, or imprisoned for “not less than 12 months or both.
In Nairobi, the courts handed out a temporary reprieve to Kenyan bloggers and social media users by suspending the implementation of 26 sections of a new cybercrime law.
The new laws in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda which already have several cyber regulations in place will help step up internet and social media regulation, in the wake of growing incidents of fake news and cyber propaganda, but activists believe there is just more than what meets the eye.
“Freedom of expression is under tremendous attack in the Eastern Africa region under the guise of attacks on cybercrimes,” ,” said Henry Maina, the Eastern Africa Region Director of Article 19, a global rights lobby that defends freedom of expression.
Member of the Kenya Sector Working Group in Naivasha, where they asked President Uhuru Kenyatta not to assent to the Computer and Cybercrimes Bill 2018.