Tanzania enjoys a vibrant blogging community with bloggers reporting and sharing their views on the various aspect of the society ranging from music and entertainment, sports, travel, lifestyle, economic affairs and even politics.
President John Magufuli began his term with a promise to deal with the corruption in public service. Indeed he made some very unprecedented moves during his initial months in office and quickly became popular for his brush and hands-on approach to dealing rot in Tanzania’s public service.
However, critics argue he has since gone overboard and become too authoritarian with zero patience with criticism and dissidents. President Magufuli has been accused of clamping down on freedom of expression and stifling the opposition.
In his tenure in office, a number of critical media outlets have been shut down and members of the opposition arrested and/or jailed. There is currently an air of no-tolerance of any ‘insults’ directed at the presidency.
The latest move by the Magufuli-led government to stifle dissident in Tanzania comes in the form of a new licensing fee for bloggers in the country. To blog in Tanzania, bloggers will first have to part with $900 as licensing fee; followed by $400 renewal fee after every three years after that.
“The simple creation of a platform represents several month’s salary for a blogger,” lamented Arnaud Froger from the Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a press freedom watchdog.
“Tanzanian authorities want to get rid of the blogosphere, and they couldn’t have chosen a better way to do it. The climate of fear and self-censorship that has already affected traditional media is now reaching online media, where many journalists found refuge.”
With the new law in place, a blogger in Tanzania could find themselves facing a fine of up to $2,200 for publishing content that is deemed “indecent, obscene (or) hate speech.” They could very easily find themselves in the same trouble for simply ‘annoying’ someone in government.
The new regulation broadly defines a blog as “a website containing a writer’s or group of writer’s own; experiences, observations, opinions including current news, events, journals, advertisements, and images, video clips, and links to other websites.”
The latest legislation controlling the blogosphere comes after another similarly draconian law introduced back in 2016 requiring journalists to register as journalists. Critics argue these have all been moves by the Magufuli government to curtail freedom of speech space in the country.
For most bloggers in Tanzania, the new legislation simply mean they will have to shut down services or pull in strings and favors from all sides to raise the $900 required for licensing.
“Most bloggers will not be able to find this money. But the problem is bigger than the financial aspect,” lamented Maxence Melo, founder of the Jamii Media blog, which has previously clashed with the authorities over their refusal to reveal the identity of a critical contributor to their site.
“The government’s objective is to get rid of sites which are already considered critical. Because paying a fee doesn’t mean you will have a license, the relevant government department can still refuse this permit.”