More than 900 dollars, that is the price that the Tanzanian government, led by John Magufuli, expects a citizen interested in running his own blog to pay in order to stay legal in the country. This is what is determined a set of laws that came into force in 2018, called "Electronic and Postal Communications Regulations".
Although they are in the spotlight, blog operators are not the only ones affected. Online platforms that distribute multimedia content and virtual discussion spaces will also be required to adhere to a series of resolutions that seek to give the government control over several different layers of any content that is in any way intended for the Tanzanian public.
With these regulations, the government gives itself the right to "keep register of bloggers, online forums, online radio and online television" and to "take action against non-compliance to these Regulations, including to order removal of prohibited content." It is expected from the person or entity intending to produce content that they submit detailed information, from their curriculum vitae, to the nature of the content that is intended to be posted, and even delimiting their working hours.
For social network users, the expectation is that they are ready to respond in relation to any content posted using their accounts. An interesting detail is the explicit determination of the law that devices that are connected to social network accounts should be password protected by their owners. It may be assumed that this has the function of preventing an accused party from using as a defense the idea that a post was made under their account by another person without their consent.
Taking a ride on a global trend of trying to make the Internet more politically correct, the law prohibits "hate speech". This includes "violence, whether physical, verbal or psychological; hat can upset, alarm and offend viewers and cause undue fear among the audience or encourage imitation". Even following these impositions, any posting that does not conform to "ethics and professionalism" or "sensitivities of the general public" has to be removed within 12 hours from the network.
This should serve us as a warning about how governments can transform concerns that may sometimes be legitimate and distort them in a convenient manner, in this case using a supposed concern about offending their citizens to effectively create a system where everything is potentially dangerous to be spoken directly.
This set of laws also establishes the complete restriction of independent journalism by prohibiting the disclosure of "disturbances in a specific part of the country", "circulating information and statements with regards to possible terrorist attacks" or "with regards to the outbreak of a deadly or contagious diseases". In other words, any news with content that is more sensitive can only be issued by the government.
In order to analyze the reasons that are leading the government to establish such a strong law, one only has to look at the growth of the Internet penetration rate in the country, which certainly frightens rulers due to their speed. Data from the local regulatory authority estimates that in 2010 access was at 10%, while in 2017 it was already at 40%. This is due to the ease of access by mobile devices such as mobile phones, which has been a worldwide leverage for the geometric increase of access for the average citizen.
Looking at this scenario, it is important, as always, to remember the importance of upholding the right to free access to communication and the right to freedom of expression, even if sometimes this does not seem convenient for the purposes of one group or another. Much more frightening than being exposed to content that does not please us is the possibility of not having access to anything that the government does not want us to know.