26 September 2017

Tanzania: New Communication Law Must Protect Free Speech

Photo: Daily News
TCRA director general James Kilaba
opinion

If the draft Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations, 2017, is to pass as it is, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TRCA) is bound to have unfettered powers to police the web.

These powers will include the ability to deregister any service provider and punishing those convicted of breaking the proposed rules by slapping them with a hefty fine of Sh5 million or a jail term of a minimum 12 months. Authorities defend the measures, arguing that the unchecked use of the cyberspace might lead to moral decadence, and endangers national security and cohesion.

But rights activists won't buy that reasoning. They say the government's intentions are to curtail people's right to free speech.

What this whole scenario shows is that the right balance must be sought. The law must be enforced and at the same time people's right to free speech must be protected.

We are aware of the fact that the Internet could be abused by rogue elements in the society. In fact, many Tanzanians have already fallen victims to cyber bullying, for example. Children have also been exposed to pornography, which is dangerous to their upbringing. And so, some kind of regulation is necessary.

People must understand that there are consequences for their posts on social media, which go against the norms. However, we must note that the regulation comes amidst an increase in the arrests of opposition and human rights activists for comments they post on social media. The regulation also comes against the backdrop of enactment of draconian media laws that reduce the free space that media houses operate in. It is for this reason that we are calling on authorities to tread carefully with the social media, and let it continue to be the platform where Tanzanians can debate freely.

Social media is a positive thing that if used properly can increase help spead up development in our country. The best approach should, therefore, be providing citizens with education so that they act responsibly.

The law should seek to create a culture where citizens practice responsible freedom rather than live in a state of fear and hypocrisy.

Kudos for Tanzanite EPZ

The government has started constructing the Mirerani Economic Processing Zone, which will include a processing facility and a market for the gemstones. Sh400 million has already been set aside for the construction of infrastructure on a 530-hectare piece of land. The construction of EPZ comes days after President John Magufuli ordered a fence to be built to surround the mines in Simanjiro District, Manyara Region.

The aim of the wall and the EPZ is to ensure the government gets its fare share of taxes and royalties. Reports have indicated that other countries have been gaining more foreign exchange exporting Tanzanite than Tanzania. This is because they have been processing the raw gemstones and exporting. The government's move to start the EPZ in Mirerani is commendable.

Everything must be done, within the confines of the law, to ensure that Tanzania benefits from its resources. This is also why the idea of constructing the wall to surround the gemstones mines is a good idea as far as curbing smuggling is concerned. We, however, caution that protecting our natural resources should not be used as an excuse to harass investors, both local and foreign. Our law enforcement officers, tasked with overseeing the operations in mines should treat investors professionally.

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