Namibia: MPs Divided On Social Media Gagging

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Information minister Stanley Simataa says the government cannot enact a law that would effectively teach people good moral values, or how to behave on social media.

Simataa made these remarks in the National Assembly last week while contributing to a debate on a motion that seeks to regulate social media, tabled by Swapo chief whip Evelyne !Nawases-Taeyele.

Her motion wants MPs to discuss whether the Namibian nation was indeed 'One Namibia - One Nation'.

In her motivation recently, !Nawases-Taeyele said simple traits of life such as decency, patriotism and morality were under threat in Namibia.

She said although social media has proven to be beneficial to society, some people use the platforms to "badmouth, slander, offend and insult others".

!Nawases-Taeyele also claimed that young people in Namibia were using social media to fuel propaganda, and insult national leaders.

The Swapo chief whip, therefore, wanted the National Assembly to adopt her motion, and enact a law to regulate social media.

Although Simataa supported the idea to enact laws to regulate social media, he said the government cannot effectively teach people how to behave on online platforms.

Despite acknowledging that the accelerated degeneration in moral values was a danger to nation-building and social cohesion, Simataa said social media was "not necessarily the problem".

He said social cohesion was under threat rather from issues such as the widening inequality in the country and the emergence of ethnic cleavages, "compounded by the heightened erosion of moral values".

"What is nauseating though at the moment is the existing carte blanche and condonation by society of the social media vitriol against elders and parents alike. This trend, unless nipped in the bud, threatens to devour and ensnare the very soul of our nation," he stated.

The minister added that if laws to regulate social media were to be introduced, they should only focus on isolating and prescribing "appropriate consequences for those who transgress", but not to infringe on the rights of decent social media users.

"The lingering question is, can we effectively legislate for good moral values? Certainly not, for moral values are birthed and shaped in our homes. The problem lies in the abuse thereof in the same manner some of us abuse alcohol and end up committing despicable crimes. [...] However, there is no need for heavy-handedness that will invariably curtail the rights and privileges of decent social media users," he said.

Mines and energy minister Tom Alweendo also agreed that social media might not necessarily be the problem or the cause of the degeneration in moral behaviour.

Although he did not support the misuse of social media by members of the public, he said the government would struggle to convince young people "that slandering the elders on social media is not an effective way to address what is wrong in society".

"The idea about the possibility of regulating social media is certainly worth looking into. However, I do not believe that regulating social media is an effective solution, except in cases of hate speech, or where violence is being promoted," Alweendo said, adding that young people resort to calling out politicians on social media because they feel alienated, and that such alienation makes them "feel that we don't have their best interest at heart".

Home affairs minister Frans Kapofi also slammed the misuse of social media to badmouth others, and the promotion of tribalism by those criticising politicians.

He said despite the current socio-economic challenges in the country, young people should not use social media to cause destruction in society.

"We know it is an election year. We know that we are experiencing a severe drought. We know that we are in an economic recession. Perhaps this is the lowest point for morale since independence. We must guard against this destructive vice, and continue to build and unite Namibia. We will not allow Namibia to be dismembered by tribalism," he added.

Justice minister Sacky Shanghala said the logan 'One Namibia One Nation' should not be looked at as a mere tool for the politician, but as a call to unity.

By criticising the use of social media, he said it does not mean public figures should shy away from "criticism, or the harsh realities many of our citizens find themselves subjected to".

"Accountability remains a cornerstone of good governance in fostering the trust required to achieve effective social cohesion for the benefit of all Namibians. We need to ensure that as a collective, each and every citizen contributes positively to social cohesion, including and perhaps particularly those in positions of power and influence, rather than fostering social erosion," Shanghala noted.

The idea to regulate social media was, however, not welcomed by some local media experts and advocates of free speech.

Access to Information in Namibia chairperson Frederico Links said the attempt to regulate social media by Swapo MPs shows that the ruling party has a problem with the youth speaking out against corruption.

"Just because you find something someone said distasteful does not mean those statements are immoral," he reasoned.

Links added that much of the ethical tone in Namibia is set by the ruling party and the government.

He said if the government cared to listen, they would understand that the people see through their "fake moral indignations."

"These politicians are not really concerned about immorality or social erosion. They have a problem with others, especially young people, calling them out on their hypocrisy on the important issues that actually undermine social trust," Links continued.

Namibia Media Trust chairperson Gwen Lister said social media cannot be held responsible for Namibia's 'lack of morality' and/or social cohesion.

"The problems require far deeper solutions than simply trying to silence these voices," she added.

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