Tanzania bloggers community has been thriving since 2007. Independent writers, journalists, and reviewers are curating content for all possible sources of independent media. In a country, where media has close ties with the government, social media and blogging has opened ways for people to express their opinions publicly.
However, now with the economy benefitting from the well-tapped opportunity of blogging, the Government has approved a tax on the Tanzania Bloggers for publishing content online. The rule covers all blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels, etc. Tanzania Bloggers now have to pay up to $900 to have a personal blog in the country.
The online content providers also have to share the details of shareholders, share capital, owners’ citizenship, staff qualification and training programs, and fabricate the tax clearance certificate.
Not only this, but the government also has the right to revoke a permit if the site publishes content which may be considered to hate speech or violence. To keep a check on the compliance of the same, all Tanzanians with mobile devices are to have a password (PIN) for locking their phones, with defaulters being fined up to 5 million Tanzanian Shillings or 12 months imprisonment.
There are two ways to look at the situation. Either the government is extremely poor or the government is ruling the country in a poor manner because this law not just puts a huge financial burden on the bloggers and other content creators, it also puts the entire democracy at risk with such a tight restriction on free speech.
According to Tanzania Bloggers Network Secretary, many bloggers cannot afford such a high fee and I am certain that the government knows this. Then why is such a rule being imposed in the first place?
What I see is a politically unstable government which is heavily relying on these rules and regulations to ease the political tension which has risen over the past 2-3 years. This particular rule will give the government the unfettered powers to police the web and nothing more. A country with per capita income being equal to $900, this is the most ridiculous decision taken on such a short notice period. The govt is using this money to bail themselves out of the bad financial situation they are stuck in.
Critics and the online community of bloggers worldwide has accused Magufuli’s government of hindering the right to freedom of speech with this new regulation. This will not just restrict the Tanzania Bloggers community to post something which may be against the government but it would also kill off Tanzania’s blogosphere.
With the number of internet users being increased from 16% to 44% within a year, this rule is a slap on the face of democracy.
Even if the Tanzania Bloggers community had to be taxed, the system/government should have come up with something which was more of a long-term step and so not something so abrupt. For now, the community should stand against the decision and the government should surely change its stance.