By Eunice Wanjiru
The regulation known as the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations 2017, initially published by the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), was signed in mid-March 2018. Before and after the signing many voices have been raised in protest.
Under the new regulations, bloggers, as well as Tanzanians operating online radio and television streaming services, are required to apply for a license and pay an annual fee of over $900 (€750) before they can publish any material online. Online forums and social media users are also affected.
Critics say that this is a staggering amount. They regard the fee as a further bid by President John Magufuli to gag dissident voices.
The new regulation gives the government the right to revoke a permit if a site publishes content that "causes annoyance" or "leads to public disorder." A blogger can also be fined up to $2,200 for publishing such content.
This week two musicians were briefly detained, one of them one of the country's most popular singers, Nassib Abdul, better known as Diamond Platnumz. He and 26-year old Faustina Charles, popularly known as Nandy, was arrested after they posted video clips deemed obscene by the authorities. Abdul had shared a video clip that showed him kissing a girl while Faustina Charles had posted a clip of herself with another musician that was considered indecent. Both were released on bail.
"We can say that the freedom of expression in this country is progressively being shut down, constricted and seriously limited,” said Tanzanian political analyst Jenerali Ulimwengu. There is a lot of uncertainty in Tanzania at the moment about what the government may be planning to do next to further reduce press freedom and freedom of expression.
Some media organizations have in the past been shut down for lengthy periods of time. In 2017 alone, at least four newspapers were suspended and shut down. The Swahili daily Tanzania Daima was suspended for 90 days after being accused of spreading "false information" in a story about anti-retroviral drug use for people with HIV. A local newspaper, Nipashe, decided to suspend weekend publication for three months after publishing material that apparently did not go down well with President Magufuli.
Some journalists have been arrested and others have been reported missing. The editor of a popular discussion platform, Jamii Forums, was detained and tried for publishing content related to corruption in Tanzania.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the latest blow to free speech in Tanzania. "If Tanzanian authorities were aiming at killing online information, they would not go about it any differently," said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF's Africa desk.
"At RSF, we are deeply concerned by the path Tanzania has taken since President Magufuli took office in 2015. Many radios have been shut down, investigative journalist Azori Gwanda has been missing for five months and forum editors as well as journalists are regularly subject to criminal proceedings. So, this new regulation is a step further in a context of significant deterioration of press freedom in Tanzania," Froger said.
Alternative modes of expression
Fifty-eight-year-old President Magufuli took power in October 2015 and has slowly been tightening the laws that govern press freedom in the country, enabling police and government officials to increase their actions against media houses.
"I would like to tell media owners: Be careful... If you think you have that kind of freedom, [it is] not to that extent," Magufuli said at a public event in March. This comment followed one made in January this year when the president said that the days of newspapers acting unethically were "numbered."
"If you allow traditional media to thrive, be it newspapers, radio or television stations, you allow people to speak out openly and to air their views. You can respond to those views, you can challenge their arguments with counter arguments, but you do not just shut down spaces and hope people will just shut up," said Ulimwengu.
The Tanzanian political analyst said people always seek alternative ways to express themselves, and these could be more damaging.
"The more the authorities clamp down on legitimate voices which seek to express themselves and air their grievances, this will necessarily lead more and more people into clandestine, underground and less transparent modes of expression," Ulimwengu told DW.
Less support for Magufuli
Magufuli, nicknamed 'the Bulldozer' for his strict leadership style, has dismissed dozens of senior public officials over allegations of corruption and inefficiency since he was elected in late 2015. First welcomed, his authoritarian style is attracting increasing criticism.
"Everybody was pretty much behind Magufuli when he took these measures," Ulimwengu said. "But I have a feeling that fewer people are inclined to support him because he has now tainted that anti-corruption, anti-tax evasion stance with the clamping down on freedom of expression. And people are asking themselves, if you're really doing something good for the people, why do you want to hide it?" he added.
Under Magufuli's rule, numerous opposition members have been arrested or jailed, and people have been detained for perceived "insults" to the president.
Tundu Lissu, leader of the opposition Party for Democracy and Progress CHADEMA, was attacked on his way home after attending a parliamentary meeting last September. He was severely injured. Lissu is considered to be one of the most vocal critics of President Magufuli.
Opposition not being heard
"Opposition has been minimized. Members of the opposition feel like they are being harassed by the government on frivolous charges," Ulimwengu told DW.
"Some of them have gone completely quiet. You do not expect to hear voices strong enough, rising out of the opposition to say this is not right, this is not fair, this is anti-democracy."
Ulimwengu added that this leads to a generalized feeling that spaces are being shut down and that it is Magufuli's agenda to do so.
Magufuli has banned opposition parties from holding rallies and mobilization.
Human rights activists have been pressuring Magufuli to govern in a less authoritarian manner.
The United States, the European Union and several Western embassies last month voiced concern over politics-related violence and allegations of human rights abuses in Tanzania.
Published on DW on April 17, 2018
By Kizito Makoye
Sadick Thenest remembers how his 8-year-old daughter had a narrow brush with death two years ago, when she contracted cholera after drinking contaminated water.
“She was so gaunt, weak and had terrible diarrhea,” said the refugee from Burundi. “A slight delay in rushing her to hospital would have meant something else - but with God’s grace she survived.”
The father of four, aged 35, is among thousands of refugees grappling with frequent outbreaks of waterborne diseases in the crowded Nyarugusu camp in western Tanzania, due to poor sanitation.
“Living in a refugee camp is a constant struggle. You either stick to health rules or contract diseases,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
The health risks in Nyarugusu camp - home to around 100,000 refugees, mainly from Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo - have grown due to an influx of people this year, amid spikes in the political instability afflicting both countries.
But Thenest, who came to the camp two years ago at the height of political tensions in Burundi, has learned how to protect his family from bouts of diarrheal diseases - a major cause of death in children under five.
“I always ensure that my children use clean and safe water,” he said. “I have instructed them to wash their hands with soap after using a toilet.”
Thenest, who works as a technician with international engineering charity Water Mission, said the health situation in the camp is improving as more people get access to clean water from a recently installed solar-powered water treatment facility.
“The plant produces thousands of liters every day - women no longer go far to fetch water,” he said.
As part of a broader initiative to help refugees access clean energy and sanitation, Water Mission is installing more such plants in three refugee camps in western Tanzania.
The $5.3 million project, funded by the Denmark-based Poul Due Jensen Foundation, is expected to provide safe water for some 250,000 refugees in Nyarugusu, Nduta and Mtendeli camps.
Benjamin Filskov, Water Mission’s country director, said “huge” investment in solar technologies by the organization would help communities access clean and safe water, and contribute towards achieving the world’s development goals.
“We will document saved lives and ensure general public health, as a result of safe water,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
According to Water Mission, the Tanzania project aims to pump 100 percent of the water using solar power, with diesel generators as back up.
A recent shipment of 780 solar panels to Tanzania will produce 226,000 watts of power and provide a continuous supply of safe water to keep children in good health, it said in a statement.
JORDAN SOLAR FARM
With rising use of renewable energy, refugee communities in Africa and the Middle East are increasingly embracing solar power to help build their economic resilience, reduce deforestation and prevent violence against women and girls.
From Dadaab in Kenya, to Darfur in western Sudan and Azraq in Jordan, solar power is being deployed to provide affordable and sustainable energy solutions for tens of thousands of displaced people.
In semi-arid eastern Kenya, Africa's largest solar-powered borehole - equipped with 278 solar panels - is providing 16,000 refugees in Dadaab camp with a daily average of about 280,000 liters of water, which they use for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene, according to the European Commission.
In Azraq, a 2-megawatt solar farm that started operating in May - the world's first in a refugee camp - has enabled the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, to provide free, clean electricity to 20,000 Syrian refugees, covering the energy needs of two villages connected to the national grid.
Refugee families can now run a fridge, TV, fans and lights in their shelters, and recharge their phones, which is crucial for maintaining contact with loved ones abroad, the agency said.
Yet while access to clean energy for refugees and their host communities is a global priority for UNHCR, analysts say millions of displaced people still lack access to sustainable, cheap energy sources because of a lack of funding.
SAFETY FOR WOMEN
At Kakuma refugee camp in northwest Kenya, residents receive 10 kg of firewood for cooking every eight weeks, but for most, it is not enough, said Anna Okello, a research analyst with Practical Action Consulting International who works in the camp.
The need to gather extra firewood often results in personal security problems as adolescent girls and women face sexual harassment when they go out to collect it, she said.
Clean energy sources like solar can deliver benefits to refugees by enhancing safety, security, health and livelihoods, she added.
“If reliance on firewood can be lessened through solar cooking, this will have a direct impact on the development and protection of women in the camp,” she said.
For example, it frees up time otherwise spent on firewood collection or cleaning sooty pots, she explained.
A lack of electric power has caused other problems for Kakuma's nearly 180,000 inhabitants.
“I don’t dare go to the toilet alone at night because it’s too dark,” said Aisha Ilanda, 31, from Congo.
Providing solar street lamps and lanterns and energy-efficient cooking stoves can greatly improve the lives of refugees and contribute to their protection, Okello said.
Introducing solar technology to Kakuma could also help build economic resilience among refugees who make up a vibrant community exploiting new business opportunities such as charging mobile phones and operating money transfer services like M-Pesa.
“Access to solar energy would help these businesses stay open longer; street lighting could make the streets safer; and solar lights can provide a safe learning space inside homes,” said Okello.
“The sun is plentiful in Africa - it’s free, it does not pollute and will never run out of power,” she added.
Published on Thomson Reuters Foundation News on June 23, 2017.