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Threats To Media Freedom In Africa: Some Old Methods And Some New

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Threats To Media Freedom In Africa

The government of Benin has cancelled a recent decree that imposed a tax on users of platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp. Known as “over-the-top” platforms, they can deliver media content directly to users without using traditional telecommunications infrastructure such as terrestrial broadcast or satellite signals.

Local and international activists protested against the decree in Benin arguing that it was a blatant attack on the freedom of expression and net neutrality.

The tax follows similar developments in Uganda and Tanzania. In July this year Uganda imposed a tax on these platforms. The average monthly cash income for Ugandans is just over USD$100. Tanzania passed a blanket law on online content creators forcing bloggers to pay up to USD$900 for a three year licence. And in Zambia, the government introduced a levy on internet calls this year for WhatsApp, Skype and Viber.

Elsewhere on the continent, a number of governments are introducing new legislation targeting social media users. Kenya, for example, passed the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Bill last year to police social media activity. Zambia plans to introduce a cybersecurity and cybercrimes law to do the same.

The rush to monitor online activity has been spurred by widespread internet connectivity, which continues to grow year on year, and the ubiquity of smart phones. As a result, social media is slowly becoming the new frontier for state clampdown on free speech as governments exercise increased control over digital platforms.

Controlling the narrative

The digital space has altered communication patterns with social media becoming the preeminent arena for public communication and culture. It has also become fertile ground for social and political
organisation. This has threatened the status-quo.

File 20181001 195275 1ppxxes.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1The push to tax social media users is gaining momentum across Africa.
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Historically, African governments have exercised inordinate power over the media, particularly the “independent media”, in a bid to stifle dissent. They have done this by force, and by direct and indirect means. Governments, in Ethiopia and Uganda have shut down media houses. In Kenya and Nigeria they have controlled media through proxies, and withheld advertising revenues.

The power of social media is that it’s less reliant on state structures and can therefore evade control. This makes it harder for governments to control the social and political narrative.

Social media enables conversations to happen that many governments find uncomfortable. Users can forge alliances and challenge the state’s version of events. They can also use social media platforms to organise and mobilise people. This has been particularly evident in Uganda recently.

Across the continent we now see social media used to give visibility to various social and political issues which would otherwise go unnoticed; from protests over university fees in South Africa, to corruption scandals in Kenya, numerous examples abound.

Subtle containment

As social media has become more ubiquitous, it’s become harder for governments to simply shut down traditional media outlets. The political backlash has been swift and brutal where governments have tried to do this, like they have in Kenya and Uganda.

As a result governments have been forced to use subtler forms of containment or control. These include taxation and legislation.

Governments have proffered various reasons for introducing these new measures. In Uganda, the government argued that the social media tax was intended to raise government revenue for public services , while in Zambia the tax was allegedly meant to protect the telecoms sector and local jobs. In Kenya social media legislation has been premised on the need to discipline or eliminate rogue online voices, particularly those peddling hate speech.

Some of these arguments may have merit. For example, social media has emboldened, and even provided sanctuary, to racist bigots, ethnic jingoists, bullies, and political anarchists. In some countries it has inflamed conflict precisely because of the anonymity it provides. That plus the lack of gatekeeping or moderation processes. It was, for example, cited as one of the platforms used to inflame the post-election violence after Kenya’s 2007 contested general election. Terrorist groups like Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram have also been quite adept at exploiting these platforms to recruit, inspire and disseminate their messages to followers.

But it’s clear that the real targets of these new taxes and laws are the vocal government critics in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. The measures seem intent on neutering dissent, and ultimately reclaiming control of communication platforms and practices.

The successful fightback in Benin against the social media tax will therefore provide some comfort to those worried about the clampdown on digital platforms on the continent. However, the ingenuity and brazenness of governments should be a cause for concern. Africa’s democracy can only be poorer without a free and vibrant social media.The Conversation

George Ogola, Reader in Journalism, University of Central Lancashire

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Kenya Committed To Improving Aviation Infrastructure

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Kenya Committed To Improving Aviation Infrastructure

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta says the government is committed to improving the country’s civil aviation infrastructure.  He credited the industry with enhancing the country’s economy and national development.

He said at the eleventh forum of the international civil aviation organization air services negotiation meeting in Nairobi that the aviation industry contributes four tenths of a percent to the country’s gdp.  He also said the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi provides seventeen thousand direct and more than half a million indirect jobs.

Kenyatta said about eight in ten tourists visiting Kenya use air transport.

He said these are some of the reasons his government is committed to investing in aviation infrastructure to help the industry play its critical role in the economy.

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2 Persons Killed In Clash Between Security Forces And Protesters In Togo

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2 Persons Killed In Clash Between Security Forces And Protesters In Togo

At least two persons were reported killed in Togo over the weekend after security forces moved against protesters. Opposition has accused the government of using what it called “regime soldiers” it says opened fire on the demonstrators.

At least two persons were killed in clashes between Togo’s security forces and protesters.

Authorities reported finding a dead protester in Lome with an open wound in his left eye that indicated a bullet entry. Another dead body was also reported, this time with no bullet wounds.

The protests intensified after the government called for parliamentary elections to be held in late December.  Opposition is against the polls.  It has demanded reforms of the national electoral commission, and a two-term limit for presidents.

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Cameroon Law Graduates-Turn-Musicians Sing For Peace

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Cameroon Law Graduates-Turn-Musicians Sing For Peace

Two Cameroonian Law graduates, who are now musicians, have been traveling through the country’s English-speaking regions singing messages of peace they believe will touch the rebels and help end the separatist conflict there.

The singers started their group in October when they both lost family members and friend in the secessionist struggle in the English-speaking regions.

The duo sing in both English and French reminding people about the grave repercussions of war, and urging all sides to embrace peace.

The conflict has claimed hundreds of civilian lives. Thousands have been internally displaced, and thousands more have fled, many to neighboring Nigeria.

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