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Campaign Intensifies in Tanzania Against Proposed Ban of X: ‘They Seek to Convert Potential Into Lost Opportunity’

At least three crowdfunding exercises occurred in the past few weeks, proving to detractors that the platform they’d wish banned could be put to more valuable uses than the ones they had in their minds.

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Mtwara. Amidst voices calling on authorities in Tanzania to ban X, formerly Twitter, users of the social media platform have recently been engaging in successful crowdfunding exercises to save each other from legal, health and other troubles, raising questions about whether Tanzanians should take those voices seriously. 

While the efforts are not entirely new, as the social media platform has been serving as a self-help mechanism for its members for quite some time now and as a medium through which Tanzanians hold their leaders to account, recent developments coincided with coordinated efforts to force authorities to ban the network for good for allegedly promoting “pornographic” content. 

At least three crowdfunding exercises occurred in the past few weeks, proving to detractors that the platform they’d wish banned could be put to more valuable uses than the ones they had in their minds. These include contributions to support medical services to a kidnap and torture victim, Edgar Mwakabela alias Sativa, and government critics Japhet Matarra and Shadrack Chaula.

X users raised Sh10 million for 27-year-old Sativa, who suffered injuries after abductors tortured him before dumping him at the Katavi National Park. They also raised Sh7 million for Matarra, who needed the money to pay a fine after being convicted to serve five years in prison for publishing “false” reports, which included President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s salary.

Matarra had already served one year in jail before X users learned of his ordeal. He was subsequently freed after paying the fine. The netizens also rescued 24-year-old Chaula, sentenced to two years for “publishing false” information after failing to pay a fine of Sh5 million. Sativa, Matarra, and Chaula thanked X users for their contributions, admitting that their destinies would’ve taken a different course without their efforts. 

READ MORE: Hope Is Truly a Dangerous Thing: Is Tanzania Going Back to the Dark Days?

Tito Magoti, a lawyer and human rights activist among the front-liners mobilising donations for the causes, told The Chanzo that the efforts just prove that there are no reasons whatsoever for authorities to ban X, which he says has been instrumental in supporting entrepreneurs and enabling socialisation among people, among other advantages.

“X is more than a social media platform for us,” said Magoti, who credits his own survival to the efforts of the platform’s users who called for justice throughout the entire period he was under investigation for false money laundering charges. “It is a place from which we can force our participation in running our country’s affairs. Authorities should ignore voices calling for its banning.” 

Ongoing advocacy

This realisation has given impetus to the ongoing advocacy against attempts to ban X in Tanzania.  On July 3, 2024, the Internet Governance Tanzania Working Group (IGTWG), a consortium of organisations promoting digital rights in the country, including The Chanzo, called for an “open dialogue” around the subject. It added that concerns critics of the platform raise can be addressed without shutting down the site itself.

The consortium’s statement followed an X post by Minister for Information, Communication, and Information Technology Nape Nnauye, stating that he has heard voices calling for an X ban and that the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), responsible for regulating all electronic communications, would review the platform’s supposed change of policies and take necessary action.

IGTWG first submitted the statement to the TCRA, responding to the regulator’s invitation to share perspectives on the ongoing discussion. A meeting between the two was supposed to follow, but it had never materialised as of writing. However, the regulator has reportedly deleted its accounts from X – here and here – raising concerns about what might follow next.

READ MORE: Is Twitter Replacing Street Protests in Tanzania?

The Chanzo sent an e-mail to the TCRA with questions about the issue, but they haven’t responded. However, Mr Nape responded to IGTWG’s statement by saying it has “surprised” him. The Mtama MP (Chama cha Mapinduzi—CCM) described the four-page statement as an attempt to stop people from “discussing the safety of their children,” which he said is “irresponsible.”

Election fears?

Asha D. Abinallah, whose Tech & Media Convergency (TMC) hosts the working group, named “fear” the overriding motivation for calling for an X ban in Tanzania. A new media expert, Abinallah thinks this “fear of the unknown” risks “converting potential into lost opportunities and caution into a paralysis,” a paralysis she says “could sometimes take years to recover.”

Kumbusho Dawson Kagine is the Executive Secretary of Reach Out Tanzania, a Dar es Salaam-based nongovernmental organisation working to raise public awareness about the impacts of internet shutdowns. Mr Kagine, arrested 2017 for exposing cracks on newly built University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) hostels, echoed Abinallah’s assessment of fear as the true motivation for calling for a ban on X.

“Behind these voices calling for a ban on X in Tanzania is nothing but fear regarding the 2025 General Election,” Mr Kagine, an avid X user, said in an interview with The Chanzo. “We witnessed this fear during the 2020 election, and now, as the election approaches, the fear has resurfaced.”

The government unprecedentedly shut down the internet in 2020 immediately after Tanzanians participated in heavily contested presidential and parliamentary elections, throwing everyone into darkness and preventing them from staying updated on significant election developments. 

READ MORE: Tanzanians in Diaspora Seek Improved Civic Space to Contribute to Democratisation at Home

With the concerns that the government is already restricting access to the social audio app Clubhouse, claims the High Court has ruled as groundless, Kagine urges authorities to protect people’s freedom of expression.

“Freedom of expression is a constitutionally guaranteed human right,” Mr Kagine observed. “The constitution also gives people the right to seek, receive, and impart information. Therefore, censoring X contradicts the country’s constitution and violates people’s right to assemble through digital platforms, itself constitutionally guaranteed.”
Omari Mikoma reports for The Chanzo from Mtwara. He can be reached at omarmikoma@gmail.com.

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