We Need Freedom ‘AFTER’ Expression

Written by Robert Zephania | Posted on  19 Feb 2016.

"You have freedom of speech but freedom after speech, that I cannot guarantee" once said Idi Amin Dada, former president of Uganda. This quote speaks volumes about press freedom in many countries, unfortunately including my beloved Tanzania.

According to Reporters Without Borders’ 2015 World Press Freedom Index, Tanzania is ranked number 75 while Rwanda sits at 161 (worst in the East Africa region) out of 180 countries in the world. This means that media in Tanzania does not operate in a friendly environment and it’s an issue that needs addressing.

In my opinion, in Tanzania, we have more media platforms for expression but very less freedom after expression. I will explain what I mean; According to Tanzania Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), Tanzania is home to 86 licensed radio stations, 28 licensed television stations, about 600 registered newspapers, and other publications such as magazines and journals. Internet usage through mobile phones has risen to 11.3 million users in Tanzania.

“You cannot have all these media (newspapers, radio and television stations) if there is no freedom of the press,” said our former president, Jakaya Kikwete, referring to this large number of media outlets in the country. However, my president forgets to note that these are platforms for expression which does not necessarily guarantee freedom to use them. Tanzania harbors some of the most draconian anti-press laws in play, a good example being the 1976 Newspaper Registration Act, which empowers authorities to ban any publication in the interest of “peace and order” without any explanation.

A fresh example is the recent shutdown of Mawio weekly newspaper, a decision which was made by Nape Nnauye who is Minister of Information, Culture, Artistes, and Sports. MwanaHalisi, Mwananchi, and The East African newspapers have been banned at different times before as a result of these laws.

Another notorious law is the newly passed cybercrime law whereby a mobile phone user can be sued if he/she receives information (text and/or image) that is deemed illegal from someone they know or even from unknown numbers. Several people have been sued as a result of this law. This is clear evidence that, yes we do have many platforms for expression but there is no freedom to use them. In, other words, ‘there is freedom of expression but there is no freedom after expression’. Dear my president, as a young journalist, I need freedom before, during, and after expressing my opinion.