Media freedom advocates say nations in Southern Africa’s regional bloc, SADC, are enacting restrictive cyber laws that have implications for journalism and freedom of expression.
In a hybrid forum on the state of internet regulations, Tabani Moyo, director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, said his organization is concerned about low tolerance for journalists and a tendency for dissent in the region.
He said the trend began after a meeting of SADC leaders last year, where heads of state pledged to take pre-emptive measures against outside interference, the effects of fake news and the misuse of social media.
“In the wake of this proposal, we have seen an alarming consensus for the online action of expression,” Moyo said. “Many Southern African countries moved quickly to adopt what are referred to as cybersecurity laws and frameworks. For us, [this is] is problematic in part because the proposed legislation has serious implications for freedom of expression, media and the right to privacy.”
The effects are most visible in Tanzania, where the Uhuru newspaper was suspended in August for publishing what officials called a false story that said President Samiya Suluhu Hassan would not run for office in 2025. .
In September, Raya Mwema, a Swahili-language weekly, was suspended for 30 days for “repeatedly publishing false information and willful provocation”.
Meanwhile, Zambia’s government under former President Edgar Lungu used cyber laws to block social media, on the pretext that the opposition was taking offense with its posts on Twitter and Facebook.
SADC Secretary Elias Mapedi Magosi – in a speech read out by Rosemary Mapolao Mokoena, SADC Director of Infrastructure – defended the move towards stronger internet laws.
“As more people engage with access to information, it attracts more cybercriminals to our shores,” Mokoena said. “SADC has already begun the process of reviewing and modernizing the SADC cyberspace legal regulatory and institutional framework. … Spreading misinformation on the security of 5G mobile network risks poses a downside risk to the ICT industry.”
However, Namibia’s Minister of Information and Communications Technology Peya Mushelenga called on countries to allow freedom of expression online.
“Thus, it is up to all players – development partners, civil society organisations, government and intergovernmental organizations – to reinforce each other to guarantee and protect the full exercise of the right to information and freedom of expression, both online and offline. , with a special focus on strengthening media diversity in terms of its independence, competence as well as transparency of digital platforms,” Mushelega said.
Zimbabwe’s Information Minister Monica Mutswangwa announced this week that the government had set up a cyber team that would monitor what people send and receive, a move that is being condemned by many rights groups.