Lungu’s Coach M7? Zambia is the latest African state trying to muzzle social media with arbitrary laws

DAILYNEWS UG

Social media should have brought more freedom of speech to Africans, but governments seem bent on gagging online expression. Zambian President Edgar Lungu (above) with Ugandas Yoweri Museveni above

In Summary

  • UPND legislators say the proposed laws will stifle freedom of expression and silence dissent.
  • The government says that the new laws, yet to be drafted for debate by parliament, would regulate social media use, curb hate speech, fight cyber-crime and pornography.
  • Civil rights grups in the country have also condemned the move.

First Tanzania forced bloggers to pay $900 a year, then Uganda imposed a tax on social media use. Cameroon regularly blacks out the internet to suppress dissent in its anglophone region. Now Zambia’s government plans to enforce new rules to regulate social media use in the country where observers are increasingly concerned about Zambians’ shrinking freedoms.

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Above: Edgar Lungu Getting Ideas from the Head coach Museveni?

Zambia plans to introduce stricter regulations for social media usage, communications minister Brian Mushimba told parliament on Thursday July 5. The new regulations are aimed fighting cyber crime and reduce online pornography, he said according to an AFP report.

“It is evident that social media in Zambia has become a catalyst for the detachment of members of the Zambian society from our cultural norms,” Mushimba told parliament. “Prior to the proliferation of social media, people in Zambia behaved and communicated within acceptable and expected cultural boundaries.”

It is unclear, however, whether a new set of laws will be drafted. Mushimba said Zambia already had adequate laws to police online behavior, according to a report in the Lusaka Times. Instead, his department would focus on sensitizing Zambians about responsible use of social media, but would not hesitate to prosecute perceived misuse.

Yet in January, Mushimba said he’d planned to introduce three new bills that would lead to the “productive use of internet and social media,” also according to a Lusaka Times report. The bills dealt with cyber security and cyber crime, e-commerce and data protection. A similar bouquet of bills has been used in other African states to black out the internet, so Zambians tweeting with the hashtag #OpenSpaceZM have reason to be concerned.

 

Lawmakers from the United Party for National Development (UPND) say the new laws would stifle freedom of expression and silence dissent.

“The government is targeting social media because its the only platform that people can use without fear of being attacked by ruling party supporters unlike public media,” said Choma Central MP, Cornelius Mweetwa.

The government says that the new laws, yet to be drafted for debate by parliament, would regulate social media use, curb hate speech, fight cyber-crime and pornography.

Patricia Mwashingwele, MP for Katuba Constituency, said the Public Order Act has compelled people to embrace social media as the only platform for free speech.

Zambezi East Constituency MP Brian Kambita said it was unfortunate for government to use the law to punish a majority rather than a few abusing social media.

However, in a parliamentary session on Thursday, Transport and Communications Minister Brian Mushimba said the laws were not meant to curtail free speech as government was only targeting to deal with scammers and hate mongers on platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp.

“My ministry is proposing to enact three pieces of legislation — the cyber security and cyber-crime act, the data protection act, and the electronic transactions and electronic commerce act — that will promote responsible use of digital platforms and safeguard users of electronic platforms which include social media from unscrupulous users that mean harm,” he said.

Civil rights groups in the country have also condemned the move.

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