On other side of Lake Victoria, Uganda’s latest Internet innovation is a plan toon Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. In a letter to the country’s treasury in March, President Yoweri Museveni estimated that imposing a daily fee of 100 Ugandan shillings (about 2 cents) on all users would net almost $400 million a year. This is not just about raising more taxes for a cash-strapped administration; it effectively limits the “opinions, prejudices, insults and friendly chats” that the president railed against in his letter. There was from rights groups, the opposition and lovers of liberty. But Museveni has been president since 1986; this is unlikely to faze him. He famously which he won, as usual (but not without controversy).
Kenya has said it would never shut down the Internet during elections. Thus nobody saw it coming when this year under the guise of national security. A government that had styled itself as respectful of the rule of law blatantly ignored court orders for a week and deprived nearly a third of the TV-viewing public of independent reporting. for negative coverage in the past, and a .
While these developments in East Africa may appear unconnected, these three so-called democracies are descending into censorship at best and authoritarianism at worst. Not surprisingly, all three countries ranked in the bottom half of. Only dictatorial governments demand to license bloggers and charge exorbitant fees in order to snuff out ordinary voices from the national discourse. It is a signature move of tyrants to restrict media coverage through intimidation, harassment, and heavy taxes or fines. But when those efforts do not go far enough, a total media or Internet switch-off entrenches an environment of fear among reporters. for English-speaking parts of the country, and late last year at the height of the Oromo protests, but these always seemed far away from the relative comfort of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. In censoring the Internet and mainstream media, East African countries are reading from the undemocratic playbook of their favorite business partner, China. These actions must be seen for what they are: desperate attempts to crack down on freedom of speech by governments that are not ready to be accountable to their citizens. What are those in power trying to hide?
Not only are these elected governments presiding over a systematic shrinking of the democratic space in East Africa, but all three countries are also engaging in cultural censorship. These crackdowns serve as sideshows to distract the citizenry while democratic gains are rolled back.ahead of its debut at the Cannes Film Festival because its “promotes” homosexuality. In Tanzania, for posting a video of himself kissing a girl on his Instagram page. — as if that is the most pressing issue of our time.
Morally inclined East Africans support weak nods to vague “African values” when they involve opposition to homosexuality, “immorality” in the media or perceived neo-colonial influences on Internet forums. Meanwhile, East Africans’ freedoms are fading fast. It is a dangerous time to be someone with an opinion in the region. It won’t be long until jails begin filling up again with political dissidents who oppose the new state creed: Hear nothing, see nothing, say nothing.