When an earthquake measuring 6.0 on the Richter scale struck the East African coast at 8:15 a.m. on August 12, Tanzanians quickly took to Twitter to report the rare natural phenomenon that caused chandeliers to sway, breaks in windows and cracks in the walls.
The earthquake struck below the Indian Ocean, approximately 82 kilometers off the coast of Dar es Salaam, the cultural and financial capital of Tanzania, located in the southeast of the country. The people of the Zanzibar archipelago and the Kenyan coast also felt the shock. No deaths or injuries were reported. A moderate aftershock was reported the next day.
-. (@ageingpiers) August 12, 2020
Today's earthquake in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania… The video shown here is in Akemi's shaken restaurant.
This unprecedented quake in recent history caught the attention of Tanzanians on Twitter, but the news was tempered with new online content regulations that prohibit citizens from reporting the “occurrence of natural calamities” —such as earthquakes— “without the approval of the respective authorities ”.
In July, Dr Harrison Mwakyembe, Tanzania's Minister of Information, Culture, Arts and Sports, signed the new Regulations, for Electronic and Postal Communications (online content) 2020, which replaced the 2018 regulations with some additional stipulations that further repress free expression online.
According to LEX Africa (Lawyers for Africa), the 2020 regulations for online content “apply to all content transmitted to the public through websites, blog forums, microblogs, public accounts, instant messaging tools such as WhatsApp, streaming on I live online, aggregators and other related platforms like YouTube ”.
The fines are up to 5 million Tanzanian shillings (about $ 2,151), 12 months in prison, or both.
Under the law's category of “public information that may cause public disorder or chaos”, Tanzanian citizens are not allowed to mention an earthquake before the government has officially approved messages about it.
But can you expect people to say nothing when they feel a tremor?
About an hour after people felt the quake in Tanzania, netizen Gaure Mdee tweeted the regulations with a sarcastic “but fair” warning to those who intended to tweet about the quake:
– Gaure Mdee (@Profesy) August 12, 2020
Fair warning for those who mention an earthquake in Tanzania. 🇹🇿
That was quickly followed by some humorous tweets:
All you people talking about ‘I felt the tremor!’ – please make sure a govt official has verified your tweet. 🤭 https://t.co/aF2qS65Y0a
– Wayua Muli (@MizMuli) August 12, 2020
To everyone who is saying “I felt the shaking,” please make sure a government official has verified your tweet.
Silencing the pandemic
The earthquakes are not the only issue they are silencing.
The new online content regulations prohibit citizens from posting any “content containing information about the outbreak of a deadly or contagious disease” without government approval, including conversations about medications and cures.
This amendment was added after the new coronavirus reached Tanzania in March 2020.
In early April, the Tanzanian Parliament decided to promote an herbal infusion strategy against the virus known as kupiga nyungu, which can be translated as “hit the potion”. The strategy encouraged citizens to make facial herbal teas and eat mixed potions of lemon, hot pepper, and ginger.
President John Magufuli also urged Tanzanian citizens to pray to God, and insisted that places of worship remain open. In early May, Magufuli suspended Tanzania's national laboratory, which was testing for COVID-19 after questioning the accuracy of the tests.
Since April 29, Tanzania has not released official COVID-19 data, and in early June, President Magufuli declared Tanzania free of COVID-19. Sammy Awami, a BBC journalist, describes how citizens experience the COVID-19 situation in Tanzania.
On the night of the earthquake, netizen James Rut joked:
Has Magufuli approved that there was a huge earthquake in Tanzania? It might be a hoax from enemies of the country #Tremor
– James Rut (@james_Rut) August 12, 2020
Has Magufuli approved that there was a great earthquake in Tanzania? It may be a deception of the enemies of the country.
And netizen Wavinya Kiagiri asked the next day:
So you want us to pretend it didn't happen, the same way y'all are pretending there's no COVID? #AskingForAFriend https://t.co/pdoN40sPVK
– Wavinya Kiagiri (@wavinya_) August 13, 2020
So they want us to pretend nothing happened, just like they are pretending there is no COVID? I ask for a friend.
On Twitter, user Jakom joked with a reference to how the president had declared Tanzania to be “coronavirus free”:
Magufuli just declared Tanzania Earthquake Free 💯 #tremor
– JAKOM👺 (@JakomRon) August 12, 2020
Magufuli has just declared Tanzania earthquake free.
Joking aside, some netizens indicated that the government has not been able to issue a tsunami warning after the earthquake, and took the risk of expressing it on Twitter:
An earthquake of 5.9 magnitude, 12 km in depth in Kilindoni, Pwani has been felt around East Africa. Tsunami warning is needed but still Meko (Magufuli) don't care about the citizens.@fatma_karume @MSalimu @MariaSTsehai @ Greathinker12 pic.twitter.com/rVHKmhs1dz
– DR. Robert Kasainne (@KasainneRobert) August 12, 2020
An earthquake of magnitude 5.9, 12 km deep from Kilindoni, Pwani, was felt in East Africa. A tsunami warning is still needed, but citizens still don't care.
The new regulations were announced shortly before the presidential elections in Tanzania in October. The ruling party, Chama cha Mapinduzi, or the Revolutionary Party (CCM), has been in power since 1961. Recent elections have added to the difficulties of its position.
The new regulations prohibit online calls for protests, including all “content related to planning, promoting and calling demonstrations, marches and the like that would lead to public disorder.”
The Tanzanian Regulatory Commissions Authority, which issued the new online content regulations, has the power to intervene in any content that they consider to “threaten national security.” Critics say these regulations violate the Constitution, including Articles 13 and 18, which protect freedom of information, according to The Citizen.
Critics say these new regulations are an attempt to silence opposition voices ahead of the 2020 elections, making it nearly impossible for citizens and candidates to speak openly about the issues or the contenders. In recent years, journalists and human rights defenders have disappeared, are in detention or in prison on dubious charges.
Election campaigns are underway, and the government is said to have also banned foreign media related to Tanzania from circulating in the country without government approval, leaving critics to wonder how journalists can freely and fairly report elections in the country. 2020.
Magufuli has received praise and criticism for his rigid approach to leadership with his motto “hapa kazi you“, Which translates to” everything is work here. ” But the pile of new laws and regulations restricting freedom of speech and silencing dissent and opposition in Tanzania goes beyond this.
“Magophobia is followed by 'maguphobia,” suggests writer Sabatho Nyamsenda.
COVID-19, an earthquake, and an impending election are three very different issues, but each has the potential to seriously impact people's lives. Is it really possible to control online conversations on topics that matter most to people? And if so, at what cost?