Making jokes about president John Magufuli can come at high personal cost in Tanzania. Yesterday, June 21, a local man Leonard Mulokozi was charged with the crime of insulting the president on Whatsapp, following a similar case earlier this month.
Mulokozi’s message is alleged to have read: ”Does this mean Magufuli doesn’t have advisors? Is he unadvisable? Or is he just a fool? He’s foolish, this fellow. He doesn’t consider the applicable laws before opening his mouth. Or does he suffer from an illness like that of [member of parliament] Mnyika?”
Under a much-criticized cybercrime law passed last year, publishing information with the “intent to defame, threaten, abuse, insult, cause public panic, or encourage criminal offense” can now be classed as a crime. If found guilty, Mulokozi faces a similar sentence to Isaac Ababuki, who was found to have insulted the president on his Facebook page, and sentenced on June 8 to three years in jail with a Sh7 million ($3,190) fine payable in two installments.
The cybercrime law is one of several recent Tanzanian laws which many feel undermine free speech and free press. The Statistics Act, also passed last year, makes publishing statistics illegal unless authorized by the National Bureau of Statistics.
Across the continent, African governments have stepped up attempts to regulate and monitor social media which are typically coated in rhetoric of national security. Magufuli’s time in office has seen him win plaudits at home and across the continent for being focused on financial prudence and accountability but that goodwill may be lost if his government follows the others in suppressing dissent.