Zambians are protesting the implementation of a 30 Ngwe ($0.1) levy on internet calls over platforms like WhatsApp, Skype and Viber.
The resolution to implement the new tariff was passed by Zambia’s cabinet chaired by president Edgar Lungu on Monday.
Journalists were told that the new tariff was designed to protect the telecommunications industry and jobs in such companies, following the ‘rise in the use of internet phone calls at the expense of traditional phone calls.’
We are concerned about the proposed tariff of 30 Ngwe per day because it is a major threat to freedom of expression, access to information, media rights, freedom of assembly online an affront to the enjoyment of digital rights.
‘‘Jobs such as call centre workers, talk time sellers, conventional call technicians will reduce drastically if more Zambians migrate to internet calls and create jobs in America and elsewhere,’‘ explained the information minister and government spokesperson, Dora Siliya.
The 30 ngwee tariff on internet calls ONLY is cost sharing to save jobs in telecoms. What's up and Facebook owners don't pay to access citizens phones via our telecom infrastructure yet citizens expect functioning & expanded network.
Social media surfing not impacted by tariff.
— Hon. Dora Siliya, MP (@Dora_Siliya) August 14, 2018
Government claims that 80% of the eight million active users (first quarter of 2018) are using Whatsapp, Viber and Skype to make calls.
Bloggers ask gov’t to withdraw new tax
Zambians including bloggers, opposition politicians and ordinary citizens have since cried foul over the new tariff, arguing that mobile subscribers acquire data bundles from the telecommunications companies, in order to access the platforms in question.
The Bloggers of Zambia issued a statement on Tuesday, calling on the government to withdraw the tariff and the other Cyber laws that are in the pipeline.
“We are concerned about the proposed tariff of 30 Ngwe per day because it is a major threat to freedom of expression, access to information, media rights, freedom of assembly online an affront to the enjoyment of digital rights,” the bloggers said in a join statement issued with MISA Zambia.
The government also intends to introduce the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Bill, which it says will promote responsible use of digital platforms and safeguard users of electronic platforms which include social media from unscrupulous users that mean harm.
Reactions from Zambians online
Tax on WhatsApp calls? Zambia is not a country. It’s a business.
— Absolut Vanilla (@tandiiwe) August 13, 2018
Better we shouldn't have WhatsApp in zambia. Iam not ready to pay that 30ngwee.i will go back to mxit and 2go.
— tony thee goon 🇿🇲 ' (@tonytheegoon) August 14, 2018
This level of engagement and knowledge is worrying. All internet & telecom services providers pay for the use of infrastructure in Zambia…..so whatsapp or facebook are not interested in paying for the infrastructure because the ISPs already….@Mwazi @zambloggers #OpenSpaceZM https://t.co/qGNcJ04xet
— Peter Green (@Green1257) August 14, 2018
Internet regulation or repression of free speech
Zambia’s actions follow an increasingly consistent pattern by governments in Africa to regulate social media platforms.
Ugandans are still resisting a daily social media tax of $0.05 that was imposed in July. Human rights groups including Amnesty International condemned the tax as an attack on freedom of speech.
Tanzania in April approved new Internet Regulations that required bloggers to pay up to $900 to operate in the country, while also introducing stringent measures like compulsory passwords for all mobile phone owners. Defaulters of the new regulations face hefty fines of up to $2000 and jail time.
In May, Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta, signed into law the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Bill 2018. New York-based media rights watchdog the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) had warned that the bill could criminalise free speech.