Rwanda is laying the ground to impose restrictions on the use of social media, joining other East African countries in the muzzling of public expression.
Minister of ICT Paula Ingabire told parliament last week that the government has rolled out a programme to engage social media users on how to reduce and stop misinformation and defamation online before it “gets out of hand.”
“We look forward to protecting citizens more than anything else. That is the main reason why we need to regulate content posted on social media so that we create a safe space for all citizens,” she told parliament
The minister’s proposals are likely to be met with opposition by social media users and the country’s media fraternity, who believe that such restrictions undermine the freedom of expression.
“It is tricky for the government, since state agents are among the biggest spreaders of fake information across the world. While there is a need for discussion on how to regulate social media, it is important that free expression is not undermined,” said Gonza Muganwa, executive secretary of the Rwanda Journalists Association said.
The number of Internet users in Rwanda has increased by over one million, jumping from 4.37 million in June 2017 to 5.47 million in June 2018, according to the Rwanda Regulatory Agency.
Last year, Kenya passed the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act to stop hackers and the spread of fake news on the internet.
Under this law, publication of false news is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
In Uganda, the communications regulator in 2017 banned media outlets from broadcasting live parliamentary debates on a constitutional amendment Bill, which sought to lift the presidential age limit.
Then in June 2018, the government imposed a “social media tax” of Ush200 (about $0.05) per daily usage of social media apps like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.
If new social media regulations are imposed, they will become an addition to the already existing ICT law that prohibits the use of the internet to spread harmful content.