Join Friends of Pambazuka

Subscribe for Free!



Donate to Pambazuka News!

Follow Us

delicious bookmarks facebook twitter

Pambazuka News Pambazuka News is produced by a pan-African community of some 2,600 citizens and organisations - academics, policy makers, social activists, women's organisations, civil society organisations, writers, artists, poets, bloggers, and commentators who together produce insightful, sharp and thoughtful analyses and make it one of the largest and most innovative and influential web forums for social justice in Africa.

Latest titles from Pambazuka Press

African Sexualities

Earth Grab A Reader
Sylvia Tamale
A groundbreaking book, accessible but scholarly, by African activists. It uses research, life stories and artistic expression to examine dominant and deviant sexualities, and investigate the intersections between sex, power, masculinities and femininities
Buy now

Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya

From Citizen to Refugee Horace Campbell
In this elegantly written and incisive account, scholar Horace Campbell investigates the political and economic crises of the early twenty-first century through the prism of NATO's intervention in Libya.
Buy now

Queer African Reader

Demystifying Aid Edited by Sokari Ekine, Hakima Abbas
A diverse collection of writing from across the continent exploring African LGBTI liberation: identity, tactics for activism, international solidarity, homophobia and global politics, religion and culture, and intersections with social justice movements. A richness of voices, a multiplicity of discourses, a quiverful of arguments. African queers writing for each other, theorising ourselves, making our ...more
Buy now

China and Angola

African Awakening A Marriage of Convenience?
Edited by Marcus Power, Ana Alves
This book focuses on the increased co-operation between Angola and China and shows that although relations with China might have bolstered regime stability and boosted the international standing of the Angolan government, China is not regarded as a long term strategic partner.
Buy now

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

To Cook a ContinentWalter Rodney
Rodney shows how the imperial countries of Europe, and subsequently the US, bear major responsibility for impoverishing Africa. They have been joined in this exploitation by agents or unwitting accomplices both in the North and in Africa.
Buy now

Pambazuka News Broadcasts

Pambazuka broadcasts feature audio and video content with cutting edge commentary and debate from social justice movements across the continent.

See the list of episodes.

AU MONITOR

This site has been established by Fahamu to provide regular feedback to African civil society organisations on what is happening with the African Union.

Perspectives on Emerging Powers in Africa: December 2011 newsletter

Deborah Brautigam provides an overview and description of China's development finance to Africa. "Looking at the nature of Chinese development aid - and non-aid - to Africa provides insights into China's strategic approach to outward investment and economic diplomacy, even if exact figures and strategies are not easily ascertained", she states as she describes China's provision of grants, zero-interest loans and concessional loans. Pambazuka Press recently released a publication titled India in Africa: Changing Geographies of Power, and Oliver Stuenkel provides his review of the book.
The December edition available here.

The 2010 issues: September, October, November, December, and the 2011 issues: January, February, March , April, May , June , July , August , September, October and November issues are all available for download.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

Comment & analysis

SMS message ban raises difficulties

Russell Southwood

2010-09-29, Issue 498

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/67340

Bookmark and Share

Printer friendly version


cc W A
The banning of SMS messaging in Mozambique is but one of several signs that both SMS (short message service) and the internet are changing the way media creates a national conversation in African countries, writes Russell Southwood.

During the food price riots in Mozambique, both mobile phone operators in Mozambique, M-Cel and Vodacom, bowed to pressure and suspended their text-messaging services but then said that they had not done so, according to Agência Informação Moçambique (AIM).

As from 6 September, people who used pre-paid M-Cel and Vodacom cards found it was impossible to send text messages. Since the Maputo riots of 1–2 September had been mobilised via text messages, it was immediately suspected that the government had ordered the companies to halt the text-message service.

But when Transport and Communications Minister Paulo Zucula was asked about the matter, he denied giving any such order. ‘I'm the minister in charge of communications, and I have no knowledge of any instruction to suspend the messaging services’, he told reporters.

Both M-Cel and Vodacom assured AIM that the interruption to the messaging service was entirely due to technical problems.

On Friday night, interviewed by the independent television station TIM, Fernando Lima, chairperson of the media company Mediacoop, which publishes the weekly paper ‘Savana’ and the daily newsheet ‘Mediafax’, displayed a copy of the letter which the regulatory body, the INCM, had sent to the two operators. Text messaging now seems to have returned to normal.

In the post-election violence in Kenya in 2008, the government considered closing down the SMS messaging system that was being used to send hate messages. Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph has said in a subsequent interview that mobile phone providers convinced the government to pass up this idea, and instead allow the providers to send out messages of peace and calm, which Safaricom did to all nine million of its customers.

It was also reported that a list of more than 1,700 contacts of individuals who created or forwarded SMS messages to incite ethnic violence had been compiled and was awaiting action by government.

However, the government did ban broadcasting and this gave coverage by Kenya's bloggers a new prominence as one of the few ways left open to discover what was happening. It also gave birth to Ushahidi, which helped to track and map violent incidents in the country.

The worst occasion of this kind of banning of SMS was the Ethiopian government after the contested elections in 2005. The ban remained in force for two years. In Ethiopia, the opposition party Kinijit was particularly effective at using text messaging to mobilise its supporters and get them to the polling booths. Then when the election result was announced the government took fright, contested what had happened and then moved quickly to shut down the SMS service to ensure the opposition party couldn't use it again.

With no acknowledgement of why it had been banned, subscribers simply received the following message announcing its re-opening: ‘[Wishing] you [a] happy Ethiopian Millennium. And now the SMS service is launched.’

SMS is a media channel but there are almost no ground rules governing either access to it by content providers or under what circumstances it can be closed down. Mobile operators can be pressured by governments to shut the service and have to take the income hit from that decision: their rights are not protected in any way. You can hardly sue the government or the regulator for loss of trade if they are the hand that gives you your licence to do business.

According to a national survey carried out in Ghana for Audiencescapes, 16 per cent of the sample had got news and information in the last week using SMS, compared to 18 per cent from newspapers. In other words, the mobile is becoming almost as important as newspapers as a channel through which citizens get certain types of information.

But there are no ground rules governing who can use it and why, and the rules that do exist don't make sense. For example, Econet had to withdraw a service it was proving to Zimbabwe's MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) as it was claimed that it was broadcasting when it was not licensed to do so. It was operating an information service for its activists using a service provided by kubutana.net.

In an interview in June when the banning took place, Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe Chief Executive Obert Muganyura said that the MDC-T's (Movement for Democratic Change – Tsvangirai) toll-free audio service was illegal under the Broadcasting Services Act. ‘According to the law, broadcasts that are provided through cellular systems require a licence from BAZ [Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe]. There are services that have been offered by some institutions, including MDC-T, where the public can dial and receive audio programmes.

‘These services are classified under the Broadcasting Services Act and once anyone decides to provide such services, the network providers must follow procedures of licensing for consideration,’ he said. So how is the internet different from SMS, save that government fears the larger user base of the latter more?

Finally, as the world turns, there was a report this week in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) newspaper Le Potentiel saying that sales of newspapers were being undercut by piracy (photocopying of issues) and by people using the internet to access daily news.

Shabani Keni, a vendor of the newspaper, told its reporter: ‘Le Potentiel has serious difficulties in selling their wares. This is because it is on the web. It's not bad to put a newspaper on the Internet. Globalization means it has to happen. But the output of the newspaper Le Potentiel [on the Internet] should be limited in order not to blunt the desire of readers [to buy it].’

Online business model, anyone?

BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS

* This article was originally published by Balancing Act Africa.
* Please send comments to editor@pambazuka.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.


Readers' Comments

Let your voice be heard. Comment on this article.




↑ back to top

ISSN 1753-6839 Pambazuka News English Edition http://www.pambazuka.org/en/

ISSN 1753-6847 Pambazuka News en Français http://www.pambazuka.org/fr/

ISSN 1757-6504 Pambazuka News em Português http://www.pambazuka.org/pt/

© 2009 Fahamu - http://www.fahamu.org/