Branded as the East African version of Wikileaks, JamiiForums has earned its place as Tanzania’s top social networking site.
In this guide, you will learn about JamiiForums and all the challenges the owners have experienced under the hand of the government.
What Is JamiiForums?
JamiiForums is an online social networking website where users can discuss various topics. Made of more than one jamii forum, users can visit the forum of their interest to look for work, discuss politics, lifestyle, celebrities, and comedy. Furthermore, the platform contains forums for other East African nations like Kenya and Uganda.
Maxence Melo and Mike Mushi launched the forum in 2006 as JamboForums. In 2008, the owners changed the name because of copyright issues.
As its name suggests, the forum owners created a community for Tanzanians to network. For a while, the forum was conducive for whistleblowing. However, government regulations forced the forum to review what users post more strictly.
The main language of communication on the forum is Swahili. However, the descriptions of most of the sub-forums are in English.
Government Censorship of JamiiForums
Initially, JamiiForums acted as a tool that revealed corruption matters in Tanzania and advocated for political accountability. The forum made such a huge impact that the government declared “war” on the platform. As a result, Melo has been in court 137 times over the last three years. He has also been detained overnight over the same period, according to the BBC. Melo is the CEO and Co-Founder of the platform.
For instance, the police arrested Melo for alleged terrorism in 2008. Nevertheless, the charges were dropped. In 2016, the founders of the forum were charged with failure to comply with a disclosure order contrary to the regulations of the Cyber Crime Act 2015. They were also charged with managing a domain not registered in Tanzania. The government asked the founders to disclose the IP addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses of users that had exposed corruption in the oil and banking industries, which they declined.
On the bright side, Melo received an International Press Freedom award in 2019 for the journalism work he has done through the forum.
The Tanzanian government has used the Cyber Crime Law and the Electronic and Postal Communications Act 2010 to censor criticism. These laws have affected other media outlets, as well. For example, the government suspended five newspapers and two radio stations in 2018 for a period running between three to 36 months.
In 2018, the forum remained closed for 21 days. The reason for the shutdown was the failure to comply with regulations to reveal users’ information and a delay in paying registration fees.
The shutdown made the founders rethink their method of conducting operations. For example, Jamii Media, the company behind the forum, hired 18 lawyers and more editors to review and fact-check all contributions before publishing them.
“Initially, people were free. You could do a little kind of editing of the comments they post on the forum. You could [make a] call to some civil servants and even politicians, and they could comment on something. But at the moment, such possibilities are no longer available,” Melo told the BBC.
Despite the changes the forum has had to make and the declining media freedom, JamiiForums continues to respect the privacy of its users. For example, Jamii Media uses its lawyers to assure contributors of their safety and privacy when the government bashes them for their posts.
Additionally, Melo is still keen to use the forum as a tool for change. He challenges the government to work with forums like his and other critics to fight corruption.
How to Use JamiiForums
To enjoy the complete JamiiForums experience, you need to register an account. Below are the steps you should take.
- Visit the website
- From the top tab, click “Register”
- Enter your username, email address, and password. Alternatively, you can register using Google, Facebook, Yahoo, or Microsoft
Once you register, you will have to wait for an administrator to approve your account. While your account is pending approval, you cannot post on the forum. However, you can read posts from other users.
Forum members earn trophy points for participating on the platform. For instance, you will earn 20 trophy points when you post your first message, and you will get 25 trophy points if your content attracts 100 likes.
To use the forum, browse through the different sub-forums to read what other members are posting. Also, follow the community guidelines once you are eligible to share content. Some of these guidelines include:
- Being polite when using the forum
- Using proper grammar when posting on the forum. The forum administrators encourage members to edit their content before posting it
- Adding a link to your contribution when necessary
- Refraining from spamming or harassing other members
- The platform prohibits hateful speech
Firstly, the platform no longer logs the IP addresses of its users. However, the forum collects details like usernames, email addresses, and the devices and browsers members are using.
Secondly, the company states: “In order to prevent unauthorised access or disclosure, we have put in place suitable measures and procedures to safeguard and secure the information that we collect.”
Thirdly, Jamii Media allows users to request a copy of their personal data. This shows that the platform is transparent and ready to protect the identity of its users.
Freedom on JamiiForums
Scrolling through several threads on the 2020 elections sub-forum, it is clear that regulations have not interfered with the freedom of expression. However, whistleblowing content on the forum appears non-existent.
That said, Melo is unsure what direction press freedom will take in the country.
“It is a challenging time for us; it is a challenging time for the sector. Everyone is worried about what might happen in the upcoming elections,” he told the BBC earlier in 2020.
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