During the last decade, Tanzania has been hit by several waves of new technology, which changed the way people communicate and consume news and information.
As in many other Sub-Saharan African countries, Tanzania is experiencing somewhat of a mobile revolution. Since 2012, the average selling prices of smartphones has halved, more Tanzanians than ever have a mobile phone and the majority accesses the Internet via mobile wireless services. From 2012 till 2017 the Internet penetration has doubled, but despite this rapid growth 55% of Tanzanians still remain without Internet access, according to a report of the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA). A study conducted by the Pew Research Centre reveals that only 13% of Tanzanians own a smartphone.
Nonetheless this developments not only changed media consumption but also influenced other areas of life: for example over 20 million Tanzanians use a mobile money transfers replacing traditional banks. That’s why especially in rural areas mobile phones are becoming a necessity not a luxury.
Early digital switch
Terrestrial TV broadcasting is entering the digital era. Tanzania was one of the first East-African countries to carry out digital migration, and switched off its analogue Television in 2013. Digital terrestrial television is accessible in most major cities, the number of active subscriptions for pay TV is at around 2,2 million. Nevertheless, compared to the radio, television remains more expensive for both costumers and producers, underlies heavier regulation by the government and is not covering the whole country. Thus, television reach remains scattered, leaving radio as the most accessible broadcasting media in Tanzania.
Traditionally radio gave especially local actors a voice in the media market due to an absence of licensing fees. This changed in 2018 with the implementation of the Electronic and Postal Communication Regulations, which requires all broadcasters to license their media business and to pay an annual fee staring at $10 for amateur stations reaching up to $20,000 for national radio broadcastings, not including initial licensing and license renewal fee which have to be paid ever 3-5 years.
Foreign telco and mobile ecosystem
Looking at online usage, Facebook, Google, and Twitter and their daughter companies such as Instagram, WhatsApp, and YouTube are the most visited websites, according to GeoPoll. Locally produced websites only follow.
Also the telecommunications market is dominated by foreign companies, namely Halotel, vodacom, tiGo and Airtel, who together share 97% of the voice subscription market. Ultimately, their mother companies are located in Vietnam, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg, and India but some of them have local minority shareholders.
Vodacom Tanzania Limited, responsible for 32% of the voice subscription market, has multiple owners. The most relevant are the Vodacom Group Ltd based in South Africa (49%), partially owned by the South African government but ultimately belonging to the London based Vodafone Group, and Mirambo Ltd (26%), a holding company owned by Rostam Aziz – Tanzania’s former richest person. The Tanzanian newspaper The Citizen reported in summer 2018, that Rostam Aziz is about to sell its shares to the South African government. This would leave only 11% of the company's shares to investors from East Africa.
TiGo, responsible for 29% of the voice subscription market, is a brand of MIC Tanzania Limited, of which 100%of the shares are owned by Millicom based in Luxembourg. In March 2018 TiGo has been declared the fastest growing telco in Tanzania by Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA).
Airtel, responsible for 27% of the voice subscription market, is owned by India based Bharti Airtel Limited with a majority share of 60%. The other 40% are owned by the Tanzania government. The government claimed in 2017 that the company belonged to the state, while accusing the Indian majority owner of cheated the government out of shares. Bharti Airtel denied any irregularities in the deals that had turned the company to become the majority shareholder in a Tanzanian corporation.
Viettel Tanzania Ltd trading under Halotel is responsible for 9% of the total telecom voice subscriptions. Ultimately Viettel Tanzania is part of the Viettel Global group owned by the Vietnamese government and run by Vietnam’s Ministry of Defence.
Zero rating vs. net neutrality
Airtel, tiGo and vodacom are providing their customers with a slightly different “Free Basics by Facebook” package. With this package, several selected websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and WhatsApp are accessible for free, while the service providers cover the cost of the data traffic, supposedly cross-subsidised by the big platforms. Although this might sound great for customers and gives especially people in poor regions the chance to access the Internet, the so-called practice of ‘zero-rating’ is widely considered to pose a threat to net neutrality and media pluralism as it limits competition by manifesting the market dominance of a few providers while restricting or even inhibiting access to any website beyond this ‘walled garden’ .
Online content providers facing difficulties
Although more people are able to consume media content online, online content providers struggle due to a set of new regulations the government implemented.
Since 2015, the Tanzanian government built up a regulatory toolkit to promote online content if it deems fit. First of all, it has introduced a requirement, that online content providers have to register at the TCRA and pay an annual fee in doing so. The initial license fee of 900$/1,000,000 TSh and an annual renewal fee of the same amount equals the per capita income in Tanzania, which is slightly below $900/1,000,000 TSh per year. This resembles a hefty market entrance-fee for a still embryonic, yet important media sector, that was free-to-enter until then.
But even if an online content provider would manage to pay its registration fees, it’s still subject to the Electronic and Postal Communication Regulations. One example of its implementation, which was broadly criticized by the Tanzanian media, was the shutdown of JamiiForums, a social networking website which’s incentive is to engage Tanzanian society in free discussions, in the summer of 2018.
Another tool might be the Cybercrimes Act, which might not only be used to shut down specific websites. It also represents a threat to data protection since it requires that service providers “notify (the) appropriate law enforcement authority” of any “illegal activity or information, relevant facts and the identity of the person for whom the service provider is supplying services”, if it has “actual knowledge of illegal information, or activity”.
More about the governments toolkit to regulate in:
GSMA (2018). The Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan Africa 2018.
TanzaniaInvest (2013). Tanzania Leads East Africa’s Switch to Digital TV. Accessed on 22 October 2018.
Jacob Poushter, Caldwell Bishop, Hanyu Chwe (2018). Social Media Use Continues to Rise in Developing Countries but Plateaus Across Developed Ones. Pew Research Center. Accessed on 22 October 2018.
Mfonobong Nsehe(2018).Tanzania's Former Richest Man Rostam Aziz To Earn More Than $200 Million From Selling Vodacom Shares. Forbes.
Mnaku Mbani (2018). Rostam Aziz exits Vodacom Tanzania. Accessed on 22 October 2018.
Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (2015). AFRICAN MEDIA BAROMETER Tanzania 2015.
Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (2018). Electronic and Postal Communications Act, Licensing and Regulations
Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (2018). QUARTERLY COMMUNICATIONS STATISTICS. Accessed on 22 October 2018.
GeoPoll (2018). Custom study by GeoPoll Print and Online Audience Reach.
Reuters (2017). Bharti Airtel says purchase of Tanzania unit stake had government approval. Accessed on 22 October 2018.
Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala (2014). Viettel to invest $1 billion on 3G telecoms network in Tanzania: officials. Reuters. Accessed on 22 October 2018.
Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala (2018). Tanzania orders all unregistered bloggers to take down their sites. Reuters. Accessed on 22 October 2018.
Daniel Mumbere (2018). Tanzania cyber law introduces $900 fees for bloggers, compulsory passwords. Accessed on 22 October 2018.
Esther Karin Mngodo (2018). Jamii Forum founder speaks out on ‘government shutdown’. Accessed on 22 October 2018.
Hendrik Bussiek (2015). An Assessment of the New Tanzanian Media Laws of 2015.Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.
Vodacom Tanzania Limited (2018). Annual Report 2018.
Bharti Airtel Limited(2017). Annual Report 2016–17 p. 268-271.
Millicom (2016). Annual Report 2016.