Lesotho moves to regulate social media

By Sechaba Mokhethi

Maseru – Lesotho will soon introduce a new cyber-security law to regulate the use of social media and to stem the peddling of what government considers as misinformation that threatens stability in the conflict-stricken kingdom.

According to the Lesotho chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, as of November 2015 Lesotho had an estimated 12.8% internet penetration rate, and among accessible social media networks, Facebook has turned out to be the most vibrant platform, cutting across the country’s 10 districts.

On the Facebook platform the most powerful is an anti-government group named Countdown to Elections 2015, 16 or 17. This group commands membership of more than 56, 000 people and is dominated by posts of one unidentified character only known as Makhaola Qalo.

Makhaola Qalo is renowned for leaking government confidential information, and while some of Makhaola Qalo’s posts are viewed in government quarters as merely opposition propaganda antics, a reasonable number expose government plans even before they are carried out.

Police have several times detained administrators of this group in their quest to unmask Makhaola Qalo, attempts that have proven futile to date.

As early as July 2015, hardly four months after the current government ascended to power, Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing threatened to close down Facebook.

He claimed Facebook threatened security of the country by perpetuating lies and distorting the truth.

Late last year, government, through the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA), raised concerns about the abuse of social media by certain elements of the public to the detriment of the country’s stability.

The LCA went on to push the country’s two mobile network operators, Vodacom Lesotho and Econet Telecom Lesotho, to state their position on the proposed temporary shutdown of Facebook and Twitter in the country.

The country lacks laws to regulate and specify cyber space crimes.

\The government has, however, drafted the Computer Crime and Cyber Crime Bill – which is said to have been developed on the guidelines of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) model.

The Bill seeks to provide a legal framework to criminalise computer and network-related crimes; to provide for investigation and collection of evidence for computer and network-related crime; to provide for the admission of electronic evidence for such offences, and to provide for matters connected with or incidental to the foregoing.

Government’s efforts to develop a comprehensive cyber security law received a shot in the arm from Vodacom Lesotho which sponsored a stakeholder workshop last week to unpack cyber security issues.

According to Vodacom Lesotho’s executive head of corporate affairs, Tšepo Ntaopane, a well-regulated cyberspace is imperative as it encompasses a broad spectrum of social challenges such as child kidnapping, child pornography, and financial crimes among others.

“The objective was, therefore, to bring together experts to share experiences and best practices as well as to open dialogue among various stakeholders to help shape policy considerations and the best possible direction for Lesotho,” Ntaopane said.

The workshop, which was organised in collaboration with the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology, was also said to be informed by government’s concerns on the abuse of social media to destabilise the country.

“This workshop was as a result of government’s concern and our understanding that people should have freedom of speech which has to be used responsibly.

“So, for us it is an issue of how we balance the government’s concern with issues of the right to freedom of expression. So the workshop was to thrash out these issues in a way to inform the development of a regulatory framework for responsible usage of the cyber space,” continued Ntaopane,

For his part, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology, Tšeliso Khomari, reiterated government’s concerns on the misuse of social media.

“All of us bear testimony to the fact that social media in Lesotho is unregulated, and provides a challenge to government because the degree of the political instability and mayhem that it is able to produce.”

Khomari said “…As if it is not enough, issues pertaining to cyber security go as far as the ability to create a safe environment conducive to sound and safe local and international investment climate within Lesotho.”

“This workshop is therefore meant, to help us appreciate and fully complement the need to establish an ICT-related and dominated economy that is well regulated,” Khomari said. He added the draft Bill was back at the consultative stage and inputs from the workshop could still be captured in the final Bill.

However, the success of this Bill becoming law relies on the prospects of the post June 3 snap elections.

April 2017
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