Tanzania music ban - protecting cultural norms or limiting freedom of expression

Diamond Platnumz poses on the red carpet at the MTV Europe Music Awards in Milan, October 2015.
Diamond Platnumz poses on the red carpet at the MTV Europe Music Awards in Milan, October 2015. Photo: AFP/Giuseppe Cacace

Authorities in Tanzania have banned several songs in order to protect certain “cultural norms”, the country’s information minister has told RFI. The Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority on Wednesday published a list of 13 songs that it said had breached broadcasting laws. The communications authority had been given the list, which features some of the country’s top artists, by Tanzania’s arts council.


“We have our cultural norms - our attitudes and behaviours that are considered normal, therefore acceptable to Tanzanians in general,” Harrison Mwakyembe, Tanzania’s information minister, told RFI. “So what we have done is simply to take measures, as the law demands, against lyrics containing offensive language, which are totally unacceptable.”

The list features artists such as Diamond Platnumz, whose music videos have racked up millions of views online, and Ney Wa Mitego, who previously fell foul of the authorities for a song that was considered insulting to the government.

“Some of the cultural norms we protect here,” Tanzania’s information minister said in a telephone interview. “Once they are breached there are sanctions, which everybody knows about. If you walk naked in Tanzania, or if you participate in incest or homosexuality then you should accept sanctions,” he said, referring to other acts that he said are considered to be against Tanzania’s cultural norms.

The statement from Tanzania’s communications regulator announcing the ban said that the 13 songs are contrary to the country’s broadcasting values, describing them as unethical.

Tanzania’s main opposition party has hit out at the ban, saying it amounts to “censorship” and is part of efforts by President John Magufuli to crackdown on freedom of expression.

“The reasons that we are given by the government, they are very shallow. They're just saying that these songs are against our culture. If you ask, 'what culture', nobody can respond to that,” said John Mrema, director of communications and foreign affairs, Chadema party.

“They are silencing every voice - we politicians, our voices have been silenced, human rights activists, they have been silenced, now it’s time for the musicians,” Mrema told RFI.

“One song was about speaking about missing Jakaya Kikwete,” said the opposition politician, referring to a track entitled, ‘I’m sorry JK’ by Nikki Mbishi. “It was just banned, somebody is singing that he's missing the former president because of the way the current president is doing things,” Mrema added.

Other songs on the banned list have music videos feature suggestive dancing and sexual innuendo, such as ‘Chura’ by Snura which depicts clothed women on a beach twerking.

“This is an attack against freedom of expression,” said Mrema. “Right now, they're even censoring the kind of music, the kind of songs, which the people can listen to.”

The Legal and Human Rights Centre, a Tanzanian human rights group, said that the ban was an "attempt to silence artists from their freedom of expression".

LHRC said that "a few songs seem to be against our cultural values", following an assessment it made of the songs contained within the list. "But there are few others which were criticising the conduct of some of the authorities and advocate for change. For instance, songs by artist Roma Mkatoliki," it said in an emailed response, referring to a song called Kibamia, which in Swahili means okra and can be used as slang alluding to male genitalia.

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