Pay $900? I quit blogging

Global Voices Citizen Media Summit in Cebu, The Philippines in 2015. Photo Courtesy of Global Voices

I started my blog in 2005. I was among very few Tanzanians who were inspired by Ndesanjo Macha to start blogging. For those of you who do not know, the history of Tanzanian blogosphere recognizes the contribution of this great man. His influential  weekly column in a local newspaper invited many of us to his blog. In fact he was the first Tanzanian to blog in Kiswahili. That was in 2004. I had the privilege of meeting him in Nairobi, Kenya in 2012 and in Cebu, The Philippines in 2015. We were both attending Global Voices Citizen Media Summits.

For me, blogging was fun. I never thought that blogs could actually threaten politicians. That was until 2010 when I had an opportunity to attend the Global Voices Citizen Media Summit  in Santiago de Chile. I was shocked to hear friends talking about restriction of freedom of speech in their countries. Politicians did not like blogs. That was difficult to comprehend since in my country we had such a free space to speak our minds.

Blogging in Tanzania was then defined by names such as Jeff MsangiEvarist ChahaliProf. Joseph MbeleProf.Masangu MatondoBoniface MakeneJohn Mwaipopo, Fadhy Mtanga to mention a few. Reading these blogs was like spending a day in a good library reading a delicious mix of local politics, lifestyle, photography, poetry, literature, agriculture, education and informed analysis.

So like most other early bloggers, I enjoyed that freedom of being able to express my ideas, experiences and whatever I learned as a student without censorship. I never thought of making money out of it. Blogging was simply a way of documenting my daily reflections.

After a few years of blogging, that was 2009, my blog connected me to Global Voices. Things began to change thereafter. I met diverse community of bloggers and journalists around the world. That was a milestone that improved my blogging skills tremendously. Thanks to the great Global Voices community whose role in nurturing my blogging cannot be overlooked.

So with an experience of more than a decade as a blogger, I can put a few lessons together. First, blogging is (and should be) a free platform for sharing experiences. In a society such as ours where the majority speak Kiswahili, blogs are excellent tools for spreading useful information in a language that the people understand. Is there anything wrong with that? May be to some folks.

Secondly, a blog is a platform that promotes creation of free local content. Using my own example, I now write for local newspapers –in fact, four weekly columns. I never thought that one day I would be doing this because my day job is nothing close to journalism. But my simple blog taught me how to communicate ideas in writing. 

Looking at what I used to blog several years ago, for example, I see how my understanding, my perspective on things, my way of connecting to readers changed with time. That is to say, free blogging encouraged me to be a writer. Well not really but  I am now paid for writing and it all began in a simple blog.

If you think blogging is easy, you better learn to be a little more empathetic. Content creation is not that easy. It is time consuming. Sometimes one has no internet connection. That explains why many early bloggers in Tanzania became inactive few years later. I understand because at times I also find myself in the similar situation. The demands of my day job leaves me with no time to put a blog post together. 

But what keeps me motivated is the realization that I am, at least, making a contribution to online content. I am happy to know that I am serving thousands of poor people who cannot afford good books, who cannot read in English but would like to learn something useful in the internet. That was the major motivation for me to blog –creating content for these people to learn.

With a Nigerian blogger, Nwachukwu Egbunike, in the Global Voices Citizen Media Summit, Cebu in 2015. Photo Courtesy of Christian Bwaya
I think authorities should understand this simple fact. Thousands of people who are connected on the internet through their mobile phones would wish to find local content in their language. These poor people who may not get what they want in the traditional media depend on volunteers who can use their expertise and resources to create free content. Does it make sense? May be it doesn’t. I mean to some people.

You see, my simple blog is an example. I am in touch to thousands of people who find their way to my blog just because of what they search on the internet. I talk to these amazing people on daily basis. Nobody pays me but as an educator, that rewards me tremendously.

Reflecting on all these, I cannot understand why the government wants my simple blog –which already costs me time and resources –to be almost impossible to run. I just do not get it. Why should I pay Tsh 2,000,000 ($900) for contributing free content to my people? 

Well, I understand the government wants to expand its tax base. But even if that is the case, it could make sense to target those who see blogging as a business. I mean, that could make sense. But demanding every blogger –regardless of the focus and content of their blog– to pay tax, that is simply not right. I must be honest. I deleted so many sentences here but to sum up everything, I think the message is loud and clear. I understand. I, therefore, quit blogging to protest this decision.


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