Africa’s efforts to tackle cybercrime are gaining momentum as Tanzania joins African countries including Zambia, Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya in coming up with a law that includes penalties of up 10 years in prison.
The law comes amid claims that Tanzania has one of the highest rates of cybercrime and social media abuse in Africa. Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete has already approved the Cyber Crimes Act of 2015, which becomes operational this week.
The Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) is already warning of tough actions against cybercriminals in the East African country as a result of the new law.
Critics have said however, that the Tanzanian law targets social media with the aim of regulating its use in order to silence divergent views and critics of the government.
Under the law, anyone found guilty of spreading lies, sedition and pornographic material through social media, including Facebook and Twitter, could go to prison for up to 10 years.
TCRA's head of corporate communications, Innocent Mungy, said that "Social media was targeted by the law because many reports on social media originating from Tanzania were not true and therefore not trusted by other countries around the world hence the need to halt the trend."
Generally, African governments have not been fans of social media. Officials allege that on many occasions social media has been used to coordinate protests aimed at overthrowing governments plagued with poor leadership and economic problems.
Many African countries including Zambia have promised to introduce cybercrime laws that will also regulate the use of social media.
There are also plans in the region to improve enforcement by training more cybercrime specialists among law enforcement officers.
“Targeting social media .... will not help Tanzania and any other African government to suppress people’s feelings on the governance system of their respective countries. Social media is here to stay and people will continue using it,” said Edith Mwale, telecom analyst at Africa Center for ICT Development.
According to cybercrime statistics in several African countries, the banking industry is the most affected by cybercrime, raising fears that Africa may face a slowdown in international investment in the financial sector.
With more Africans now use the Internet for their banking needs, the number of fraudsters eyeing online financial transactions has also multiplied.
As in Kenya and Nigeria, Tanzanian government statistics indicate that on a daily basis, close to 1,000 Tanzanians fall victim to Internet fraud.
A report by Fred Matiangi, the Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for information and communication technology (ICT), in November last year showed that Kenya’s financial sector was expected to lose about $23 million in online fraud in 2014 alone.
In Nigeria, a new cybercrime law became operational in May this year, making the country the first in West Africa to introduce rules aimed at regulating cyberspace.
Nigeria is known for its notorious email scams across the world. Many Nigerian scammers have been arrested in Nigeria and around the world for executing what is called the 419 scams that trick users into believing that they have won a lottery. The scams involve getting victims to send an upfront processing fee to get promised money.
According to the latest Kaspersky report on spamming and phishing, Nigerian spammers are among attackers who use world events to lure vulnerable users into sharing personal data.
Southern Africa is also experiencing an increase in mobile and Internet banking fraud, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars.
A number of local and international banks in Zambia and other Southern African countries including South Africa have been reporting phishing on their Internet banking systems.
The Zambia police blame the rising cases of cybercrime in the country on foreigners who they accuse of being behind the theft of customer money and the training of Zambians on cybercrime.
Cybercrime in the region is also said to have increased following the lowering of bandwidth and connectivity costs as mobile phone service providers and international cables compete for customers.