In a move that is angering Diaspora Gambians and their families back home, The Gambia government on Thursday announced the banning of all local and long distance Skype and Viber free calls in The Gambia–citing what it calls “the major financial loss that government is accruing due to Skype and Viber free calls,” the Freedomnewspaper reports.
The Gambia government has also banned online dating in the impoverished West Africa cocaine hub nation. Internet providers, companies and users here have been strictly warned to comply with the the ban imposed on Skype and Viber phone calls by the government.
Analysts said the Gambia government is violating international Internet access protocols by banning Skype and Viber free calls. But PURA said the ban will enhance the government’s revenue collection rate in the area of telecommunication. PURA warns all stakeholders must comply with the new directive.
“PURA wishes to inform the general public that it has come to its notice that there are companies and/or individuals operating through Internet Cafes and offering Dating services and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services as a commercially available service to the public in The Gambia. Therefore, all are hereby informed that such practices are not authorized,” PURA strictly warns.
“Furthermore, PURA wishes to make it abundantly clear that the offering of “International and National Calling Services” within Internet Cafes using VoIP services (Viber, Skype, etc) is strictly prohibited. Anyone who is engaged in this activity is depriving the country of the much needed revenue from International and National calls, required for the development of The Gambia,” the statement further warned.
Skype and Viber are free Internet applications, which allows its users to download, share files, video conference and make local and international phone calls without going through government controlled telecommunications.
There is little that PURA and the Gambia government can do to stop IPhone users downloading the Skype and Viber applications. A worst case scenario the government might resort to blocking Skype and Viber, but such a move might not speak well for the regime.
Also as part of the European Union Article 8, 17 points demand dialogue program with the Gambia government, the EU prevailed on the Jammeh regime to lift the ban on Internet access–most importantly the exiled online media. The European body also asked the government to reopen the Daily News, Standard Newspaper, and the Teranga FM radio.
In response, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh summoned a cabinet, which was televised live on state TV, GRTS. Jammeh flatly rejected the EU Demands–accusing the EU of trying to install a “puppet government.” What followed next was a nationwide protest organized by the government branding the European Union as “Saboteurs” and also agents of violence.
The government’s decision to ban Skype and Viber free calls, followed a growing disenchantment amongst the populace here, who uses Skype to call a US based online Internet Radio–Freedom Radio Gambia to vent their anger and displeasure against the Jammeh dictatorship.
The emergence of Skype and Viber have made it much easier for Gambians to place free long distance phone calls to Freedom Radio and their families overseas. The radio attracts millions of hits per month. Its target audience is: Diasporan Gambians, Gambians back home, US, EU and African policy makers.
The Gambia government is increasingly uncomfortable with the amount of information coming out of the country and also the public’s recent disapproval of dictator Yahya Jammeh’s government handling of the economy and the situation of governance. There is growing public dissatisfaction against Jammeh’s one man rule.
This is not the first time that the Gambia government has attempted to censor the Internet. The US State Department in its annual Human Rights report on Gambia criticized the Jammeh government for blocking the IP address of the Freedom Newspaper and that of the Gambia Echo Newspaper–both North Carolina based Gambian owned media houses. The US State Department said Internet freedom has been restricted in the Gambia.
PURA said it would like to warn anybody involved in either of the above activities to immediately desist doing so.
“In a bid to protect our national interest, PURA is urging the general public to be vigilant with regards to the above, and to report any suspicious activities to PURA by calling 148 free on all networks, between 8.30am to 6.00pm (Mondays to Thursdays),” PURA concluded.
Mr. Tony Bates Skype CEO could not be reached for immediate comment at the time of going to press.