Mozambicans Protest Soaring Telecommunication Charges

By Herman Ramos

On May 18, thousands of people in Maputo and various other cities in Mozambique staged a protest against the exorbitant prices of internet services, SMS messages, and phone calls. The demonstration intended to urge the National Institute of Communications (INCM) to rescind the recent tariff adjustments implemented at the start of May.

On May 2, 2024, the INCM announced the implementation of the new tariffs. The President of the INCM Board of Directors, Tuaha Mote, presented a framework indicating a reduction in prices. However, the measures include the elimination of various internet packages and a significant reduction in bonuses applied to top-ups. For example, previously, with 150 meticais, it was possible to purchase 8 GB of mobile data (GIGA recharge or data recharge) on the TMCEL network. With the new tariffs, the same amount only allows for 2 GB (2080MB). This price increase is evident across all telephone networks in the country and various types of top-up services are applied.

Old (on top) vs.  New Tariffs (bottom): A Visual Comparison of Mobile Data Services

Criticism of the new tariffs began on social media, particularly on Facebook. The new tariffs imposed by the INCM had a significant impact on the Mozambican population, especially among youth and workers who rely on the Internet for their daily activities. As a result of this discontent, a march was called by a group of citizens demanding the repeal of the measures. In the week leading up to the protest or march, there were several attempts at dialogue between the protest organizers, consisting of young civil society members, and the INCM. However, these conversations did not lead to an agreement.

Citizens Gather Outside the INCM building ahead of the meeting with the authorities.

Quitéria Guirrengane, one of the movement’s organizers, stated that the march is just the first step in a series of actions to force the repeal of the measures and demand the removal of the President of the INCM Board of Directors. “We, as citizens, value dialogue, but it is not possible to sit at a dialogue table where the measures are maintained without considering our concerns,” Guirrengane said.

Quitéria Guirrengane, one of the movement’s organizers

Various organizations and public figures also spoke out against the new tariffs. MISA Mozambique submitted a request to the INCM on May 15 for the repeal of the resolution, arguing that the new tariffs compromise fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and the right to information, limiting citizens’ public participation in the country’s governance. According to Fátima Mimbire, vice-president of MISA, the new telecommunication tariffs place Mozambique on the list of countries where the internet is expensive and practically inaccessible, violating the principle of equality by segmenting citizens into socioeconomic groups, depriving the poorest of internet access.

Mimbire stated that the bankruptcy of some mobile phone operators is not due to tariff prices but to mismanagement, and the costs for their recovery cannot be passed on to citizens. At a time when the INCM announced discounted internet rates for young people aged 16 to 25, aimed at relieving students, Fátima Mimbire said that MISA does not accept special rates for young people, as this also results in discrimination, in a country where many young people do not have access to university precisely for economic reasons, being active in the informal sector or other sectors where they also need affordable telecommunication rates, like other age groups.

Fátima Mimbire, vice-president of MISA.

According to Mimbire, the INCM, as the telecommunications regulatory body, should not act in favor of groups or elites but rather in the interests of the state and citizens. “The INCM should work to ensure that the internet is accessible to all Mozambicans, with optimum quality,” she emphasized.

Custódio Duma, lawyer and human rights defender, filed a petition with the Maputo Administrative Court on May 17, requesting the suspension of the new tariffs. Duma argues that the resolution is untimely, illegal, and flawed. According to Duma, prices have increased 10 to 15 times more, despite INCM’s claims that there has been no increase in mobile phone services. The combination of High costs, lack of cohesive clarifications, and non-compliance with the law, are among the various reasons cited by Custódio Duma as the reason for the urgent need to suspend the new mobile phone tariffs in force since May 4th in the country.

Custódio Duma Submits Petition to Maputo Administrative Court

On the eve of the protest, during the National Communications Conference, which coincided with World Communications Day on May 17, Tuaha Mote stated that communication costs can only be reduced if fiscal costs charged on the importation of telecommunications equipment are reduced. “Many sectors of the economy have exemptions. The ICT sector, when importing any equipment, pays 100% of customs duties. We want a digital economy and collaboration to encourage communications infrastructure in Mozambique,” Mote said.

Tuaha Mote during a session at the National Communications Conference.

However, not all marches occurred peacefully. In the city of Beira, in Sofala province (central zone of Mozambique), the police prevented the protest from taking place, the same situation was observed in Nampula, in Nampula province (Northern zone of Mozambique).

Citizens Blocked from Protesting in Beira City by Police Intervention

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