Across the region, there?s increased appetite for nudity among social media users which has given rise to a new lucrative industry of homemade pornography.
The locally produced sex tapes especially in Kampala, Uganda are being marketed through Facebook and their content supplied through WhatsApp, a popular Smartphone application with payments made through mobile money.
Porn agents are permanently on the lookout for popular posts made especially by celebrities whose activities attract a huge number of comments.
In the comments? thread, the agents post their own sexually enticing notices about locally made sex tapes. These notices feature nude pictures of mostly attractive young women and provide mobile phone numbers to be contacted by those interested in the tapes.
For slightly over sh10,000 (about Rwf2,500), one receives several short sex clips featuring greasy sexual content with tips from a sex expert on how to muster some of the skills in the video.
Recently, a journalist with a Ugandan based TV station interviewed one of the people behind the industry who claimed the videos are aimed at improving people?s sex skills but not to erode morals. She added that they advise their clients to keep the videos out of reach of minors.
In Rwanda, the practice takes a new twist. There are several websites including Kigali Hits and Rwanda Paparazzi.net that have become popular among Kigali netizens for posting nude pictures of young attractive women.
As a marketing tool, the website administrators post links of their sexual content on Facebook to divert traffic from the popular social network toward their own sites.
The purpose of the nude pictures is to attract online traffic to the website; the website owners then use the stats to boost their popularity profile which they present to corporate companies for advertisement deals.
When contacted, the Rwanda Media Commission (RMC) chairman, Fred Muvunyi, said they?re aware of such websites and said they recently engaged them over their conduct.
Celebrity sex tapes
Apart from amateur homemade pornography films, there?s also a new social media trend involving the production and leaking of sex tapes starring well known socialites and celebrity musicians in the region.
Late last year, a sex tape starring Zari Hassan, a South African based Ugandan socialite leaked and quickly spread like a bush fire across the region through WhatsApp and Facebook sharing.
In another case, Desire Luzinda, a popular Ugandan female musician, had her nude pictures leaked, allegedly, by an estranged Nigerian boyfriend.
The pictures quickly spread through WhatsApp and Facebook sharing forcing the singer to issue a public apology. The singer was also summoned and interrogated by the Uganda police.
Several social media commentators and bloggers have opined that the rampant sex tape leaks involving celebrities are actually market stunts aimed at stirring up media coverage and controversy.
For instance, Desire Luzinda?s Facebook page following increased from less than 50, 000 followers to almost 100, 000 in just a few weeks after her leaked nudities.
In November, last year, Luzinda moved fast to benefit from her new found fame by releasing a music video with a very suggestive title, ?Nina Ekitone? which literally means ?I have a gift? or ?I am blessed.? It has over 25,000 YouTube views so far.
Sexual content as a marketing tool is widely used in American popular culture and several stars owe their current success to it.
For instance, the showbiz success of Kim Kardashian, rapper Kanye West?s wife, is widely linked to a leaked sex tape a few years ago that helped put her in the limelight.
There?s currently an unresolved international debate on how to regulate the internet without appearing to be muzzling freedom of speech and expression.
?When we met them (website owners) last month, we realised they were young people without professional media expertise and they kept accusing us of harassment,? said RMC chairman Muvunyi.
Under the new media laws of Rwanda, RMC is mandated to, among other things, enforce ethical conduct, including ensuring that media content is not harmful to minors or deviant to accepted traditional culture.
Technically, nudes run on local tabloid websites such as Rwanda Papparazi.net or Kigali Hits are way out of order.
Unfortunately, while they can easily take on traditional media such as radio, newspapers and TV, RMC officials admit they lack the capacity to regulate web-based publications, many of whom are oblivious to the operational laws.
?We have talked to other stakeholders such as Rura (Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority) but it is no easy task,? he adds.
Jean Baptiste Mutabazi, the man under whose docket media content regulation falls, admitted, during a phone interview, that currently, there?s nothing the regulator can do to rein in on rowdy internet based new media.
?Even at international level, the debate on internet control and governance remains unresolved,? he said.
However, Mutabazi adds that social media offenders can still be charged under the country?s penal code.
?For instance, if someone is spreading harmful propaganda on Facebook or Twitter, and they?re identified, they can be charged under the existing laws,? he added.
Police spokesperson Celestine Twahirwa concurred with Mutabazi when contacted.
?Police will investigate and bring the culprits to book. They are obviously committing a crime,? he said.
Unfortunately, the masterminds may not be in Rwanda. They could be based anywhere in the region.
Somewhere in Kampala, a porn agent will connect with clients in Kigali through Facebook and payments will be made through mobile money service before the deal is concluded and ?goods? delivered? through WhatsApp?out of Police?s reach.
Is this something police forces in the region can cooperate on to rein in? How can authorities protect thousands of juveniles roaming the internet from being morally derailed?
Last year, Ugandan legislators passed a controversial legislation dubbed ?anti-pornography law? which, among other things, criminalises the production and spread of pornographic content, including on the internet.
When Singer Desire Luzinda?s nudes leaked, Simon Lokodo, Uganda?s Ethics minister, a priest, ordered for her prosecution under the new law but the charges have since been dropped by the police.
The internet, while a very important factor in the 21st century, also presents new challenges for morally sensitive societies in Africa but there are no solutions yet.
Kenneth Agutamba, The New Times