9 Jun 2011

Answering the wrong question - privatisation and the right to water

The UN General Assembly recently adopted a resolution recognising the "right to water". On the face of it, this is hardly a controversial resolution, since who would oppose something as obviously vital as water. But dig a little deeper, and there are some tricky issues here.

For many advocates of this right, the UN resolution has been used as an opportunity to re-open the privatisation debate that burned strongly and divided many over the past two decades. A recent special issue (No. 533) of Pambazuka, a magazine promoting freedom and social justice in Africa, focuses on "Water and Privatisation", aiming to do just that. The argument is that if water is a basic human right, surely it should be available for free. Or at least, multinational corporations should not be allowed to profit from its provision.

7 Jun 2011

What would "free" distribution mean for Tanzanian newspapers?

Mozambique's free @Verdade newspaper, picture from guardian.co.uk
The (UK) Guardian published an article this week on it's Global Development website about @Verdade, a weekly newspaper in Mozambique that's distributed completely free of charge. The same paper has been the focus of articles in Time magazine and Think Africa Press as well. They give away 50,000 copies a week, and estimate their weekly readership to be around 400,000 people, making it the most read newspaper in Mozambique.

I'm not aware of any Tanzanian newspapers that are distributed free of charge. There are plenty of newsletters and the like, some of which are made to look like newspapers, but there's a big difference between a company, government department or organisation publishing a newsletter to promote its own work and a genuine newspaper trying to be profitable using without charging a cover price. Even Femina, publishers of Fema and Si Mchezo magazines, for which the vast majority of copies are distributed free of charge is not really using a free model as it's usually understood since it is funded by donors. Nor are they really news magazines.

Elsewhere in the world, "free" as a model for newspapers is gaining ground. In the UK, the Metro has always (I think) been a free paper, and others are experimenting with the same and similar ideas. So if it can be made to work in the UK, and even in Mozambique, why has nobody made it work in Tanzania?