By Watmore Makokoba
Although a new political order has dawned which has apparently ignited hope for reforms in both Zanu PF and government, the regime however seems to be keen to maintain a firm grip on suppressive internet governance measures to thwart the descending voice, recent research findings have reported.
The research paper (The State of Internet Governance in Zimbabwe) launched this week by Zimbabwe Democracy Index in partnership with Media Centre reports that internet freedom, though critically important ahead of 2018 general elections, is one area that the Zanu PF government is not willing to reform as it is sceptical of public scrutiny.
“As Zimbabwe struggles to transition from authoritarianism, internet freedoms have proven to be salient areas to pin hopes on.
“The authoritarian state has been aware of this and has put in place serious countermeasures. Now that the country is bracing for 2018 elections, it is necessary to audit the state of internet governance /freedom because it is this modern space that the government has recently tried so hard to capture,” said the report.
ZDI & MC consortium’s research aimed at examining the state of Internet Governance/Freedom found that Zimbabwe, despite guarantees in international law protocols to which Zimbabwe is signatory and the national Constitution, the authoritarian regime has devised various strategies to stifle, capture and control this space.
The research also reports that government utilises Acts of Parliament aimed at delimiting freedoms for institutionalization of clampdown on internet freedoms through state ministries, agencies and security forces.
The Computer Crime and Cyber Crime Bill proposed during the Mugabe era is one distinct restrictive manoeuvre crafted by government to guarantee securitization of internet freedoms as far as they apply to a citizen-to-citizen interaction, monitor and censor information particularly online and authorize breach of internet freedoms of citizens by the state.
Zanu PF keen interest in clamping internet wings was exhibited when former President Robert Mugabe created the Ministry of Cyber Security, Threat Detection and Mitigation, a measure similar to those applied in countries such as Japan, North Korea and China to stifle internet freedom in the guise of ‘banning those who abuse the internet’ .
Speaking on the sidelines of the swearing in ceremony, ICT Minister Super Mandiwanzira, who now oversees cyber security refuted claims that the bill was aimed restricting internet freedom, adding that rather the Bill was meant to protect citizens from internet abusers.
“It is not true that government wants to ban social media, rather it is aimed at protecting the citizens so that they effectively use social media accounts,” he said.
Social media was very pivotal in the 2011 Arab Spring revolution that swept across Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria and the “shut-down-Zimbabwe” demonstrations in 2016 that almost broke-down the state.
This has shown authoritarian regimes where they are headed if they do not heed to the people’s will and unfortunately, government countermeasures have been draconian internet governance frameworks in those countries, including Zimbabwe.
By Watmore Makokoba