By Wisdom Mumera
The gazetted Cyber Bill is the culmination of frantic efforts by the government to get a good grasp of the slippery social media angle in a country in which they already have an iron hold on the mainstream media.
Just like the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) which stifled civil liberties and people’s freedom of expression under the guise of strengthening peace, the Cyber Security and Data Protection Act is from the same mill.
The Maintenance of Peace and Order (MOPA) assented to by President Mnangagwa in November last year has already been dismissed as another face-lifted but still grotesque variation of its older self.
The Cyber Bill besides its innocent aim to, “increase cybersecurity in order to build confidence and trust in the secure use of information and communication technology by data controllers and data subjects”, will suffer the same bastardisation as its information related predecessors.
This is for the simple reason that post-2017 structurally the country remains atrophied in the same state and posture from which the earlier pieces of legislation were abused.
The Battle for Framing the Country’s Narrative
In the broader tussle to frame the country’s narrative on the global stage, the supposedly reformist government has constantly found itself frantically outpaced by a rioting and unedited wave of raw information revealing more than is enough.
Social media has come to occupy a strategic position in the fight for political power as it has generally even-ed the narrative field by allowing each side a platform to air themselves out.
Narratives are no longer the sole creation of those with control of mainstream media but even the ‘weaker’ can fight back with their own subjective views, defending their positions, offering alternatives and pulling down state propaganda.
Essentially it’s harder to lie as a government.
Prior to the 2016 American elections, Cognitive Scientist George Lakoff came up with a theory in which he showed how powerful an oft-repeated statement or point could determine understanding more than the subject of the point.
According to Lakoff, “framing influences reasoning, or how we say something often matters much more than what we say”.
The framing of the Zimbabwean story has been steadily but strongly getting away from the government whose publications are now reduced in terms of influence due to both technological changes and economic factors.
More trending, more damaging and more explosive are the by-the-minute repeated mantras and points flying across social media.
To its credit, the Emmerson Mnangagwa government recognized this and unleashed its own army of social media trolls who are expected to fight back the alternative narratives.
Varakashi from Esigodini
At the party’s Annual Conference in Esigodini in 2018, President Mnangagwa exhorted the youths, “to be educative and informative on the social platforms and (to) engage others who are playing on those platforms, rakashai vanhu, imi muchisumudzira musangano wenyu”.
They have fared badly.
Most of them are mere fanatics perched on the excitement of being in power or bombastic and dismissive to alternative arguments to an extent that they cannot fashion out proper arguments which go beyond the aged-drool of sanctions and colonialism and its attendant derivatives.
The most prominent pro-government actors on social media thrive on the ability to drop revelations about enemies, obviously from government connections, but never to frame out solid arguments about the economic and political scenario.
This has resulted in a government that is daily toasted on social media with no hold on the narrative that is being sent out to the rest of the world.
Its response has been the Cyber Bill which is essentially supposed to cower the enemies, opposition and watch over any errant acts which endanger the narrative supported by the government.
Taking Cover Under the Law
The Cyber Bill is a culmination of efforts from the Robert Mugabe days when the late leader formed a Cyber Ministry following a spate of attacks on social media such as Twitter which also included being called a dog and a goblin.
Since then government has failed to get a good hold on the narrative battle on social media.
Campaigns have been launched; a whole demonstration was bred, fanned and grew from social media and new heroes have been created through the same medium.
It is on social media that the aged nature of the characters mostly found in government has been encapsulated as a metaphor of their limitations in the modern world.
They have struggled to adapt, control and limit the impact of the social media fight, thus resorting to the only other way possible.
The Bill is the aged government’s frantic shake of the decaying wand to reel out some magic that will draw everyone back under its spell.
The scope of the Cyber Bill is so wide it can be argued that making single-tracked attacks on its standing is disingenuous but the historical precedent of how the government has used these kind of laws informs this position.
Punched the lights-out by an opponent whose tactics it cannot match the government has more often trotted back into fashioning combative laws that seek to suffocate the opponent under the cover of an embrace. Get all COVID-19 statistics for Zimbabwe from COVID-TRACKER