PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s repressive plan to tightly control Chinese-style access to the internet and social media platforms — Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as mobile messaging application WhatsApp and blogging, for instance — smacks of an authoritarian agenda reminiscent of old-fashioned dictatorships.
Zimbabwe Independent Comment
Mugabe recently said upon his return from far-flung Japan, a successful modern and technology-driven society, he is considering limiting and even blocking access to social media networks to control “abuse” of the digital platforms and cyberspace. He claimed there was a lot of “bad stuff” online among those who create and share content or participate in social networking. This came after Mugabe was captured in some video footage apparently sleeping on the podium in Japan where he seems to have learnt nothing progressive.
“There’s a lot of bad stuff on the internet,” Mugabe said soon after arrival from Japan. “There’s a lot of abuse that happens there. Some people use the internet in bad ways. It’s everywhere. But the Chinese have put in place security measures and we will look at these so that we stop these abuses on the internet.”
China three years ago unveiled tough measures to stop the spread of what the government called irresponsible rumours, threatening three years in jail depending on the amplification rate of the content posted. Internet users are liable for defamation if online rumours are liked or visited by 5 000 online audiences or shared more than 500 times.
While Mugabe’s stone-age disposition and plan is worrying, the unholy alliance developing between him and mobile network operators (MNO) — Econet, NetOne and Telecel — is evil.
Information Communication Technology minister Supa Mandiwanzira says government has rejected a proposal by mobile operators to stifle platforms such as WhatsApp.
“Sometime last year, the telecommunications players approached the ministry concerned about the loss of revenue that networks were experiencing due to over-the-top services such as Skype, WhatsApp calling, Viber and others,” he said. “They wanted the government to look at the possibility of their banning or stifling of these operations to ensure that they would continue to be profitable.”
So there is a marriage of convenience between Mugabe and operators ripping off customers through extortionate charges. Mugabe wants to control social media and communication applications for political reasons, while MNOs want to do it for commercial purposes. By design or accident, telecom companies are now supporting sinister political agendas for the love of money. Their clients’ liberties don’t matter as long as they make money. Section 61 of the new constitution guarantees our freedom of expression and freedom of the media. Every Zimbabwean has got a right to seek, receive and communicate ideas, news and information. Social media, which has had far-reaching consequences on how society functions and people live, is critical to business and the democratisation agenda. So this unusual, simply undesirable and despotic alliance — rooted in an Orwellian era — to stifle or block social media for political and financial reasons, must be resisted by all means necessary.