THERE was a lot of excitement — and one would imagine even apprehension — in some quarters when President Robert Mugabe announced plans to reshuffle his cabinet, which he eventually did on Monday.
Candid Comment Owen Gagare
The interest among many Zimbabweans was not inspired by the belief that Mugabe would come up with a dynamic team of ministers capable of turning around the economy. The interest was because they wanted to see how he would handle the succession dynamics in Zanu PF, particularly Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, with whom he had a public spat at the Harare International Airport last week.
As was expected, he used the exercise to erode his deputy’s influence in government, while strengthening the G40 faction, which has coalesced around his wife Grace.
One of Mnangagwa’s key allies, Patrick Chinamasa, was shuttled from the powerful Finance ministry to a newly-created Ministry of Cyber Security, Threat Detection and Mitigation, losing control of the nation’s purse strings in the process.
Chinamasa was the butt of social media jokes this week, with some people suggesting he was now the administrator of all WhatsApp groups, an internet guard, or a powerful anti-virus. Some suggested the ministry was specifically created for him after he made outrageous claims that social media had caused the panic-buying which resulted in shortages of basic commodities last month. While some saw Chinamasa’s “demotion” as a laughing matter, for a journalist like me, as well as social media users, civil society activists and other stakeholders, there should be reason to worry.
Mugabe’s move is an indication that the government is expanding its instruments of coercion with the sole aim of crushing our fundamental freedoms ahead of the general elections next year.
Chinamasa’s ministry is a threat to Sections 61 and 62 of the constitution, which guarantee freedom of expression by the media and the rest of the citizenry.
Chinamasa is not known as a hard man, but his statement in the aftermath of the panic a fortnight ago suggests he is ready for the job at hand. “So, the cause (of the panic), basically was social media. That is as far as we can understand it and that means it is a security issue. It also means there was a political agenda, a regime change agenda,” Chinamasa ominously said.
Several other ministers and security chiefs have issued veiled and direct threats to citizens in recent years, triggering the crafting of the Computer Crime and Cybercrime Bill, which allows security personnel to monitor citizens’ use of the internet, among other measures.
Zimbabwe already has a law, the Interception of Communication Act of 2007, which gives government significant powers of surveillance over the communications of citizens.
What a shame.
Government should instead be coming up with a framework which allows a balance between the promotion and protection of individual users’ fundamental rights, as well as national and regional security, rather than resorting to discredited cyber control tactics.