President Robert Mugabe’s government is under unprecedented pressure to deliver on its 2013 election promises, with protests by disgruntled Zimbabweans becoming a daily phenomenon.
THE STANDARD COMMENT
The anger is more pronounced on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, where fed-up citizens vent their anger over runaway corruption, unemployment and police brutality.
Pastor Evan Mawarire’s #ThisFlag movement successfully tapped into this anger before he was hounded out of the country through the familiar treason trump card used against Mugabe’s critics such as Dumiso Dabengwa, Ndabaningi Sithole, Morgan Tsvangirai, Welshman Ncube and Renson Gasela, among many others in the past.
Instead of listening to the issues raised by Mawarire and many other Zimbabweans, Mugabe and his ruling Zanu PF reacted with venom, labelling all critics enemies of the country.
In typical Zanu PF fashion, the critics were labelled cyber terrorists to deligitimise their cause and justify a government crackdown that would only help to concretise Zimbabwe’s image as a dictatorship.
Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander Constantino Chiwenga waded into the debate and claimed that Zimbabweans were waging cyber warfare against the government.
Chiwenga went on to threaten those who use social media to exercise their freedom of expression with unspecified action.
Information minister Christopher Mushohwe upped the ante, saying the government would not fold its hands while people violated the Constitution through social media.
State media dutifully amplified the government and the military voices, going to the extent of naming some Zimbabweans in the diaspora as cyber terrorists in typical lynch mob-style.
The government says it is now crafting a law to regulate social media in the wake of protests that have been mainly organised through the platforms.
The Computer and Cyber Crime Bill if passed into law would enable the government to demand the source of information of any content deemed to be in violation of the law.
Similar legislation has been used in the past to persecute government critics including the privately owned media through cooked up criminal cases that never stick in the courts. However, this time the government is fighting a losing battle. The internet cannot be shutdown even by the most autocratic regimes especially by bankrupt ones.
As State media columnist Nathaniel Manheru, believed to be Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba, noted yesterday it would be folly for the government to try and regulate how Zimbabweans use social media.
Granted, internet use needs serious policing to curb threats to national security and clampdown on criminal activities such as the distribution of pornographic materials as well as violation of children’s rights, regulating social media is a Stone Age phenomenon.
The government, instead of harnessing the opportunities brought about by information technology wants to stifle its proliferation to the detriment of citizens.
It is high time the government listened to the concerns of the electorate without resorting to draconian instruments to silence them.
Zimbabwe has many pressing needs that include aligning several laws with the country’s Constitution and legislation regulating the use of social media is not one of those priorities.