A report yesterday in the government owned newspapers The Sunday Mail, says the president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, is intent on introducing Chinese style internet restrictions to the country to put a stop the “abuse” of the internet.
According to the article, the president was addressing his party supporters at Harare International Airport who had come to welcome him home after an official visit to Japan. While acknowledging that the internet can provide great use such as research, the president said the abuse is “everywhere”.
Here’s an excerpt from the article. Most of it is in the Zimbabwean Shona vernacular so we have translated below.
On social media, the president said Government would also look at how China controls these platforms and learn how to introduce similar measures to stem abuses.
The President said:
“ICT, tinodawo technology yaikoko kuma communication systems atinawo, zvese zvemacomputer, matelephones mobile phones and so on vakangova vazviite zvive zvemberimberi.
Zvekuti mobile phone haisi phone chete inokwanisawo kuva zvakare inobata news uye zvakare ino recorder news uye zvakare kushandisa kubatana nevamwe, iyo aya inonzi mawhat-what (WhatsApp).
Hameno ndimi munozvigona zvekutsvaira tsvaira izvi (touch screen). Asi technology yepamusorosoro unogona kutauira nevanhu unogona kuvapa zvakati, vana vanokwanisa kuwana imomo zvemabhuku kana ingave history vachida history yenyika kana vayenda ku internet vanoiwana ipapo vanoiwana muka phone ikako vachingotsvaira tsvaira.
Zvino asi mune huny’any’a hwakawanda imomo munetsvina yakawanda imomo. Munekutukana kakaisvoipisisa imomo.
Mabuses vanhu varikuzvishandisa nenzira dzakashata. Zvangofararira kwese kwese pasi pose. Asi ve China vakaisa masecurity measures tichagoona kuti ndeapi nokuti maabuses zvekutukana nezvimwe zvakadaro zvidziviswe.”
We want the general technology in our country to be advanced. So that the mobile phone is not just a feature phone, but it can be used to discover news, record news and to share with others via apps like WhatsApp.
You are the ones that understand these smartphones. With them you can talk to people, share with them, students can research for their education. For example they can research the history of the country.
However there’s a lot of bad stuff on the internet. 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.
No time of implementation is mentioned.
Popularly known as The Great Firewall of China, the restrictions the Chinese government have put on the internet are designed for internet censorship. According to a Wikipedia article dedicated to the firewall, the “regulations include criminalizing certain online speech and activities, blocking from view selected websites, and filtering keywords out of searches initiated from computers located in Mainland China.”
Internet censorship in China is generally considered extreme. US run communication and social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, YouTube, Instagram, Dropbox and Soundcloud are all blocked. Last year Wikipedia too was blocked after it started making its content hard to monitor. You can see the full list of blocked sites here.
There are local Chinese versions of most US run popular apps, but even these are said to be heavily monitored.
Facebook along with WhatsApp, are extremely popular in Zimbabwe. In fact, for many people, thanks to zero-rating and internet bundling, the two apps ARE the internet.
President Mugabe’s announcement comes after months of rumours suggesting the government is working on telecoms regulations to ensure there was one internet gateway for the country, operated by the government telecoms provider, TelOne.
Currently, there are multiple internet gateways operated by both private and government operators. The most notable of these are operated by Liquid Telecom (private), TelOne (government), Powertel (government) and Africom (government & private). A single internet gateway would make monitoring and restricting internet use easier.
Following the rumours we contacted the Zimbabwe ICT minister, Supa Mandiwanzira, several weeks ago and he said no such central control of internet access is being planned.
Evidence on the ground however already suggests otherwise. The draft National ICT Policy released by his ministry just 4 months ago for example says as part of the infrastructure sharing agenda, government wants “a one stop shop infrastructure sharing facility” that all internet provider use, and the facilitation of the “establishment of a national fibre backbone with open access by the State.” (see page 20 of the draft policy, which you can download here)