So whenever the fragile economy of Zimbabwe coughs and spatters causing some kind of a reaction in the population, an enemy has to be found. The guys most responsible for national economic performance of late have been pointing the accusing finger at social media.
In the Mugabe days (yes we can say that now), there was a cooking oil shortage and ‘social media had caused it’ which led to the Central Bank governor issuing a statement. And VaMugabe reassigned his minister of finance to a new ministry: Cybersecurity, Threat Detection and Mitigation. We all knew this was nothing but a glorified WhatsApp group administrator whose job was to clamp down on information flow.
Now, last weekend the president of the republic increased the price of petroleum products by a factor of 3 through a televised decree and this resulted in protests. Again social media was the enemy. This time the minister of state security called for the unrestrained apprehension of the enemy and the internet was blocked for all Zimbabweans. It was a relief to have it back even though it’s without social media.
The minister of information presented to a room full of soldiers that social media is a vicious enemy that needs to be dealt with. She promised that a law to regulate what she called the proliferation of information will be before parliament soon.
Perhaps they will move very fast since the law used to shut down the internet this week itself does not give any such power to anyone and even if it did it would be unconstitutional.
How have other African countries attacked this brutal enemy of progress called social media:
Uganda started by attacking digital media publications (yes like Techzim) in April last year. They outlawed what they called ‘unauthorised news websites.’ My question then was: if it’s authorised, is it still news?
To get even more ridiculous, in June of the same year Uganda then introduced a social media tax! Yes you heard (read) that right, social media tax. The tax will start being collected on the 1st of July this year and it will cost each Ugandan on social media US $19 per year per platform.
This is not far fetched for Zimbabwe given how taxation is the current government’s all powerful utility tool. They started charging 2% tax on every transaction and we are all the poorer for it didn’t they? In his budget presentation, the finance minister already talked about taxing platforms such as Facebook that have local users who they make money out of. These guys can just develop that thought further and settle on killing 2 birds with one tax: raise revenue from poor Zimbabweans and discourage them from social media. A third bird then will be to pick and choose who to arrest for not paying social media tax!
Tanzania introduced some law to compel registration of blogs. Failure to do that could see bloggers facing a minimum 12 months in prison. The bloggers fought this in court and won a temporary reprieve.
Again this is not too far from Zimbabwe. Journalists have faced prison walls countless times before. I am sure Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison can be expanded to accommodate Techzim and other bloggers too. The all powerful Zimbabwe Defense Forces already made statements against social media and the legislature and judiciary could join the bandwagon.
Kenya is always touted as the beacon of hope when it comes to internet businesses on the continent. Even them too are not safe from government paranoia. In May last year, their government introduced a license for posting videos on the internet.
There was a question asked by a Kenyan citizen to the authorities on whether they needed the license to take a video and post it on social media. The response was clear: YES. If found breaking this law Kenyans can face up to 5 years in prison!
Just like the justification would sound like in Zimbabwe, the Kenyan authorities said they were introducing this law so as to protect national security and to raise much needed revenue. Tell me if our learned leaders were not taking notes.
Appeal to Zimbabwean government
Deaf ears or not one has to try: Government of Zimbabwe do not be tempted to follow the above East African countries. The measures have not worked in these countries, not the way the governments intended and they won’t work in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe really needs to clean up its image internationally and we were doing not such a bad job of it until August 1 last year. Even after that, we could be given the benefit of the doubt. The events of this week though have set us a long way backwards. It’s not too late to prove that Zimbabwe is indeed open for business though.
The internet and yes including social media as an affordable distribution channel has a lot of business and employment potential for the many young people unemployed and ready to march whenever such marches are called.
You can’t stop the marches by restricting economic opportunities further, you stop them by making sure young people are busy on the internet: discovering, learning, building and enterprising. There is a whole economy on the internet!
If we pause for a moment we may realise that before we open Zimbabwe for business to foreigners who have their doses of skepticism, we can go a long way by opening Zimbabwe for internet business by its millions of young people. They deserve the shot.
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