On January 30, 2019 Geroge Charamba -The President’s Spokesperson- said:
Let’s not over dramatise. Investors don’t need the internet when they come to Zimbabwe. They just need peace.
On the same day in an interview published by the Newsday, Energy Mutodi -Deputy Minister of Information- said:
The Internet shutdown was not illegal as such. The only issue that arose is that the person who ordered the shutdown is not the rightful person to do that.
Government can invoke the Interception of Communications Act because that is part of our law. Whenever the need arises, government will invoke that. People can criticise all they want, but that is the law.
Besides the fact that this statement sounds like Mutodi is positioning the Government as against the people and not for the people, let’s talk about how the government’s new stance scuppers any meaningful plans to have fully functional smart cities in our country.
Smart cities NEED the internet…
For those wondering if we are anywhere near having smart cities, well the baby steps are being taken. The Harare City Council started work on having cameras at traffic lights around the CBD last year and the City Council said that would be a functional system at some point this year. Same thing in Bulawayo where they had a trial run of a similar system.
Econet also pledged that they would be making First Street a smart street, so there definitely was interest in this concept from citizens, corporates and the City Council but it seems the government does not see eye to eye with all these parties when it comes to smart cities.
Though the government has not come out and outrightly said they are against smart cities, threatening to turn off the internet sends a pretty clear message to whoever wants to put the infrastructure for smart cities in place:
YES, YOU CAN GO AHEAD AND PUT THIS INFRASTRUCTURE IN PLACE BUT PLEASE BE AWARE THAT WE WILL DISRUPT THE INTERNET MAKING YOUR INFRASTRUCTURE REDUNDANT FROM TIME TO TIME.
There are a lot of different priorities within government and whilst some will no doubt be welcoming of developments such as smart cities, (as we’ve seen government officials in attendance at smart city events), the loudest and most popular (or unpopular) members of the government are letting it be known that the internet is theirs to switch on and off and if you plan on having any business that greatly requires the internet, proceed knowing that you’ve been warned.
Only time will tell whether companies and councils looking to invest in smart city infrastructure regard these statements as growing pains and challenges that can be dealt with or if they believe the smart city is already a sinking ship that should be abandoned.