What if my government doesn’t care about the economic cost of #InternetShutdowns?


After close to three months without Internet access, last week the Anglophone regions of Cameroon finally saw the lifting of an Internet ban that was imposed in January in response to anti-government protests in that country. It is estimated that Cameroon realised close to US $5 million in economic loses attributable to the shutdown. Cameroon is just the latest victim of what’s becoming a real scourge particularly on the African continent. We have learnt that in 2016 alone, there were at least 56 documented Internet shutdowns, and the number keeps growing.

That any government can get away with such a move amidst campaigns to #KeepItOn and #BringBackOurInternet is an indicator of how far we still have to go in terms of locating effective methodologies for stopping intentional state-sanctioned internet disruptions.

There have been various campaigns calling on governments to respect freedom of expression and leave the Internet alone. The UN officially condemned the practice of Internet shutdowns and passed a resolution to that effect. The Freedom Online Coalition (made up of 30 governments) also issued a joint statement condemning state sponsored network disruptions. Recently, AFRINIC announced a punitive policy proposal to penalise governments and their aligned entities for implementing shutdowns, through refusing them new IP addresses. There are a number of problems with this latest proposition, least of which is the fact that ultimately innocent citizens may end up paying the price.

The reality is, there have so far been no measures that have successfully prevented errant governments from executing mass web blockades.

In the dialogues against Internet shutdowns, what I often hear being put forth as the main argument to use against errant governments is the issue of the economic costs of shutdowns. The Brookings Institution estimates that Internet shutdowns in seven surveyed African countries in 2016 alone resulted in losses of up to $320 million.

The only problem is, clearly many governments do not care about that. Stances taken by governments like that of Cameroon and a few others show that economic loss is not a sufficient deterrent. A lot of government officials do not understand the Internet, including those that regulate it. My government in particular has never been deterred by the thought of making decisions that are potentially economically disastrous, and has itself historically introduced suicidal policies that have sabotaged or nearly sunk the economy before.

In case you don’t know a lot about Zimbabwe, here is a brief chronicle of a few past events that will make the cost associated with Internet shutdowns pale in comparison:

  • 1997 – the Zimbabwe government buckled under pressure and made un-budgeted but hefty payouts as gratuities to about 50 000 war veterans (each individual paid about the equivalent of US $4000). These payouts had grave economic consequences from which the country never fully recovered, and resulted in what became known as Black Friday, when our currency lost 72% of its value in a single day.

  • Year 2000 – the Zimbabwe government executed a chaotic land reform program that saw to a lot of productive farm land being seized from white farmers for the purpose of ‘re-settling’ landless black Zimbabweans. A lot of the resettled ‘new’ farmers knew squat about farming at that scale. Many of them abandoned staples that were being grown on a number of the farms The land reform program led to a drastic deterioration of the country’s economy and is widely believed to have precipitated the country’s economic collapse between 2000 – 2009.

  • 2008 – The Zimbabwe government enacted the Indigenisation Empowerment Act that among other things compelled most ‘foreign owned’ companies, in particular ones with a share capital above US $500 000, to cede 51% of their shares to ‘indigenous’ Zimbabweans. This move not only chased away potential investors; it crippled a number of productive companies because of the effects on business confidence.

  • 2008 – 2009: we were a nation of billionaires. Seriously, I was a billionaire before I hit 30. Inflation had risen to about 500 billion percent. I remember the then Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa trying very hard to stop himself from laughing as he mentioned quintillion level amounts while presenting the national budget. Hyperinflation and wanton printing of money characterised this period for us and as a result, prices of goods changed 10 times in a day and we starved a little. There were literally empty shelves in the supermarkets.

I could go on, but you get the point.

So. Basically the economic argument wont cut it.

What else is there? This is a genuine concern because Zimbabwe goes to the polls in 2018. The election fever is already starting to be felt. Our government has been watching and learning as the likes of Museveni and Biya among others have gotten away with shutting down the Internet with great impunity. We can realistically expect that this might happen around Zimbabwe’s 2018 plebiscite. After all, the government did experiment with a partial shutdown around the July 2016 nationwide stay-away…

At RightsCon this year, I seem to recall a brief conversation that was had about finding useful ‘alternatives’ other than internet shutdowns, that could be suggested to governments keen to address the specific challenges that have previously necessitated intentional network disruptions (e.g preventing examination cheating, or maintaining the peace in the face of public protests). Perhaps we are better off concentrating our energies on that versus the usual ‘bland statements that have shown to have little or no effect’ as described by AFRINIC in justifying their denial of IP addresses proposal.

Where do we locate Zimbabwe in the global Internet governance dialogue?

Last month I attempted to explain some of the confusion surrounding the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) situation in Zimbabwe. Few weeks ago I had the privilege to participate in the 10th annual global IGF that took place in Brazil, whose overarching theme was: ‘Evolution of Internet Governance: Empowering Sustainable Development’.

The opening ceremony at the global IGF was, as expected, replete with endless speechifying, which was surprisingly not boring. Among the 20 or so individuals that delivered speeches was South Africa’s Deputy Minister for Telecommunications and Postal Services, Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize. She spoke at length about something I have heard about before: the ambitious ‘South Africa Connect’ project to roll out fibre across the entire country as well as her government’s concerns about the void being created by the lack of an international instrument that deals with cyber security.

I momentarily had the bleak and depressing realisation that I seemed to have a better appreciation of South Africa’s plans for Internet governance versus my own country.

I have honestly heard Ms Mkhize and others in her ministry take advantage of whatever opportunity they get to speak, to elaborate their country’s priorities in different spaces, and the messages are consistent.

I cannot say the same for our Zimbabwean comrades.

No representative from Zimbabwe gave a speech at the global IGF.

It seemed that there were no high-ranking officials representing our country at this important event, which I thought was a little strange because earlier in September this year, ICT Minister Supa Mandiwanzira had attended the Africa IGF in Addis.

But I had the whole week to find out.

By the end of day one of the IGF week, I had established that a couple of influential individuals in the Zimbabwe Internet governance space were present.

There was the Principal Director in the Ministry of ICTs in Zimbabwe, Mr Simon Cosmas Chigwamba. Dr Gilford Hapanyengwi, Chairperson of the ZIGF advisory group was also there together with Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (POTRAZ) representative, Bonnie Mtengwa. I also spotted Mr Marufu Chigaazira, who currently works with the Communication Regulators Association, CRASA.

With Dr Hapanyengwi at UN IGF

With Dr Hapanyengwi at UN IGF

With Koliwe Nyoni of Misa Zimbabwe and Mr S. Chigwamba

With Koliwe Majama of Misa Zimbabwe, Mr S. Chigwamba and Mr Chengetai Masango (IGF Programme & Technology Manager)

Since none of these individuals were scheduled to make speeches or to speak on any panel throughout the entire IGF, I used a few tea breaks to seek clarity on a few burning questions.

First, I asked both Mr Chigwamba and Mr Hapanyengwi separately, what Zimbabwe’s Internet governance priority issues were.

This is something I had been trying to establish well before the global IGF, because I imagined that such would inform most of the conversations I would be interested to participate in at the IGF.

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 10.22.17 AM

On 19 October this year, POTRAZ held what they described as the country’s first and ‘official’ national Internet governance forum.

Because the various stakeholders in attendance worked to identify key Internet governance issues around themes such as internet and human rights, governance standards; openness; inclusivity and diversity and cybersecurity; it made sense that the main outcome of that meeting would be a curated communiqué on among other things, the national priorities that would ideally be used as points for discussion in regional and international internet governance forums.

To date, no such communiqué exists.

The little updated Zimbabwe Internet Governance Forum (ZIGF) website still only has just the one communiqué from the June meeting that established the mandate of the ZIGF. So unless one attended the ‘official’ ZIGF, it is difficult to get a sense of where we are going as a nation, where Internet governance issues are concerned.

I am keeping fingers crossed that the communiqué will be posted and shared publicly at least before the Southern Africa regional Internet governance forum (SAIGF), because the issues that will be discussed there include some of the themes discussed at the official ZIGF. It would be good to know where we stand on what issues in the regional discussion.

Needless to say I did not get any straight answers from both Messrs Chigwamba and Hapanyengwi, and frankly I do not entirely blame them. The October ZIGF though noble, was a little rushed and did not seem well coordinated or thought out. It also took place well after the Africa IGF, and it was hard to see what process was leading where and for what.

What makes things even more interesting is the fact that the SAIGF is only taking place this December.

I would have thunk that the correct or perhaps logical order of things would be: national IGF first, followed by the SAIGF, then the Africa IGF and lastly the Global IGF. The Africa IGF took place before both our national IGF and the SAIGF, and the global IGF took place before the SAIGF.

Clearly there are some planning and/or coordination issues here. But then I also heard about funding challenges affecting the timely implementation of the SAIGF.

Nevertheless, I also asked if there was any update on the status of the revised Zimbabwe ICT policy, and was informed that it is still under final review by the Cabinet before tabling in Parliament. I kept to myself the concern that this policy has been a long time coming, and at this rate, might be overtaken by events to the point of being obsolete by the time it is finalised.

Some of my main observations from the global IGF experience were that representation of ‘African’ positions in the various platforms was very limited, even though there were a lot of African participants present.

The limited representation of African positions in my view is reflective of poor strategy at regional level, especially when considering that the SAIGF failed to take place before the global IGF.

This is not however to say that a joint Africa position on Internet governance is possible, although this would be worth exploring.

Whatever the case, I think that coordinated approaches are necessary in the future, perhaps with aggregated topics to give participation in different spaces some meaningful direction.

The Africa IGF produced a fantastic sounding outcome document that I am not sure how widely disseminated it was. It probably has some good fodder for reference in the SAIGF.

Hopefully it is not gathering some digital dust somewhere as in the case of our ICT policy and the official ZIGF communiqué…

Did Zimbabwe just have its third national Internet Governance Forum?


The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (POTRAZ) on 19 October, held what they described as the country’s first and ‘official’ national Internet governance forum (IGF).

The IGF is a multi-stakeholder platform that facilitates important discussion of public policy issues pertaining to the Internet and how it is controlled.

Anyone that has been observing the Zimbabwe Internet governance space can be forgiven for being confused about this latest ZIGF, because two other ZIGFs took place earlier in the year! At least that is what it seemed like.

The first one was held in June under the auspices of POTRAZ in partnership with the Government of Zimbabwe and the Ministry of ICT, Postal and Courier Services, while the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) facilitated the second one in August.

For those who were as confused as myself about all these events; what they were about and where things are now: here is hopefully a simplified explanation that will especially help those trying to keep track of the Internet governance conversation in Zimbabwe.

So it turns out that there are quite some useful explanations:

According to the Ministry of ICTs, Postal and Courier services Deputy Director Mr James Madya, the ZIGF held by POTRAZ on 17th June was apparently just a ‘launch’ of the concept after an inaugural ‘multi-stakeholder’ workshop and relevant public consultative meetings facilitated by POTRAZ on 15 June to deliberate on its establishment.

The main outcome of that meeting was a communiqué on the establishment of a ZIGF and the setting up of a multi-stakeholder committee with interim membership to operationalize the ZIGF as well as finalize the founding documents.

It was noted in this meeting that POTRAZ would serve as secretariat and enabler of the ZIGF.

Because there was a notable absence of key stakeholders from civil society, the private sector and development partners (due to the short time frame given for the workshop and in part, limited publicizing of the event), it was decided that there was need for further consultations.

Taking into consideration the fact that many interests and stakeholders had not been represented at the initial POTRAZ ZIGF launch meeting, MISA proceeded to hold what they described as an Internet Governance Conference on 21 August.

While the title of MISA’s event sounded politically correct, the main subjects under discussion sounded a lot like what a standard IGF would be with discussion of issues such as what the future of Zimbabwe’s internet ecosystem looked like, laws affecting internet use in Zimbabwe and the country’s internet governance plans, among other things.

Many people did think that the MISA event was indeed a ZIGF as evidenced here and here.

The twitterati also stopped short of also branding it as such, using the hashtag #ZIG (Zimbabwe Internet Governance).

Wikipedia describes forum: as an open public space for discussion, a meeting or medium where ideas and views on a particular issue can be exchanged.

Conference: is a meeting of people who “confer” about a topic or topics in a meeting.

Conference, forum, what’s in a title, those two words can be treated like synonyms.

Nevertheless, the last ‘official’ ZIGF held in October was all about engaging the public in identifying issues around selected thematic areas that ought to be addressed in the country’s Internet governance forum spaces.

Participants were split and worked in groups to come up with a shopping list of issues to consider around the following themes: Internet economy; Internet and human rights, Internet governance standards; openness; inclusivity and diversity and cybersecurity. The different inputs would ideally be taken into the regional and international forums by the advisory taskforce that was set up to facilitate future ZIGF spaces.

It was heartening to note that the meeting sought to incorporate input from the MISA meeting as the resolutions from the latter were distributed among the participant groups so that areas of convergence could be identified.

Ideally, if there is a convergence of inputs from the different conversations taking place around Internet governance in Zimbabwe, that means we will ultimately have a common list of issues that we all prioritize in this area. That is a good thing.

Image by TechZim

Outdated Degrees, attitudes and values systems


Long Visa Queues

Last week the Independent carried a story about how Zimbabwean students were inundating the South African embassy, seeking visas to go and study in that country. Most of the students interviewed said something to the effect that they were running away from the country’s rotting education system, and ‘outdated’ degrees. Not so long ago, the opposite was true; South African students and many others in the region were the ones seeking Zimbabwe’s coveted education. However when you critically assess the situation, it isn’t just degrees that are outdated, but attitudes and value systems prevailing in that sector.

When I did doing my undergrad in Media and Studies at a local state university a few years ago, I recall that the class ahead of us went ahead to do their work-related learning, popularly known as attachment, mainly in newsrooms, without having ever operated a computer. The school of journalism did not have cameras, computers and other paraphernalia necessary then for learning the profession. We never at any point learned anything to do with social media and emerging trends in new media. If any of the lecturers had ever heard about Facebook, Twitter or blogging, they either didn’t care or didn’t think it was relevant to follow or talk about in their New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) lectures.

I had a friend in the African Languages class and the ‘African languages’ they studied were Shona and Ndebele only. I was sure that those languages were only spoken in Zimbabwe, a factor that did not broaden the scope of the degree’s potential.

I also recall how accommodation woes were a nightmare at that university. You seriously needed to be highly favored by God, or know someone in the administration or perhaps sleep with someone in order to get campus accommodation. The University had vast tracts of land allocated to it, where more hostels could be built, but the issue of funds, or lack thereof, stood in the way. The administration did not seem too concerned about the plight of the majority of students who lived off campus, forking out inflated public transport fees to and from the university and paying exorbitant rentals to greedy landlords in surrounding suburbs. Just yesterday I listened to a South African news broadcast about a University of Free State (UFS) Rector, Jonathan Jansen, who has taken issue over a racist newspaper advertisement looking for ‘non-affirmative action’ female students seeking private accommodation near the university. Jansen intends to send a complaint to that country’s Human Rights Commission, after having conducted an investigation, which revealed that this accommodation was only open to white students and not their black counterparts.   As I listened to that report in disbelief, I thought: nobody spiritedly fights student battles here, except the students themselves.

In 2012 I completed my Master’s degree at another local state institution, which, despite its prestigious sounding name includes the words ‘Science and Technology’, has little to show for it. Each semester, Harare-based students had to make a plan to submit typed assignments at the university’s poorly located little office on hectic intersection of Leopold Takawira and Samora Machel Avenues. Each time I needed to go there, I had to brace long and hard for parking nightmares. Add to that, we had to submit assignments to a bad tempered clerk who very often went on extended tea breaks and was generally unavailable during lunch hour; the only time that most of us working professionals could get to do this sort of thing. Her excuse was, well, your lunch hour is also my lunch hour. When you did find her in the office, she would first look down her nose at you while slowly sipping from her mug, before shifting laboredly to serve you.  This was not even the worst part. Each time our results for the semester were out, we all jostled to take a peep at pieces of broadsheets pinned on the wall, displaying results alongside student number. We had a respected army Colonel coming along to jostle with us for results pinned on the wall of that little office on Samora and Leopold. While we were forking out a little over a thousand bucks per semester, we were treated like nothing but inconvenient nuisances, and the university did nothing to improve systems. It was as if the university, and its endless tea-break takers were doing us one big favor. The university of ‘science and tech’ did not at the time have e-learning facilities – something that was introduced eons ago back in ’04 at my little celebrated alma mater in Gweru. For two straight years we complained about a lot of these things, even got audience with the University Vice Chancellor at some point. After holding a public meeting with all Harare based students, we never heard from him and nothing changed. Perhaps things are different now.

Graduation was something else. Many of us had never been to the university’s official campus. When we got there on the eve of the graduation day to make graduation attire purchases and do all other necessary processes, there was no signage, direction signs or people to assist you with information on where to go, what to do. There were long and chaotic queues everywhere. The queue for paying university graduation fees was so torturous, I nearly gave up on attending the ceremony altogether. The only thing that stopped me from driving back was the concern that in all that chaos, my certificate and transcript would probably just vanish and never make it to that little corner office on Samora and Leopold.

One of my friends later remarked at a graduation photo of me with a half finished building in the background. She was genuinely shocked that the building was still unfinished after so long. Apparently it had been like that since she started her undergrad studies at that university. I was sure the university faced the usual challenges of limited funds. Or the issue may have just been easily a lack of seriousness, considering the many state of the art vehicles and furniture littering the campus.

Apart from outdated degrees that students are fleeing from, there really are many other things wrong with our educational system. There seems to be a general and very pervasive ‘don’t care’ attitude going around. Many lecturers do not themselves care to stay on top of contemporary new developments in their fields of study, so that they in turn tailor their curriculum appropriately. The world over, medical doctors are now under pressure to stay up to date in their knowledge following new requirements for ‘maintenance of certification’ where they are regularly assessed for competence in a fast changing medical world. The education sector is changing just as fast too and stakeholders in the sector should get with the programme.

Most university students in Zimbabwe are currently unable to afford the $1000 plus tuition fees per semester, in a context where the government is no longer offering student grants. It is estimated that 1 million poor Zimbabwean students will drop out of school this year alone due to the unavailability of social grants. Moreover, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development chairman, Peter Mataruse, said recently that the failure by government to build new state universities and colleges means that the difference of 13 500 students absorbed by current institutions from 40 550 ‘A’ Level students each year will have nothing to do.

In short, our current system is no longer able to absorb all the kids due for tertiary education anyway, so those who can will leave.

In the midst of all these challenges, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Joey Bimha was recently heard lamenting the fact that his ministry might fail to pay school fees for the pampered children of foreign diplomats due to insufficient funding by the Finance Minister.


Spirit of Ubuntu, in big and little things…

That gut wrenching moment when you are in the supermarket, and an announcement is made that there is a car on fire outside in the parking lot. All motorists drop shopping baskets and gush out. The relief of finding that its not your car mingles with pity and empathy for the shocked owner of the vehicle thats burning. Some motorists quickly move their vehicles away from the ticking time bomb. You stand there transfixed, at the same time in awe of selfless human beings that risk limb and life itself, trying to put out a fire that threatens to engulf the vehicle of a total stranger. Subconsciously, you find yourself harking back at the time when government made it compulsory for all motorists to carry fire extinguishers in their vehicles, and most of us cursed like hell. To think that that one small fire extinguisher may actually not be enough when it comes to it…

Yesterday I witnessed the staff at Montagu Spar in Harare battle to put out fire from a vehicle parked in their lot. They brought out all the supermarket’s fire extinguishers. They did all they could to help the distraught motorist who momentarily could only just stare and breathe. Although he possibly only managed to salvage the body, because the entire engine got fried indefinitely, worse things could have happened, had people chosen to stand aside and look. It was extremely dangerous, and there was no way of measuring the level of risk these men took being so close to the bonnet, the source of the fire, which was progressively making its way to the petrol tank.

May this spirit of ubuntu persevere. It may well be the only thing that will take us through.

Last time we voted, nobody lost

I do not usually deliberately listen to the so-called ‘urban grooves’ music by the young Zimbabwean artists, mainly because most of it lacks originality. Recently though, I just happened to watch dance hall artist Winky D’s video for his song ‘Vashakabvu’ (the late) and I must say, I developed a new respect for urban-groovers and musical artists in general. As we head towards the elections this month end, the role played by musicians in giving social commentary through sociopolitical satire is almost comparable to the fourth estate role of the media.

In ‘Vashakabvu’, Winky D ‘writes’ a two paragraph letter to the dearly departed of this country, those that never made it into the 90s’, informing them of the happenings and changes that have since taken place in this country over the past decade. He says ‘zvinhu zvachinja rough’ (things have changed drastically) since they died.  Among other things, he alludes to how the Chinese are opening up factories willy-nilly in Zimbabwe, how new and latest technologies coupled with piracy have cheapened and made music so easily available that artists’ families no longer enjoy benefits from royalties. He also makes reference to the ‘born-Facebook’ young people of this country, who have lost the moral compass and get away with skimpy dressing and immoral behavior by simply telling you ‘hausi kuziva zvirikuitika’ (you don’t know what’s happening).

Winky D

Winky D

 But apart from these witty and very hard-hitting words, the subsequent verses are more poignant and speak satirically of some of the most noteworthy developments and governance issues in this country. Winky says:

 Mari yoshandiswa muno ndeye kuAmerica, Zim dollar hapana kana achariyeuka.

(The currency being used now is American, nobody even remembers the Zimbabwean dollar).

This verse speaks of the time when dollarization happened and how much Zimbabweans never want to hear of the Zim dollar again following the traumatic crisis years of food shortages. So much for sovereignty. 

 Hakuchina macallbox, kwaane macellular.

(There are no longer any telephone booths, people now use mobile phones).

 Maboys ‘khaya’ amakavaka aya takapunza, zvakanzi haasi pamutemo asi hamuna kutiudza.

(The home extensions and backyard cottages you built were destroyed because they were apparently illegal, even though nobody highlighted this at the time).

This verse brings very forlorn memories of the government sanctioned urban ‘clean up’ Murambatsvina exercise that left hundreds of families homeless in the winter of 2005.

Magovernment ave mairi vanhu takachooser, takanovhota asi pakashaya akaruza.

(We now have two governments because even though we went to the polls to vote and choose, nobody lost.)

Depending on which version of the song you get, the last verse is replaced by the politically correct alternative words: ‘Kwava ne Unity Government ndinovimba makaudzwa, mapato enyika obatana nyika tosimudza’. I like to call this the ZBC version. Loosely translated, it says that we now have a government of national unity that has led to the unification and up-liftment of the country.

Government of National Unity

Government of National Unity

The long and short of it, with the GNU, we perfected a new system in which in a race, nobody actually loses. Next week as we go again to the polls, it is my sincere hope and that of many a Zimbabwean, that in this election, results will be announced in far less than a month and not everyone will win. It will not only be fair, but frankly we are tired of this charade of a bloated-for-nothing government.

When media practitioners fan hate speech

‘July 31: Who then has the last laugh’ reads Sunday Mail Assistant Editor, Munyaradzi Huni’s most recent offering in that paper. If you did not read it yourself, the article is nothing but a hate speech littered piece of writing full of cringe worthy labels and insulting epithets attached to different individuals, both real and imagined enemies of Zanu PF. Well, it’s hardly surprising, because many times Huni opens his mouth, or rather, puts pen to paper, his guts spill out. As an editor, we can be forgiven for expecting him to strive to uphold the ethics of objective criticism without resorting to insults. From the summary below, it’s hard to believe that at least two thirds of Huni’s article was dedicated to name-calling and denigration.


Whatever you make of this, some of my colleagues feel that a lot of the descriptions above though hard-hitting, are very apt. I just think that dedicating all that real estate to insults is something that ought to boggle minds. Less than a month ago, Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ) Director Andy Moyse had a serious talk with journos about this and the slow effects of losing readers in the process. Huni is not alone. I have read some really shocking things from many newspaper columnists like him, and the things politicians have said about each other. The First Lady herself recently took to the podium at a Zanu PF rally in Chiweshe, and dedicated half of her rant to describing the Prime Minister’s ugliness.

 We can only but expect more of such vitriol this silly season, when professionalism goes straight out the window. But if we can leave hate speech to the politicians, as media practitioners we may be able to show a little respect to our loyal readers who expect some level of objectivity from the people they also expect to play the critical role of fourth estate. And there we are ironically clamoring for media reforms while in the meantime allowing the profession to go to the dogs. Some uncalled for insults only make some people sound like blithering idiots.