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…


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.


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.

Focus on the important things

I have been wondering about the ‘sorrow’ and ‘disappointment’ being felt in certain quarters over the recent Constitutional Court’s ruling to uphold the July 31st election date. Leaders of the different MDC formations had filed an application seeking an extension of the poll date only last month, following the Maputo SADC summit. Among other things, the MDCs argued that Justice Minister, Patrick Chinamasa had presented a ‘weak’ argument at the Concourt. But what did the MDCs expect, and whose side exactly do they reckon Chinamasa is on? Of course, he was instructed by SADC to undertake a process he personally did not subscribe to, so enough with the whining already. It is time to face the facts and re-strategize.

 At the same time, it has been interesting to try and make sense of what the ‘urgent’ court application to extend the poll date would have accomplished. Picture this; had the Concourt allowed for polls to take place on either August 12 or August 25: what exactly were the MDC formations hoping to achieve in those two or so weeks? Certainly not to facilitate implementation of all outstanding reforms set out in the Global Political Agreement! All the parties had what, how many years, and more than sufficient time to ensure the implementation of necessary reforms. Why scurry now? In any case, the recent official dissolve of Parliament would have made it next to impossible to implement any reforms no? Or perhaps it was a case of them just not being ready and trying to buy time, like being caught unawares kunge varoyi vaedzerwa, my grandfather would say. Even the Concourt rightly questioned why the parties failed to approach the court immediately after its May 29 ruling. Some people have perfected and normalized the culture of doing things last minute in this country.

More than anything, the argument against the early election date should probably have been less selfish and considered issues like the limited and frustrating voter registration process, which unfortunately terminated quite prematurely yesterday. The long queues that could still be seen snaking out of different registration centers yesterday were indicative of how the early poll date only grossly disenfranchises the electorate.

The women’s movement recently took to the RG’s office with a raft of sensible demands that included among other things, a more gender sensitive voter registration exercise that would take into account the need for more time and shorter walking distances, separate queues for men and women, special attention to the elderly, the disabled, pregnant women and women with children. Add to this, requisite nationwide voter education – which has been made clear to be the preserve of ZEC – has hardly started. A lot of people will go to the polls, without actually understanding what they have to do. Perhaps the Concourt would have been more sympathetic had the parties put the interests of people first rather than demonstrate a desperate desire to hold on a little longer onto their political careers.

Today’s papers claim that the political parties are questioning ZEC over the ‘sudden, suspicious ballooning’ of police officers in the election period. If there is any truth in this, it must be said now that these people must stop being preoccupied with the little things and concentrate on their game plan. We have three weeks for crying out loud. Heavy police and army presence are never a shock in Zimbabwe, particularly during silly season.

While many people are desperate for change, the behaviors of these parties do nothing to elicit confidence. We need serious people, who have their eyes on the ball and are willing to sacrifice, even for a little bit, their political interests and put the people first.


Zimbabwean police get away with breaking traffic law


Police breakdown! - click image to enlarge

Police breakdown

No number plates, no red triangle police vehicle

This police truck was broken down on the busy Enterprise Road filter from Samora Machel. The policeman ‘guarding’ the vehicle was not very amused at seeing me snap away and nearly chased me.

What pisses me off is that, the police here can get away with driving unroadworthy vehicles such as this, and cannot afford to buy those little ‘break-down’ red triangles they are always harassing motorists for. I daresay they also didnt have the $3 reflector vest, $15 fire extinguisher, or working brakes in this vehicle!

This is Zim.

Just a FIFA moment

Last week, Kubatana sent out a text message asking Zimbabweans what they thought about the state parting with $1.8 million as payment for Brazil’s Samba boys to come in for a friendly with our national team, the Warriors. They also sought to influence our conscience by reminding us that this was being done in the face of our civil servants getting peanut salaries. I don’t know how far true this business of paying $1.8 million is since ZIFA has been denying ‘such allegations’, but I remember looking at Kaka that day and thinking that clearly, Kubatanas are not soccer fanatics.

There amongst the crazy crowd in the winter cold!

I was among the 40 thousand plus crowd that thronged the national sports stadium for the friendly and I must say; it was an electrifying experience .The atmosphere was just eclectic with cars everywhere and momentarily, all paths leading to the stadium turned into one-way streets. The excitement was infectiousness and previously at the office, we had all been having a hard time concentrating on what we were doing, watching the clock like eagles for the half-day knock off.

Like at all football matches, people saw this as an opportunity to flaunt their different ‘jerseys’ depicting the international teams they supported. Among them were the bright yellow Brasil T-shirts that I think somehow just look better on women. Inside the stadium, vuvuzelas did most of the talking and the crowd did not seem to mind the noise or the fact that uncle Bob turned up – as is usual when the national team plays – to jinx the match. Only this time, credit clearly could not be pinned on the geriatric leader.  That Zim would lose to Brazil was predetermined. But we didn’t care. If anything, Zimbabweans in the stadium that day struggled with the true test of loyalty and patriotism tugging at their consciences and had a hard time trying not to support both teams. At the end of the day it didn’t matter which team one supported. It was enough just being there.

Seeing Kaka and Juan in flesh and bone was our Fifa moment, and the Zimbabweans in that place could not give a flying fart whether $1.8 million was paid for it or not.

Moreover, it’s not like that money would have been put to better use anyway, we all know that. And if it’s any consolation to know, by FIFA standards, $1.8 million is nothing compared to what some of these players are paid internationally. Recently, Real Madrid reportedly parted with an obscene € 8m to get one of the world’s most prestigious coaches, Jose Mourinho. Kaka is currently the highest paid soccer player in the world, with an annual salary pegged at $12.87 million. This tells me that for Brazil, it wasn’t about the money.

Nobody was ‘bussed-in’ to come and watch that match. Zimbabweans from all corners of the country willingly drove their cars or walked to the stadium and paid their hard earned money to watch the game. For those 90 minutes, 40 thousand Zimbabweans momentarily forgot they had problems. Men smuggled in vodka and made merry, for the match provided an excuse to drown their sorrows. Some were already vomiting, way before kick-off. Women clad in tight leggings and boots danced sele like crazies. It was sheer craziness.  At kick-off, the stadium steps shook and reverberated with feet stomping excitedly on the terraces. It was like being 10 again for most of us. Apart from the lousy sound system supporting the big screen and the visibly smitten mousy woman behind me who annoyingly kept screaming, ‘come on Kaka’ each time the player had the ball at his feet, this promised to be a good match. At the end of 90 minutes we had of course lost the game, but we did not go home unhappy people. If anything, the only thing that dampened our spirits was the cold and long hours spent in the slow-moving traffic negotiating our way out of stadium grounds.

So to answer the question, what do I think about paying $1.8 million (that easily would otherwise have been used for some obscure purpose like shopping in Malaysia by you know who) – if it meant seeing the five-time world cup champion team playing live on our soil; if it meant experiencing 90 minutes of hectic action and excitement and momentarily forgetting how some people are everyday screwing up this beautiful country for us and lastly, to see 40 thousand Zimbabweans laugh out loud for once with great abandon despite all their problems; the answer is I’d have that again, any day.