Govt 'jams' social media as Zim burns

HARARE - As Zimbabweans took heed of calls to protest yesterday — many people had challenges accessing their Whatsapp on mobile phones, prompting opposition political parties to declare that government had jammed the services.

Former Information and Technology minister Nelson Chamisa told the Daily News yesterday that the interference with mobile networks is not coincidental but a well-calculated ploy to cripple the easy flow of communication.

“It can only be on account of instructions from somewhere, instigated from somewhere, it could be some people who are scared of the people, my hunch is that it could be a result of the social situation in the country, service providers should give reasons why this is happening because they have a contract with the people,” said Chamisa.

The MDC MP for Kuwadzana, who served as a minister during the tenuous inclusive government era between 2009 and 2013, added that although government previously did not have the capacity to jam mobile networks, it has either acquired the equipment now or arm-twisted providers.

“Government could have instructed the providers to shut down the services and that could be part of licensing agreement with operators, the providers have certain obligations in their licensing agreements, the coincidence is difficult to explain,” said Chamisa.

Since last month, social media has been used as a rallying and debate tool and many people have been hooked on their Whatsapp platforms conversing about the deteriorating economic climate.

Through written articles, video posts and comments the bubbling social media has caused some anxiety with the Information Communication Technology minister Supa Mandiwanzira recently warning “unruly” elements who are spreading vitriol on such platforms that they can be arrested.

In a telephone interview with the Daily News yesterday, Mandiwanzira appeared to put the blame on mobile telephone providers when he was asked why the usually fast Whatsapp platform was slow.

“I am hearing it from you that there is a problem, ideally I am not an operator but a policymaker and obviously not the best person to talk to.

“I have since last year said the operators have been calling on government to ban over the top services like Whatsapp, as the minister I have been on the forefront of refusing to take that kind of action, government would not change its policy today, we believe in social media which is a tool for development, we cannot allow a few misguided people to have the pleasure to make the majority lose because of their actions, therefore we will not inconvenience the majority for  the commissions of a few misguided elements,” said Mandiwanzira.

The Arab spring which swept across North Africa in 2011 was to a larger extent sustained by the social media platforms and the government of Zimbabwe has promulgated laws that experts say are meant to snoop into the Internet.

In a statement, media watchdog Misa Zimbabwe said it is gravely concerned with the apparent disabling of Whatsapp.

“Misa condemns this brazen violation of citizens’ right to freely express themselves and access information through communication platforms of their choice as guaranteed in the Constitution.

“By blocking the popular information sharing tool, Zimbabwe now joins a growing list of despotic regimes that resort to such cowardly acts when faced with growing citizen dissent.

“While it is still to be ascertained whether the blockage was at the behest of the government, threats issued against citizens using social media to express themselves during the protest raise suspicions on its culpability,” read part of the statement.

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