Be very, very afraid!

HARARE - Timing always makes a difference either in successful execution of an idea or its dismal failure.

This is why it is important to look critically at the timing of President Robert Mugabe’s Cabinet reshuffle on Monday.

It is no longer debatable that since 2000 most of his appointed ministers failed to perform to the expectations of the generality of Zimbabweans and hence the derogatory but fitting term of “recycling dead wood” which has accompanied every Cabinet the veteran president has announced in the last 17 years.

While there is palpable but understandable anger among long-suffering Zimbabweans who had hoped to be surprised by Mugabe through the appointment of ministers resembling the calibre of the early independence crop, for progressive Zimbabweans, focus and attention should be placed on the creation of the Cyber Security, Threat Detection and Mitigation ministry.

It is the timing of the creation and subsequent announcement of this ministry via the appointment of former Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, which should worry progressive movements and the media.

Focus, it appears is on the 2018 elections and the arrows are aimed at free expression and social media activity, the two items that have been on the to do list of Mugabe’s government since end of 2015.

And Mugabe himself has publicly said he wants Chinamasa to learn from the success stories of countries such as North Korea as he begins work at this ministry.

Therefore, creation of the Cyber Security ministry should give all of us reason to be very afraid.

On paper, there is nothing wrong with a government safeguarding and protecting the interests of the State and its citizens but history has taught Zimbabweans not to trust our authorities on respect for their rights.

There are many examples to justify this conclusion.

Politicians have historically consistently disobeyed court orders and violated the laws they are sworn to obey and protect.

Police have often been accused of routinely brutalising protesters despite being allowed by the supreme laws of the land to exercise the right to demonstrate.

Journalists have been consistently harassed, detained and assaulted despite going about their lawful work.

I could go on but the point is that there is no trust between government and its citizens.

And the creation of this new ministry to deal with WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Telegram, Tinder, Instagram, you can name all of them, is meant to curtail free speech.

Like I said earlier on, there is nothing wrong with government regulating the use of these but there is every reason for any right-thinking Zimbabwean to be alarmed by the creation of a whole ministry to deal with cyber issues when there is already one — the Information Communication Technology and Courier Services — superintended by Supa Mandiwanzira.

In any case, Mandiwanzira has been at the forefront of bringing the Computer Crime and Cyber Crime Bill which will now become law following the creation of this ministry.

We surely don’t want Zimbabwe to be a nation of jihadists, Boko Haram and terrorists but a new law to complement the existing one would still be okay but without needing a fully functional ministry for the purposes of dealing with threats, cyber crime and mitigation.

Already we have security agencies who are quite competent to deal with these issues. In fact they have been always performing different roles ranging from State security, policing and defence and without deference to one particular ministry such as the newly-created.

One would have expected the ministry of Diaspora if really Mugabe and colleagues were serious about creating a new ministry.

Diaspora remittances have been supporting our economy and everyone in government, Mugabe included, is aware of the potential of this critical resource.

Recently, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) unveiled its plan to float bonds with key focus on the Diaspora.

But like I said, timing is always important.

Zimbabwe will hold elections next year and our government is very much aware of the impact social media has in either working for or against it.

So far it has worked against it. We saw the attempts to block WhatsApp on July 6 last year during the historic Shutdown when civil servants and thousands of impoverished workers heeded calls by cleric Evan Mawarire to stay away from work in protest over the failing economy.

Again in September last year we saw the dusting of the law pertaining to the alleged “abuse’ of the national flag by the panicking authorities, which was used on Mawarire for using the Zimbabwe flag in his campaigns under the #ThisFlag.

We need to look at Chinamasa’s ministry closely and I can feel stomach cramps.

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