Zimbabwe’s President, Robert Mugabe, has created a new Cyber Security Ministry as a trap to catch “rats” who get up to mischief using cyberspace.
Mugabe appointed former Zimbabwe finance minister, Patrick Chinamasa to head the new Cyber Security, Threat Detection, and Mitigation ministry, a situation which locals joked about, saying Chinamasa’s appointment makes him the “minister of WhatsApp and Facebook”.
Chinamasa’s appointment is coming few weeks after he criticized social media platforms such as WhatsApp for the inflation spikes that hit Zimbabwe at the end of September.
The former Finance Minister had claimed the false information spread on these platforms is what led to long queues and shortages of some basic foodstuffs in supermarkets as Zimbabweans panicked and investors sounded the alarm on the economy’s condition.
Though President Mugabe and the Zimbabwean government describe the new ministry as “protective” i.e. acting in a defensive role, there are worries it is really aimed at attacking, like controlling social media use locally. This is because Zimbabwe has finalized a Computer and Cyber Crimes Bill that has already attracted criticism from human rights and freedom of expression campaign groups.
Speaking on the new ministry, President Mugabe’s spokesman, George Charamba said the new minister will be able to learn from the experience of other countries including China and Russia, two countries known for their censorship of both local and major social media platforms.
Charamba described those countries as having “done well in ensuring some kind of order and lawfulness in that area (Cyber-space),”
Meanwhile, a Law expert, Alex Magaisa, said this week that “creating a standalone ministry to monitor cyberspace also shows Mugabe’s penchant for expanding instruments of coercion as opposed to protection of fundamental freedoms.”
Also reacting to the development, Chris Musodza, an ICT expert based in Harare, said: “People have been making jokes about this ministry but I see serious threat to freedom of expression, access to information and the right to privacy,”
“We now have a ministry dedicated to surveillance and monitoring of the cyberspace,” the ICT expert said.