How Zimbabwe Is Drifting Towards Online Darkness

Written by Staff

One year after jubilant residents celebrated in the streets of Harare when Zimbabwe’s army removed Robert Mugabe from power, the country is in darkness. Last month, after days of protests over a doubling of fuel prices, security forces launched a crackdown in which 12 people were killed and 600 arrested. Zimbabwe’s government also ordered its first, countrywide internet shutdown.

Photo by Thom on Unsplash

The country’s largest mobile provider, Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, said it had suspended services following an order from the government. “We are obliged to act when directed to do so and the matter is beyond our control,” said the company in a text message to customers. In a Facebook post, Strive Masiyiwa, an exiled Zimbabwean billionaire who made his fortune after setting up Econet Wireless in 1999, said that “acts of government” had forced the company to switch off internet connectivity. He added that he was informed “non-compliance would result in imprisonment of our managers on the ground for three years.”

From Coda. Story by Ray Mwareya.

Partial internet service was recently restored, but social media apps and messaging services such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter remained blocked for days longer.

Zimbabwe’s assault on the internet is the government’s latest attempt to impose its will on ordinary Zimbabweans, observers and activists fear. A year ago, incoming president Emmerson Mnangagwa promised the start of a “new democracy” and an end to the country’s political divisions. In a piece published in the New York Times, Mnangagwa vowed to transform Zimbabwe into a country with a “thriving and open economy, jobs for its youth, opportunities for investors, and democracy and equal rights for all.”

In the year since the ouster of Mugabe—who once proclaimed “only God will remove me”—Zimbabwe’s economic problems have worsened as the country wrestles with vast debts, a battered infrastructure, soaring food prices, hyperinflation and unemployment.

Having failed to bring prosperity, Zimbabwe’s government now seems determined to establish dominion over all aspects of its digital and public spaces. As it enlists foreign firms from China and Japan to help build a surveillance state, activists and researchers are worried that what lies ahead could be worse than the Mugabe era.

Read more at Coda.