HARARE – President Robert Mugabe’s demotion of Patrick Chinamasa from the Finance ministry to lead a new Cyber Security ministry that will focus on crimes on social media and other websites ahead of an election due next year should not be taken lightly.
Chinamasa’s new ministry — Cyber Security, Threat Detection and Mitigation — is suspiciously coming just a few months before the elections, and this is not good news to those who love to use social media platforms, more so those who had used it to protest against the government.
Interestingly, the creation of this ministry comes after Chinamasa — who seemed to have cleared the ground for himself — said last month that the government would now treat social media as a security threat after accusing users of spreading rumours about shortages of basic goods, which caused panic buying and price increases.
Government officials also referenced to the panic buying blaming messages on WhatsApp, saying they were sent out by political enemies seeking to destabilise the country, hence the creation of the new ministry.
The appointment of Chinamasa also comes as the country finalises the Computer and Cyber-Crimes Bill and there are strong fears that passing of the Bill into law will now be hastened.
So Chinamasa, a lawyer by profession, will be responsible for bringing to Parliament the long-awaited Bill that criminalises false information posted on the Internet, revenge porn, cyber-bullying and online activity against the government.
I would have thought ICT minister Supa Mandiwanzira was handling the Bill and rightly so and I believe cyber security, threat detection and mitigation should have been part of his ministry or worse still there are also the State Security and Home Affairs ministries that could also have handled this portfolio.
But there is another catch to this ministry in that it will make Chinamasa very unpopular with Zimbabweans who love to use social media as government employs all tactics to thwart discerning voices by jamming networks and communication flow.
If that happens and especially as we approach elections, people will blame none other than Chinamasa.
And Chinamasa is in a fix because he has to prove that he is techno-savvy and be able to protect government and Zanu PF from attack on social media platforms.
Most alarmingly, Mugabe recently said he would lean on Zimbabwe’s allies for technology to deal with cyber threats and economic subversion through modern technology. And one sure friend is China which recently banned WhatsApp in!
It would be interesting to see how Chinamasa will handle government and Zanu PF officials who have a penchant for social media and in particular Jonathan Moyo, an individual Mugabe has also failed to control.
Given the alleged cyber tampering of recent elections in the United States by Russia, I am sure Mugabe made this appointment with that in mind.
And so Chinamasa has a lot of work to do so that government’s computers are not hacked as happened with Moyo’s gmail recently.
Suddenly, Mugabe and his ruling government are aware of the power of social media, especially WhatsApp.
But the wake-up call came in April 2016 when Evan Mawarire, then an unknown pastor, inadvertently started a wave of online activism when he started the #ThisFlag movement in a pleading Facebook post.
Since then, social media activism in Zimbabwe has ignited.
WhatsApp has been widely used as a tool to mobilise and accounts for 34 percent of all mobile data use in Zimbabwe and Facebook reports 260 000 daily users, of 890 000 Zimbabweans online, according to various sources. – Daily News