Research by the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI), released last week, has urged private ISPs in the country to protect internet users and adopt technology to curb state interference in private online communications.
The research was published a day after Zimbabwe suffered an internet outage reportedly due to infrastructure breakdown. Regular internet services have since been restored, although some experts have queried the country’s reliance on limited gateways.
The ZDI, in collaboration with the Media Centre in Zimbabwe, have stated in the report that “internet spaces in Zimbabwe are governed with iron-fisted laws” despite guarantees of online freedom through the country’s constitution and international law protocols.
“Private internet service providers should protect the privacy of service users and adopt technologies that hinder interference by spies and saboteurs,” says the report.
The research added, “Zimbabwe currently suffers the machinations of an authoritarian regime that fears freeing the private media, social media and the internet in general in belief that doing so will prevent possible public scrutiny, transparency, criticism and exposure of its maladministration crimes to the electorate and consequent electoral defeat.”
There is also ongoing speculation over the role the recently established Cyber Security Ministry will play.
The previous administration had positioned the Ministry as the primary mechanism for cyber crime prevention and follow-up. Recently elected President Emmerson Mnangagwa has placed this Ministry under the jurisdiction of the ICT and Telecom Ministry.
“Internet freedoms in Zimbabwe are currently under state capture. Findings of the study identified three key pillars in the Zimbabwean government’s strategy for stifling internet freedoms and these are: (i) deliberate increase of data costs, (ii) reliance on repressive legislation and, (iii) deployment of repressive state institutions,” reads an excerpt from the report.
The study cites the Posts and Telecommunications Regulatory authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), the Ministry of ICT, The Ministry of Home Affairs and its Zimbabwe Republic Police among other state arms as the agents used by the government to limit online freedoms.