Kubatana.net ~ an online community of Zimbabwean activists

Perpetuating paranoia

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The headline of an article in The Zimbabwe Independent this week caught my eye. Particularly in light of the Interception of Communications Act, reading that “Zanu PF plans cyber warfare against online publications“ gave me the visceral chill of dread which doubtless the paper intended with the headline.

But the body of the article told a slightly different story. Apparently, a “blacklist” of 41 online publications was tabled at a recent politburo meeting and “is said to have caused alarm among party members during a heated debate on the media,” unnamed sources said.

The purported politburo discussion sounds like sheer paranoia, and the Independent’s uncritical reporting of the meeting feels like simply more fear mongering. The most important point of the article is the second paragraph: “It was not immediately apparent what measures, if any, the party can take against offending websites.”

The regime’s mistrust of independent news and differences of opinion is as unsurprising as it is un-newsworthy. What dictatorship happily allows press freedom to prevail, and blithely stands by listening to all and sundry dissenting viewpoints?

Supposedly the blacklist is connected to comments made by Zanu PF secretary for science and technology, Olivia Muchena, in a report on the role and importance of information and communication technologies (ICTs) on July 26. According to the Independent, the report says “Comrades, we are all aware that Zanu PF is at war from within and outside our borders. Contrary to the gun battles we are accustomed to, we now have cyber-warfares fought from one’s comfort zone, be it bedroom, office, swimming pool, etc but with deadly effects.”

Muchena reportedly said “Zanu PF must pause and think who is behind the creation of ‘these websites’, the target market of the websites, the influence and impact they have on Zimbabweans and what the image of Zanu PF and its leadership looks like ‘out there as portrayed’.”

So the “cyber warfare” is the one which Muchena claims is being fought against Zanu PF. And if that is the case, a more interesting, thought provoking article would have been the one that asked a few questions about some of the websites on the “blacklist,” which is published at the end of the Independent article. Poked a few holes. Made a bit of fun.

Like of all the news sites on it, why are neither SW Radio Africa nor VOA Studio 7 featured, when they’re the ones the regime is busy jamming? Why CNN and PBS but not the BBC? Why Global Voices but hardly any of the Zimbabweans bloggers they draw on for their coverage of the country? What is the bias of ABYZ News, which acts as a portal to all kinds of news sources, local and foreign, for practically every country imaginable? Why the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, and the US Embassy in Harare, but not those blasted Brits at all? And what kind of anti-Mugabe agenda does Technorati, the blog-tagging website, have? Who knows, but they’re on the list.

It doesn’t look much like a cunning list of strategic targets in an orchestrated campaign to smash cyber-dissent and proclaim Zanu PF hegemony forever more.

The Independent would have done well to leave the fear mongering to the ruling party, and expose the list for what it really is – a list of websites a handful of petulant politicians don’t like because they said a few nasty things about them here and there. We all keep lists – grocery lists, book lists, wish lists, favourite song lists. Most of mine stay where they belong – in my diary. They certainly don’t rate as national news.

4 comments to “Perpetuating paranoia”

  1. Comment by eddie:

    I mean things keep rolling…Zimbabwe,…..Zimbabwe…..Zimbabwe…..a very lovely country which keeps breathing its people.

    Now the knife is on the media and online to be preciuos. I get worried for me who also is an online blogger..

    we just wait ans see what is happening…

  2. Comment by …My heart’s in Accra » Zimbabwe blacklists Global Voices:

    [...] I’d love to tell you that I knew that cyberwar had been declared because our traffic fell precipitously a few days ago, but frankly, we didn’t notice. Given the current economic crisis in Zimbabwe, most Zimbabweans can’t afford much time in a cybercafe to peruse world news. (Zimbabwe ranks #119 in the list of countries accessing our site, between Moldova and Zambia…) I found out about the block from my friends at Kubatana, who helpfully point out that it’s farcical for ZANU-PF to block our publication while failing to block most of the blogs we cover in Zimbabwe… [...]

  3. Comment by Amanda Atwood:

    Again, as the Independent article rightly points out, “it [is] not immediately apparent what measures, if any, the party can take against offending websites.”

    At present, the sites on the list are not “blocked” in the slightest. Aside from the usual hassles of slow page loading speeds and dropped connections, there is no difference in trying to access Global Voices or the Washington Post than there is in accessing Google or Amazon (which aren’t on the list).

    I do think its important to note that, to date, the sites are on just that – a “blacklist” about which the regime might, or might not, do anything. To go so far as to say they’re “blocked” now, when they are not, makes it harder to mobilise later, in the eventuality that they are.

  4. Comment by Global Report » Blog Archive » “Cyber war” in Zimbabwe:

    [...] ZANU PF’s blacklisting of 41 online publications, including CNN and Technorati’s websites, were met with scepticism by bloggers such as Ethan Zuckerman on My Heart’s in Accra and those at Kubatana. [...]