US think tank says internet cannot be used for political change in Zimbabwe


The internet cannot be used for mass mobilisation in Zimbabwe because of the various obstacles to access and also because even among those that have access there is no coordinated use of social networking sites to build support for political change, a United States think tank, Freedom House, says.

Mobile phones, however, seem to be more effective as was evidenced during the 2008 elections when people were able to send “oppositionist and independent” versions of events.

Freedom House which says it has been advancing freedom for the past 70 years says in its report entitled: Freedom on the net 2011, that though there is no clear evidence that the government blocks access to digital media, there are structural constraints that suggest indirect blocking.

“For instance,” it says, “it is a requirement for every ISP (Internet Service Providers) to allow the government to monitor certain traffic at any given time…”. In the case of mobile phone companies, these must be licensed and regulated by POTRAZ whose leaders are appointed by the president in consultation with the minister of transport and communication.

Freedom House says it is an independent think- tank but receives sometimes up to four-fifths of its funding from the United States government.

It says internet usage has grown rapidly from 0.3 percent of the population in 2000 to 12 percent by 2009. But the service is still very expensive and erratic because of frequent power cuts.

There has, however, been more rapid growth in the use of mobile phones with more than five million people having access to mobile phones by September last year.

Freedom House says sites like Facebook are mainly used for friendly chats and renewing lapsed social contacts, possibly because of the lack of anonymity on such sites, and fear of repercussions if politically-oriented statements are traced back to those expressing them.

“Debates on the country’s political and socioeconomic issues and reactions to internet stories on Zimbabwe are mostly confined to chat rooms and feedback sections of online news sites. Even in those cases, the base of contributors is fairly narrow, and the quality of the discussion is often poor.”

Freedom House full report on Zimbabwe


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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