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World
24 Oct 2017

Why does Zimbabwe have a 'Ministry of WhatsApp?'

Zimbabwe becomes first country to establish cybersecurity ministry

Zimbabwe has become the first country to set up a ministry exclusively dedicated to cybersecurity and online monitoring.

This comes as the government grows increasingly uncomfortable with information circulating on social media.

Citizens initially responded humorously by circulating a spoof letter instructing WhatsApp groups to register with the ministry.

However, they now worry that the ministry would curb freedom of expression.

In context

Zimbabwe becomes first country to establish cybersecurity ministry

The spoof letter circulated by trolls!

What context is this happening in?

Context

What context is this happening in?

Zimbabweans use social media as the primary platform to communicate and receive information which is otherwise controlled by the government.

The government has been growing increasingly uneasy about this especially after the #ThisFlag movement organized by pastor Evan Mawararire in 2016.

The movement saw people participate in "stay-at-home demonstrations" through Twitter and Facebook, in what's been termed Zimbabwe's "biggest anti-government protests in a decade."

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What happened?

Government blames social media for spreading panic

Zimbabweans recently rushed to stock up on essentials as the country's petrol stations ran out of fuel, creating dramatically long queues outside supermarkets.

These events led the government to blame social media for spreading panic.

Zimbabwe's newly appointed cyber-minister Patrick called it a "security issue."

"It is also a political agenda, a regime change agenda," he stated.

Criticism

Critics accuse the government of spying, suppressing dissent

The Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA), a communication rights organization said social media scrutiny violates freedom of expression.

Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) termed the cyber ministry "a means to spy on people."

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai also pointed out that the ministry has been created to curb free speech ahead of the upcoming national elections.

Suppression

What next?

Robert Mugabe's government is notorious for its suppression of any form of dissent. Ordinary citizens have courted arrest for openly criticizing him.

The ministry makes it easy for the government to monitor online activities. The government may even proceed to arrest its citizens opposing it.

Ominous messages have started circulating on social media warning Zimbabweans "not be made an example."

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