Ordeals in ‘the long walk to freedom’: The state of Internet governance in Zimbabwe

/Section 1: Summation of the study

1) Structure of the paper

This paper is an anatomy of internet freedoms and governance in Zimbabwe. It is divided into five main sections each organized in direct correspondence to a specific research objective of this study. The first section introduces the study and presents the research design. The second section examines the extent to which internet freedoms are guaranteed by international law to which Zimbabwe is party. In this section, the study sought to provide an easy-to-understand guideline to human rights defenders at all levels, rights-holders, civic society and other key stakeholders on the same. The third section examines the legal framework governing internet freedoms in Zimbabwe. This section aimed at informing key stakeholders to internet freedoms on what is constitutionally permissible and/or not under domestic law and the extent of illegal clampdown on internet freedoms in Zimbabwe. The fourth section focuses on the institutionalization of clampdown on internet freedoms in Zimbabwe. This fourth section basically exposes the extent to which various institutions of the state have been used to stifle internet freedoms. At the end of the paper (fifth section) are recommendations for improvement of the current state of internet freedoms and governance in Zimbabwe.

2) Summary of findings

Following the upsurge in information communication technologies worldwide, internet governance has become a critical factor in determining the extent of citizens’ liberties in a country. This has arisen mainly due to the rising number of citizens relying on the internet to pursue their political, social, economic and other well-being concerns in the 21st century. It has become an international agenda that the internet must be a global public good that is accessible, secure, reliable, trustworthy and capable of enabling the people to change their world. Same applies to internet freedom as a right capable of mortgaging freedom to organize and other first generation rights. Authoritarian regimes have fallen, democracies have been born, human rights have been championed whereas, humanitarian crises have been tackled more effectively than ever owing to various possibilities to freely access and share information, associate and protest, air conscience and thought opened up by the internet. However, this study found that in Zimbabwe, despite guarantees in: (a) international law protocols to which Zimbabwe is party and (b) the national Constitution; the authoritarian regime has devised various strategies to stifle, capture and control this space. Key authoritarian state machinations put in place to capture and control internet freedoms are: (i) Constitutional provisions attaching ‘easy-to-abuse’ conditionalities on internet freedoms; (ii) Acts of Parliament aimed at delimiting freedoms; (iii) institutionalization of clampdown on internet freedoms (through state ministries, agencies and security forces) and; (iv) issuing of threats by political leaders in top government positions.

The study also found that, 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. Many restrictive laws, regulations and projects have been put in place to stifle internet freedoms, hinder access to online media, information and hinder freedom of expression, protest, advocacy and other barricades placed by deliberate policy omission. In addition, no clear and serious internet uptake promotions, programs and projects have been done despite decades of government talk shop promises.

3) Research strategy

The research strategy used to conduct this study combined key informant interviews with desk research. Twenty-five interviews were carried out with Human Rights Defenders at national and community level, civic society organization leaders, social movement leaders, politicians and journalists. This was done in four major towns of Zimbabwe and these were: Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare and Marondera.10 Desk research analyzed published data from government agencies, civic society, newspapers, academia and social media blogs. Thematic and content analyses of data collected as described above were used to come up with data discussed in this paper.

4) Conceptualization

Internet freedoms are those freedoms enjoyed by persons and are inseparable from them by the fact that they are human regardless of their ‘online’ or ‘offline’ statuses. Thus, the difference between basic liberties and internet liberties is that the latter is the practice and enjoyment of the former online. Legal and moral grounds from which these liberties emanate are the same, what differs is the space from which humanity claim those liberties. It is the basic argument in this study that legal and moral foundations of peoples’ rights uniformly apply across diverse human spaces, races, gender and status. Thus, international and national protocols guaranteeing people’s liberties offline also apply online.

Source: Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) & Media Centre

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