As an organisation defending the respect of digital rights, Paradigm Initiative strongly condemns the network disruption and internet shutdown experienced in Zimbabwe which begun on Monday 14 January 2019, as a response to the planned march against rising fuel prices. On Tuesday, reports confirmed that some websites and social media platforms; WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter, among others, were blocked. Reports also confirm that a total internet shutdown is in full effect and expected to last 3 days.
Internet shutdowns are a direct threat on citizen’s freedom of expression, right to information and association, they pose an even greater threat on people’s ability to communicate and access emergency services during times of distress.
In addition, internet shutdowns stifles people’s ability to conduct business and this will have adverse effects on the already ailing economy. A cost calculator developed by Netblocks, estimates that blocking Twitter and WhatsApp alone costs the country US$ 571, 262 (ZWL 184, 149, 122) per day and could result in an overall loss of US$ 17 227 262 in three days. This is rather unfortunate following the pronouncement by H.E. Emmerson Mnangagwa that ‘Zimbabwe is open for business’. The internet is an enabler of development must be leveraged for economic advancement.
According to Kuda Hove, MISA Zimbabwe Legal and ICT Policy Programmes Officer, the shutdown is affecting people’s capacity to transact and access basic needs as they depend on mobile and e-banking services. “Beyond limiting free expression and access to information, the shutdown is affecting services dependent on the internet such as e-banking and e-payment because we have a cash shortage”, He said.
Paradigm Initiative joins other civil society organisations in urging the Zimbabwean Government to respect every individual’s freedom of expression and access to information by restoring the service.
In light of other recent internet shutdowns experienced this month in the region, we further urge other African Governments to refrain from perpetuating this unfortunate trend to crackdown on citizen’s freedom of speech, especially during times of civil unrest. Governments are entrusted with safeguarding citizen’s wellbeing and as such must be committed to promoting peace, security, dialogue and citizen participation in a bid to develop our great continent.
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