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This article participates on the following special index pages:
Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles
in Zimbabwe's election cyber war
Cris Chinaka, Reuters
July 26, 2013
this article on the Reuters website
has blocked mass SMS bursts ahead
of next week's election, hobbling a powerful source of non-official
information in the tightly controlled southern African state, activists
and a phone company source said on Friday.
With the clock ticking
to the July 31 poll in which President Robert Mugabe is looking
to add to his 33 years in power, web portal Kubatana.net said it
had noticed this week that its mass text messages were mysteriously
Econet Wireless, Zimbabwe's largest mobile phone firm with 8 million
subscribers out of a population of 13 million declined to comment.
senior company source confirmed the firm had bowed to government
pressure to block mass SMS services around the election "in
the interest of peace, national security and stability".
"We have just been
told we cannot be facilitating bulk SMSs during the elections, roughly
for the next two or so weeks," the source said. "Our understanding
is that they will take our network down or cancel our license if
there is any violation."
A spokeswoman for the
regulator, part of the telecoms ministry, declined to comment.
Although Internet penetration
rates have soared since the end of a long economic meltdown in 2008,
many Zimbabweans only have simple phone handsets, making the plain
old SMS a more effective way to disseminate news and views to a
whose messages contained headlines, quotations, proverbs and political
questions, said the shutdown was an infringement of the freedom
of expression enshrined in a constitution only ratified in May.
views the interference in our work as obstructive, repressive and
hostile," it said
in a statement.
With Africa's oldest
leader in no mood to ride off into the political sunset, there are
likely to be more disputes over control of technology and the Internet,
the breeding ground of people-power uprisings against oppressive
governments in the Middle East and North Africa.
Faced with a daily diet
of pro-Mugabe propaganda in newspapers controlled by his Zanu-PF
party and on state television and radio, many Zimbabweans have turned
to cyberspace for an alternative view.
Top of the list is purported
Zanu-PF "Deep Throat" Baba Jukwa, whose Facebook page
has attracted nearly 300,000 followers of his salacious tales of
scandal and intrigue at the heart of the ruling party.
Google has lent its weight, launching a 'Zimbabwe
election hub' to bring all stories and issues under one web
Fearing a rigged vote
or result skewed by threats or violence, as happened in the last
election in 2008 Zimbabweans have also set up sites to monitor the
progress of the election and conduct of security forces.
these is votewatch263.org,
a 'crowd-sourcing' website that lets people report incidents - positive
or negative - that are then plotted on an interactive map, a concept
first used in Kenya after violent elections in 2007.
"News and information
is circulating faster now than at any other time. We don't need
to listen to the ZBC bulletins or rely on a copy of the Daily News
to know what's going on," said votewatch263 spokeswoman Koliwe
Even though the atmosphere
on the ground has been relatively peaceful compared with 2008, online
tensions are high.
Hackers took out the
website of the Zimbabwe Ministry of Defense last month and the SMS
blockade suggests Mugabe's cyber-police believed to be trained by
China and Russia will be keeping a close eye on sites such as votewatch263.
The prospects of retaliation
are especially high since, as recipients of foreign donor funding,
they are open to accusations of being a front for hostile Western
governments, a common Mugabe refrain.
"The people who
set up the software put some security settings in place," Majama
said. "We've tried our level best to get it on for as long
as possible but everything is possible."
reporting and writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by David Evans)
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