Things are not good down in Zimbabwe, there are horrific mass protests underway pitting civilians against the authorities over the hiked fuel prices. The government has decided to address the problem by launching a tough crackdown on protesters and would like to keep it on the wraps from the rest of the world. Hence, the government has decided to shut down internet services in the country.
Econet, the largest mobile operator in the country has been ordered to shut down internet services until further notice. The country’s authorities in charge of telecommunication services have also instituted intermittent block on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp.
Social media has increasingly proven a headache for a totalitarian regime, as it gives the voiceless a platform to reach the masses. Perhaps the best example of the power of social media and the power it as to overturn totalitarian regime is during the Arab Spring. Where protesters used social media to organize and coordinate protests that eventually led to the collapse of totalitarian regimes.
With the Arab Spring as an example, African governments have since been wary of social media. Should there be any little protest, the first point of attack by the government is usually the internet with social media being the first point of attack.
There are reports that at least three people have been killed in Zimbabwe and over 600 people arrested. The United Nations has called upon the government to restrain from using excessive force when dealing with the protestors. The UN has called for the end of use of live ammunition against protestors and night-time door-to-door search and beatings of civilians.
The hospitals report that over 60 people have been treated across various hospitals with gunshot wounds. Obviously, there are better ways the government could address the protests since it is a fact the country is going through an economic crisis.
The Government blaming the Opposition and Political Rights Groups
The government response is seen as not addressing the economic crisis the country is facing, but handing down an iron-fist beating to the opposition’s support base. The government blames the opposition for the protests.
Though the government says the move to hike fuel prices was meant to tackle shortages caused by high fuel usage and ‘rampant’ illegal trading. Most people are of the opinion that President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his administration are failing to live up to their campaign promises which culminated in a disputed election in 2018.
The capital, Harare, has been a battleground between the riot police and protesters. The same can be said about the southern city of Bulawayo. Protestors are lighting fires, blocking roads using rocks, and matching around.
The Threat that is Free Access to Social Media
There is nothing totalitarian government fear like freedom of speech and access to the citizens. And the internet, particularly social media provides a voice to just about anyone with a smartphone or computer. That is why during unrests, such governments first block access to social media and the internet in general to deny free flow of information.
They want the government to be the sole source of information and hence minimize the risk of any information that would put them in a bad light from ever surfacing.