News / Africa

    Cat-and-Mouse Game Played in Zimbabwe's Election Cyberwar

    A Zimbabwean opposition party Movement For Democratic Change (MDC) supporter holds a party newsletter at an election rally about 90 km (56 miles) east of the capital Harare, Zimbabwe, July 23, 2013.
    A Zimbabwean opposition party Movement For Democratic Change (MDC) supporter holds a party newsletter at an election rally about 90 km (56 miles) east of the capital Harare, Zimbabwe, July 23, 2013.
    Reuters
    Zimbabwe's government has blocked mass SMS text-message 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 down 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 getting lost.

    Its provider, Econet Wireless, Zimbabwe's largest mobile phone firm with 8 million subscribers out of a population of 13 million, declined to comment.

    A senior company source confirmed the firm had bowed to government pressure, however, 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 mass audience.

    Kubatana, 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.

    “Kubatana.net views the interference in our work as obstructive, repressive and hostile,” it said in a statement.

    Online freedom

    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.

    Internet giant Google has lent its weight, launching a 'Zimbabwe election hub' to bring all stories and issues under one web address.

    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.

    Prominent among 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 Nyoni Majama.

    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.”

    You May Like

    Vietnam Mulls Tough Measures for ‘Misbehaving’ Chinese Tourists

    Move comes after footage surfaced online of Chinese travelers harassing a banana hawker in Da Nang

    Pakistan Social Media Star's Honor Killing Fuels Debate

    Qandeel Baloch's murder puts spotlight on deadly tradition and other mistreatment of women

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Borderi
    X
    July 22, 2016 12:30 AM
    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.
    Video

    Video Number of Syrian Refugees Arriving in US Jumps

    The United States is committed to resettling 85,000 refugees from around the world by October. Of that number, 10,000 will come from Syria and already some 4,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in the United States, many of them settling in the state of Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from Chicago, their arrival is not the end of a difficult journey to find peace and stability.
    Video

    Video Rio’s Trams Await Olympic Tourists

    Over the past century, many cities around the world replaced electric trams, prone to breakdowns and backups, with faster and more spacious buses. But for some reason restored antique trams are a huge tourist attraction. So it’s no wonder the authorities in Rio de Janeiro are busy restoring their city’s old tram line ahead of the Summer Olympic Games. VOA’ George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora