Koliwe Majama

A Zimbabwean based media, internet and communications consultant


The term ‘fake news’ has made it big! Infact, it may be safe to say, following the Donald Trumps win in the United States Presidential Election in November 2016 ‘fake news’ probably remains the worlds most popularised, debated and confusing terms.

As internet access continues to increase on the African continent , it is more apparent the influence it has in activating the population. Africans have become more demanding of news in realtime, and at the same time, have stepped in to produce counter narratives, to those peddled by the mainstream on behalf of a political and economic elite.

Clearly, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, news content and opinions accessed over the internet, and particularly on social media platforms, has led to an undeniable upsurge in levels of clicktivism. Today audiences are mobilised on varying issues of national, regional and global movements in a manner never anticipated. Social media is no longer kids play! Particularly as it has caused a stir in the production, circulation and impact of opinion and ‘news’.

While speaking at the Freedom on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFA) conference earlier in September last year, Malawi based media and communications lecturer, Jimmy Kainja opined that there is a huge difference between news produced by a trained journalist and that produced by an opinionated person. He attributed fake news to the latter and insisted that there should be a way to stop it. This position remains popular amongst trained and mainstream practising journalists, who to a larger extent, seek to ‘preserve’ a profession whose ethics and standards are grounded in their base training. Rightfully so! But, not completely realistic in this new digital dispensation. ‘Fake news’ is a reality that exists across the globe and finds its way on results of popular search engines more often than news from mainstream.

Who says its fake news?

But who exactly determines whether news is fake, credible or dodgy?

If a fake news item goes viral on Whatsapp, Twitter or Facebook –who is responsible and can it be taken down? Infact, what is fake news? While fake news is a term that can mean different things, depending on the context, fake news is plain old and simple mis or dis information. Which misinformation is not new, but has over centuries been sold to us in the form of newspaper articles, adverts, cartoon strips and radio or television broadcasts. Only this time, through social media especially , ‘fake news’ knows no bounds, as there is very little means of gatekeeping and/or regulating under the guise of ethics and editorial standards.

There is more to ‘fake news’ than just lies. Sometimes fake news is dissent presented in a totally different style, by a not so ‘credible’ individual whose unpopular opinion, goes against the norm or is offensive to the status quo. What is perceived ‘fake news’ may not completely be a fabrication. Can we truly say that the announcement made by the military in Zimbabwe on the morning of 15 November 2017 was more ‘real’ news than the social media posts that citizens shared on popular social media platforms the day before on the occurrences?

More often than not, warnings against fake news are made by those in authority or public office, and in those instances, demonstrate their fear in losing control on the flow of information. However, in assessing the risks associated fake news, it is important to assess the different forms that ‘fake news’ takes, and be clear from the onset that not all forms of disinformation are harmful. Utterances that the demands for and promotion of internet freedom to an extent promote the problem of fake news, cannot be sustained, as talk of fines and bans of fake news are to a larger extent a form censorship.

Fake news frenzy!

There is evidently a frenzy around fake news by both mainstream news media and top private sector companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter that host a significant proportion of the worlds connected users.

Last year, Facebook’s interventions to combat fake news during Germanys election included publishing full-page notices on identifying fake news in German newspapers and working with fact-checking organisation, Correctiv, to deal with fake news flagged up by users. The introduction of its “i” button, to give detail on articles shared on its platform in order to gauge credibility is yet another effort still being tested.

Earlier this year, I read that Google came under fire for selling ‘fake news’ as news snippets and that efforts are being made to update its search quality to enable human as opposed to bot raters to deal with false information. Closer to home, the Media Monitors Africa, last year launched a Google Chrome extension, NewsCred, to help identify whether a news website is dodgy or credible.

In all these efforts, the intention is clearly to increase audiences media literacy by giving context on the issue, sources or history of the platform they are getting their news. Ideally, a person can decide if articles or news from that source can be trusted and if the actual news itself is credible. This is how far governments, ‘established’ news media platforms or intermediaries can go in challenging these alternative narratives, which whether we like it or not, are more appealing and accesible to the public. There has to be a level of trust that the public can determine whether a story is true or false.

Moment of truth?

The harsh reality is that the mainstream print and broadcast media have failed to adapt and keep up with the fast paced changes in the production and distribution of news content – verified or unverified. After watching a demonstration of Mobile journalistic (Mojo) techniques at last years Global Media Forum, held in Bonn, by former CNN Senior Social reporter, Yusif Omar, it was more apparent that the major challenge of the mainstream media is its failure to diversify news coverage.

For African mainstream media, the challenge is that of immediacy and the creative packing of news for documentation and demonstration of different perspectives, angles and realities of everyday interactions. Africa’s mainstream media landscape remains highly polarised. In a significant part of the continent, the mainstream does not offer the people affordable mid-point alternatives that offers widespread consumption on issues that are important to them. The media must wake up to the demand for a more responsive audience-centric media. Key to this is the acceptance that audiences have an alternative. They have counter–balance to the traditionally ‘licensed’ opinions and perspectives of the political and economic elite by finding a way to ‘make news’ – verified or unverified – and share it with such ferocity.

The debate on ‘fake news’ has to move from being about its ‘perceived’ impact on society and or ethical journalistic principles. It should focus on the dynamics of highly active pronsumers of news in a ‘digitalised’ environment. The mainstream media should think of survival in a digital era by being more objective in its agenda setting and more responsive in its reportage of events as they unfold. This means social media is a strategic place to be for the media. In order to mote with the digital times, the media should use social media to analyse trends of audiences consumption, mine their opinions in order it map priority for analysis in the public ‘interest’.      

Published by: GenderIT.org  on 07/09/17

Maggie Hazvinei Mapondera is a Zimbabwe born hybrid feminist, perching at the intersection of grassroots feminism, feminist communication and movement building.

In this interview, Maggie reflects on the current status of technology and the internet in relation to the feminists movement building and women’s everyday organising and participation globally.

Koliwe Majama: Lets talk about your feminist activist journey. What is your passion and drive?

Maggie Mapondera: It’s been a strange journey; And I think what makes it strange is that I have never really restricted myself to one sector or place. My feminist activism dates back to my Undergraduate years as student at Yale University in the United States of America. There I started organising with homeless women who were either struggling or recovering from substance abuse and poverty. The experience was the first synergy between my writing and my creative side as an activist. I organised creative writing workshops with and for the women. It was then that I discovered that creative writing can, in fact be an integral part of how women can build voice, identify the root cause of their issues and find ways to organise around them.

I organised creative writing workshops with and for the women. It was then that I discovered that creative writing can, in fact be an integral part of how women can build voice, identify the root cause of their issues and find ways to organise around them.

I then moved to a feminist movement-building organisation Just Associates (JASS) where I did communications. There was a connection there for me because JASS was focusing on Her-stories as a means for individual women and women’s communities to tell the story of their struggle, and not only telling them to make their experience visible to others, but to analyse them and collectively organise themselves and fight for change. Today I find myself with Womin, an organisation that organises frontline peasant and working class women across Africa around land rights and climate justice. Everyday I interact with the challenges women face as the climate changes their livelihoods, land and capacity to provide for themselves and their families. My passion is about women’s stories and the power those stories have to change the world. If we could find a way to collectively tell a different story of the world we live in, then maybe we can change things.

KM: What do stories contribute to the movement?

MM: The women’s movement is rooted in women’s stories. A lot of women are at the cross cutting edge of some of the deep issues that the women’s movement is challenged with today. They face patriarchy daily and in some cases have to deal with even more dangerous issues – such as the consequences of the pursuit of capital by governments and corporates at the expense of their bodies, their lives and their rights.

They face patriarchy daily and in some cases have to deal with even more dangerous issues – such as the consequences of the pursuit of capital by governments and corporates at the expense of their bodies, their lives and their rights.

So the women’s movement has to challenge itself, and think outside silos and search for the interconnectedness of these stories so that we have a full story. Otherwise we keep going two steps forward, and five steps back, as we continue thinking that issues such as the political participation of women is important because we think representation in government will take us where we need to go. But it is not enough to have the story. Her-stories need to feed our activism, action, advocacy and analysis and we have to keep growing that analysis, sharpening it and nuancing it. Otherwise what is the point? We begin to look like we are telling stories and sharing stories for the sake of stories as though that is the end. It is not the end. Across the board as a movement, we need to push ourselves and ensure that these stories are not just in vogue, but make a difference.

it is not enough to have the story. Her-stories need to feed our activism, action, advocacy and analysis and we have to keep growing that analysis, sharpening it and nuancing it.

KM: In general, is there a fair representation of women online?

MM: I don’t think it is fair at all. Especially when you look at countries like Zimbabwe and the realities of inequitable access between men and women. A huge proportion of women are not represented in online spaces largely because of their socio economic status. I am not convinced that our goal should be to get those women online. Rather what we should do is broaden the way that we connect our conversations online with the traditional and ‘conventional’ ways such as radio and television so that our messages filter through to corners we do not usually reach. That way we would have brought those critical voices on board. We cannot allow ourselves to think that the internet is the ‘Be all and end all’ of communication. We have to be context appropriate, and appropriate to the people that we are speaking to. We must think about whether the woman who tells her story, her geographical and/or interest community will have access to it. What is the point of getting her story on the internet if it cannot change her immediate and country context? We have to be strategic about how we communicate in order to fairly represent women online.

We cannot allow ourselves to think that the internet is the ‘Be all and end all’ of communication. We have to be context appropriate, and appropriate to the people that we are speaking to. We must think about whether the woman who tells her story, her geographical and/or interest community will have access to it.

KM: What is the best way of connecting the ‘unconnected’ especially in repressive states?

MM: We always have to be creative and sharp about our class analysis because it informs how access to the internet is different for all women. Access to the internet will vary based on geographical location, race, class and age. Given this reality, the women’s movement must organise itself so that, as much as possible, we reach each other as best we can and have the ability to share our experiences horizontally. For instance, I don’t think women use popular social media platforms, like WhatsApp, to their greatest potential. In Zimbabwe today, you will find that WhatsApp is the most popular mode of communication and accessing information. The sheer number of chain messages my mother sends me everyday about the most random things – whether religious or political, is amazing. Most of the information that I received about the street protests against bond notes, the nationwide stayaway, arrests of activists last year, organised by under the #ThisFlag and #Tajamuka movements, for instance, I got from Whatsapp. So that is the platform where Zimbabweans share opinions, mobilise and organise. This has exposed them to a lot of insecurities, and as the women’s movement we need to recognise and appreciate this. What I see as critical in times such as these is to find a way of getting women that are connected to understand how vulnerable they are when they are online. We also need to prepare ourselves to support them to understand their individual responsibility to consciously protect their rights to privacy, and consciously respond to safety and security online.

What I see as critical in times such as these is to find a way of getting women that are connected to understand how vulnerable they are when they are online. We also need to prepare ourselves to support them to understand their individual responsibility to consciously protect their rights to privacy, and consciously respond to safety and security online.

KM: Do you see potential for women to organise online?

MM: It has been and remains really exciting to see my mothers and my grandmothers using WhatsApp – being so proficient and sharing information- I mean they use it more than I do! So there is something there, obviously -organising opportunities. However they come with their own complications such as security, which is something that we should begin to talk about. It is also clear from the crackdown that the people in power in Zimbabwe have identified WhatsApp as a politically dangerous terrain. It says something is going on in this WhatsaApp, you want to call it – revolution, that is dangerous to those in power. So given that the people in power across the African continent see the dangerous side of the internet, we need to see what is and what is not possible in order to use, especially social media, strategically and in a way that is useful for our movement. There are possibilities and there is potential everywhere on different platforms. The movement just needs to harness these opportunities if that is the way more people can get the message.

Given that the people in power across the African continent see the dangerous side of the internet, we need to see what is and what is not possible in order to use, especially social media, strategically and in a way that is useful for our movement.

KM: Can the internet enhance African women’s participation in very contentious women’s rights issues?

MM: The internet has limits. To be honest, there is nothing better than opening up spaces and getting women together physically so that they see each other face to face and talk. However, it is not practical given the fast shifting context, which has made the terrain so fraught and dangerous for feminist activism. Therefore if we are to venture into the sensitivities of our womanhood, we have to be agile and ready with an analysis to deal with and respond to threats quick and effectively. The other dangerous aspect in as far as women’s participation, and closely related to inequality of access, is that those with access seem to be talking to themselves all the time. I have observed that, across the different social media platforms, be it Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr, the same people follow and interact with each other. In the end, it becomes a bit of an echo chamber. This, I think, can be detrimental to one’s activism and feminism; especially if those women are not forcing themselves to grow by challenging themselves enough to reach out to, or be in solidarity, in real ways, with women on the ground. So as the women’s movement we must challenge ourselves not to get trapped in the echo chamber of ourselves.

I have observed that, across the different social media platforms, be it Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr, the same people follow and interact with each other. In the end, it becomes a bit of an echo chamber. This, I think, can be detrimental to one’s activism and feminism; especially if those women are not forcing themselves to grow by challenging themselves enough to reach out to, or be in solidarity, in real ways, with women on the ground.

KM: Do you see the women’s movement benefitting from the internet?

MM: There are examples where movements have harnessed the internet, and especially social media to amplify, magnify and voice out an issue so that it gains traction. For instance, South Africa’s #FeesMustFall obviously did not just start online. There was students’ activism on the ground around the issue for a long time. Students in South African universities were passionately angry about the injustices in university institutions for a long time, and yes! the hashtag really caught fire. It gave visibility to the students activism that has continued offline meaning the hashtag was not the sole reason that the campaign was ‘big’. The hashtag allowed the movement to gain a presence beyond the South African borders, which it may not have had without social media. The same can be said of #BlackLivesMatter. People have been organising against racism in the United States for a long time. This is not to say that the hashtag is insignificant. No!

It is important that long after that the hashtag has gone or been changed to something else, those movements remain and continue to grow. All these online movements were informed by the real and lived experiences of the people on the ground.

It still is a powerful moment and movement that has given birth to other movements. However, it is important that long after that the hashtag has gone or been changed to something else, those movements remain and continue to grow. It is not possible for something that happens in isolation online to be sustainable. There has to be the on-going conversation because things always have to be that grounded. People always make reference to, for instance, the Arab Spring, as a phenomenon that happened online. But those people had been organising against oppression for many years. All these online movements were informed by the real and lived experiences of the people on the ground. So even for the women’s movement, it is such experiences that should prompt us to connect with other women. This can be done ether online or in other ways, so that when social media comes along, it is just to amplify and spread the message.

Audre Lorde. Photograph contributed by Rooturu. Source:Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons License Attribution Share-Alike.

KM: What role(s) do social media play in movement building?

MM: We must not see one strand of the strategy for any movement as the end. Everything must be a means. If we reach an end then what are we doing? We will never reach an end in the struggles against oppression. We have to continue going back, wait, something happens, then we come back and analyse then we move forward. Otherwise we become static and stagnant. Social media becomes a part of the strategy and it plays a complimentary role.

KM: What challenges (if any) are women facing online?

MM: Unlike men, most women do not have the confidence of masculinity or advantage of patriarchy to say whatever we want without fear. We have to build a support base for women to share more online, and to feel more confident to speak out. It is hard, especially with social media, as there can be a lot of backlash. People will jump on you if they feel that you are wrong or that your analysis is weak. As you can imagine, for women its even more dangerous So imagine being a radical feminist, deal with radical opposition politics as a woman – backlash and criticism cannot be avoided. What is important to protect each other by creating both private and public platforms of different kinds to foster conversations among ourselves and with other people that we do not ordinarily interact with daily.

Personally I do not see analysis of class, race or sex and sexuality of different contexts in conversations online. Instead, most times, there is a narrow mainstream line of womanhood and what it means to be a woman in the world today.

We must sharpen one another like we sharpen knives by having the courage to say, ‘Hey my Sister! You need to step up on this one’. From there, we need to put ourselves in spaces where the backlash will be inevitable because our voices need to be heard there. This is where our challenge lies now. Only certain groups of women get their voices heard in those spaces and I am not sure that the agenda they push is indeed the ‘politics’ that we can confidently say represents the women’s movement. Personally I do not see analysis of class, race or sex and sexuality of different contexts in conversations online. Instead, most times, there is a narrow mainstream line of womanhood and what it means to be a woman in the world today.

KM: How do you think the feminists movement can touch base with the different constituencies and make their presence online more representative?

MM: We must interrogate each other on the extent to which, as individuals, we are ‘representative’ of the constituencies that we say we represent. On this one we have to be honest with one another and appreciate that it is necessary to be critical if we are to move forward. Sisters in JASS Meso-America use a Spanish term, ‘Critica Amorosa’, which, translated, means to love criticism. So, for instance, if you saw Maggie on Twitter speaking to the women’s situation in Zimbabwe as the country heads towards an election, you can be more upfront and remind her that her work is mostly based in the capital city, Harare and outside the borders of the country. That way Maggie will be clearer that maybe her scope is not deep enough as she cannot really speak on behalf of the experiences woman in rural Murehwa and their concerns about the upcoming election. So how do we bring the women from Murehwa and make them part of the conversation? That is the work we have to do and its hard work, but it is important work.

We have to be honest with one another and appreciate that it is necessary to be critical if we are to move forward. Sisters in JASS Meso-America use a Spanish term, ‘Critica Amorosa’, which, translated, means to love criticism.

KM: Describe the way women’s movement works online

MM: I struggle with the ‘performative’ nature of conversations online as women posture and say things that they actually may not believe. We see multiple identities online that conflict with those we interact with offline. Agreed, it can be quite liberating to have all these different identities, but once in a while, one has to step back and ask oneself what it is exactly that they believe in. People do and say things just for ‘clicks’ and they use this to prove the success of their moment or movement. This is not our success. Our success as the women’s movement lies in what we have done to change the lives of women on the ground. Sure, the fact that we have had conversations on sensitive issue that we are passionate about, is a success. You can mark it as a ‘little outcome’, but that cannot be it.

KM: So is a feminists internet possible?

MM: Weeeellll! [Laughs] I have had had time to reflect deeply on this since the City Conversation on the Feminists Principles of the Internet here in Harare. Having principles is a powerful thing as it gives us something to look towards and fight for. The principles are key in that they will give us a code in which to function as feminists. We can try and create the space of a feminist internet, knowing though that the reality of a feminist internet is quite far in the future – and that is still okay.

The principles are key in that they will give us a code in which to function as feminists. We can try and create the space of a feminist internet, knowing though that the reality of a feminist internet is quite far in the future – and that is still okay.

In general, my take way, and this is purely based on my current work with community activists, is that the internet is not the ‘hugest’ of priorities for the majority of women on the African continent. My major concern for feminism in this digital era is the failure to reach the relevant audiences. Everyday stories are told and discussions are held that only a certain set of people can access. This is the dilemma of Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs). I see the possibility of the extension the ‘NGO-isation’ of movement online if we do not take heed. Being online gets us funding because of the exposure and visibility, but the communities who are the reason we can produce this content and for whom this content is supposed to serve, don’t always have access to it.

KM: Thank you Maggie for your time MM: Thank you

Following conversations at this years annual Deutsche Welle Akademie (DW) Global Media Forum held under the theme, Identity and Diversity. I have taken time to reflect on the two concepts and how they relate to each other especially with the evolution of the media globally brought about by the internet.

Having worked for a regional media rights advocacy group, the Media Institute of Southern Africa, for almost a decade now, I interact daily with the complexity of achieving diverse and plural media on the African continent. I have also taken time to reflect on diversity for the mainstream media in the Global North. What is interesting across the globe, is how the internet has made audiences active consumers,with the capability to create content that offers counter narratives, and forms new identities as geographical boundaries are continuously collapsed.

But media diversity is not just a black and white issue. It takes many forms: diversity in the ownership patterns of those licensed, diversity in the distribution of content in different languages and on different platforms and diversity in the issues covered based on both geographical and interest communities. Interest communities include gender, racial, cultural, religious and political groups. Ultimately, all these forms of media diversity must complement each other, to ensure that a wider cross-section of the society is catered for in terms of ownership of, access to and representation by the media.

Diverse mainstream media a pipe dream?

Africa has a long standing history of civil society campaigns for a media that bridges information gaps through a variety media platforms and that cater for different political, racial, religious, gendered expression and opinion. However, varying governmental, political, and corporate forces continue to hinder the achievement of a diverse media on the continent through the licensing of partisan players and/or the control of media content. Although African governments have made commitments to open up the media, continuing media rights violations over the past two decades indicate a lack of sincerity by governments to continental commitments to democratise the media. The demands for media diversity that allows for multiple opinions have remained the same from the signing of the Windhoek Declaration on promoting an independent and pluralistic media in 1991 to the current day African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms, which has come to the fore in the face of increasing internet shutdowns on the continent.

Interestingly, in some African countries, the demarcation between working for the state and the private media has split the sector to a point that journalists are reluctant to put up a unified front in the face of violations to their profession. Although South African journalists, last year stood unified in protest against censorship and suspensions, at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), it is not characteristic of journalists in other African country’s. Last week only a handful of freelance and independent journalists marched in silent protest in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare against police brutality on journalists conducting their work. Journalists from the state-media did not show their support in anyway.

Few freelance journalists and journalists from the Independent media marched in silent protest in July this year. Pic: AFP/Jekesai Njikizana

At face value, the increase in the number of players in the media industry on the continent since the oldest African nation, Ghana’s independence in 1957, gives a semblence of diversity. The reality however, is that despite an increase in the number of players in both the print and broadcast media, ownership patterns, content, language and editorial policy reflect a different story.

At the centre of this challenge is the death of the public media, as it disregards its public service mandate and serves government interests. This is an unfortunate trend that has grossly affected the quality of information made available to citizens and as a result thwarted their participation in important national issues. Public media still remains the most accessible form of media for the majority on the continent. Governments interference in especially the affairs of public broadcasters has compromised the extent to which these broadcasters can genuinely represent the identity and interests of the people.

The long standing pressure for a probe into the governance, mismanagement and poor performance of SABC is a case in point. Over the years, the public broadcaster, once viewed as the best performing on the continent, has been accused of censoring news. This it has done through the ban of the coverage of opposition political parties such as the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and of ‘sensitive’ events such as the violent service delivery protests held in the country last year.

The scenario obtains also in Zimbabwe. In 2015, a forensic audit by KPMG of the country’s public broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) pointed to gross mismanagement and malpractice that had resulted in its near collapse. Since the report was tabled before parliament, there has been no movement on the recommendations. The broadcaster continues to be partisan in its reportage, and is in fact expected to launch more channels on completion of the country’s digital migration from analogue to digital broadcasting. The responsible minister, has failed to appear before the Media Parliamentary Portfolio Committee four times this year alone, to respond to progress on ZBC.

Independent broadcasters have not been spared from the censorship. In July last year, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) issued a memo to all broadcasters hindering the coverage of the demonstrations in the country sparked by a nationwide stay away popularised on social media. The authority stated that coverage of the stay away would “incite, encourage or glamorise violence or brutality”. In Zambia, government suspended the broadcasting licences of two community radio stations, Kombani Radio and Itezhi Tezhi and private television player, Muvi TV, over broadcasting of content deemed to threaten “national peace and stability”.

Media ownership is another sticky issue. The current media ownership patterns on the continent, simulate precedent colonial controls or monopolies. Over the years, African licensing authorities, appointed by and with very strong ties to the government, have tended to license mainly entities with strong political ties to the government of the day. For instance, in Rwanda the government controlled media licensing body, the Media High Council is accused of licensing mostly players that will tow the line. As Rwandas public sector remains the largest advertiser, survival of the media is, naturally, dependent on support for President Kagames government.

In Zimbabwe, the bias in the licensing of independent local commercial radio stations in March 2015, came to light, when it emerged that two of the new licensees, Capitalk FM and Nyaminyami FM, licensed under Kingstons limited, are in actual fact, under the state controlled media stable, Zimpapers. Cross ownership was initially prohibited in the country’s Broadcasting Act, but was amended and has resulted in the concentration of ownership by especially government entities.

Diversity up North?

In the Global North, diversity and plurality in are prominent in debates of representation of racial minorities, sustainability of the mainstream media and ownership.

Last year, it was interesting to observe the finalisation of the debate on whether or not to amend media laws to allow TV-newspapers the same market cross-ownership in Australia. Although the Federal Communications Commission eventually voted to continue the 40 year old ban on cross ownership, interesting issues were raised in respect of diversity. One of the arguments was that social media has brought the diversity sought in the media for years and that allowing cross ownership in the mainstream would ‘not harm’ the sector, but rather rescue failing newspapers to be more sustainable. Other quarters felt that it was important to evaluate whether corporate interests of the mainstream media were more important than preserving control of media distribution in the public interest.

Following the awarding of this year DW Press Freedom Award to White House correspondents, I was interested in exploring the extent to which proximity to the White House has enabled reporters to adequately cater for America’s diverse society. It emerges that the absence of correspondents of colour at the White House has been ‘the elephant in the room’ throughout different administrations. No doubt this has a bearing on the inclusion of minorities in mainstream policy debates. Three months after his election, President Trump, proved this to be the case after he asked African-American White House Correspondent, April Ryan to arrange a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus after she asked whether he would consult them on urban policy. President Trump implied that because April is black, she must know the blacks in the caucus, because all blacks know each other and have the same interests!

Mainstream’ media versus the ‘Peoples’ media

Speaking at the proceedings of the opening ceremony of the Global Media Forum, UNESCO Director General, Frank La Rue, noted that the mainstream media have been left behind by the coming in of social media mainly because of the desire to remain sole arbitrar of news. Social networking platforms Facebook, WhatsApp Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter, which ranked among the top ten social media applications globally in January 2017, have increased the reach of alternative news and opinions. The monopolies of officialdom, gatekeeping privileges and boundaries of editorial policy news are equally broken. Audiences generate their own content and have opinions that carry the day through retweets, shares and likes. The diversity in the social media platforms has ensured that geographic boundaries and marginal interest communities find an alternative platform to engage. This is a definite threat to the hegemony that the mainstream media has enjoyed for centuries through propaganda, misinformation and selective representation. It is no wonder that the phenomenon of ‘fake news’ has been coined to counter this ‘smaller’ more vociforous media, which is to an extent, equally as partisan.

Fluidity of identities online vs stagnant tradition identities

Could social media be the solution to our search of legitimate representation of our diverse identities as citizens and consumers of a globalised media? The mainstream media has carried traditionally acceptable free expression, gender, sexuality and political ideologies, especially in respect of national identity. Having been born and currently residing in independent Zimbabwe, I am exposed, to a highly polarised media environment, dominated by a ruling political elite, who over the years have defined and set the parameters for the identity of patriotic nationals. Attempts to ‘reclaim’ Zimbabwean identity on social media have oft been labelled a part of a regime change agenda, that seeks to reverse the gains of a ‘hard earned’ independence.

National events in Zimbabwe usually carry messages of patriotism. Pic : Angela Jimu

However, the internet has no respect for tradition.

By increasing their interaction time and creativity online, new media has demonstrated that audiences in their diversity are capable of shaping discourse and challenging the mainstream to step up. Because of the comfort of the ‘safety net’ of anonymity, citizens are able to form multiple identities that enable them to engage more freely on issues of public interest unfolding in their locality and globally.

To a larger extent, the emergence of the new media has provided alternatives to the mainstream conversation and makes an attempts to bridge the gaps of officialdom. However, as more and more leaders find themselves online there is a thin line between the mainstream and the alternative.

It will be interesting to observe how the case President Trump’s Twitter account unfolds after the ruling by the Federal Court a few days ago, prohibiting office bearers from blocking social media users from their accounts on the basis of their views. The major question, of course, being whether Trumps personal account will qualify as a public page as the official United States Presidential Twitter account, @POTUS does exist. It can be argued though that the president does not engage actively on public policy on the official account. So in a sense public officials may carry over the same censorship they employ in their official capacity offline on their private online accounts, despite having the opportunity to be exposed and reach out to a wider audience for diverse opinions.

Social media giving diverse identities a platform?

At a City Conversation on the Feminist Principles of Internet held in Harare recently someone said that they enjoyed Tumblr more than any other social media platform as it is more tolerant of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer(LGBTQ) community. Another said she never engages on popular Zimbabwean Women’s Facebook group, Pahushamwari hwedu, meaning As friends,  because more often than not, conversations go viral, and expose members. A number of people are on multiple WhatsApp groups primarily because they cannot be ‘themselves’ on ‘others’.

We should start thinking about whether or not social media genuine offers the space for diverse identities or is it just a temporary facade. We must also remain aware of the contradictions and implications of media organisations such as Buzzfeed, the New York Times, and the Guardian signing deals to produce live content on Facebook Live. Already Facebook has received criticism on censorship such as the pulling down of The Activist Mommy page after bible scriptures were quoted against homosexuality. The Facebook LGBTQ page is also said to be unavailable in countries where homosexuality is illegal such as Egypt, Palestine, Bahrain, Lebanon, Singapore, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates.

It may be safer to say that diversity, whether in the mainstream, online and social media must be contested and re-contested particularly as the line between the them gets thinner. Corporate interests are always at play. At the same time, the struggle for the representation of the diverse identities of consumers of media must continuously be negotiated to a point where what we consume and produce in the public interest is universally acceptable as well as openly contestable.

We need to have an honest and open conversation about sex and sexuality in digitised Africa! Given the evolution of African cultural norms and the changing media environment, the trends on access to, censorship and regulation of sexual content on the continent, must be confronted openly and realistically. It is time to stop treating sex and sexuality issues with conservatism. Africans have sex! The ‘with who’, ‘why’ ‘how’ and ‘to what end’ which, yesterday was not spoken about openly, and with not just ‘anybody’, today blatantly pops up on the screens of our mobile phones and television sets in different forms, with or without our consent. Africans are consumers of global media, made easily accessible daily via Digital satellite television (DSTV) and the internet. As a result their view of the world is different today than it was, say, two decades ago. Our challenge A significant number of African countries openly recognise only heterosexual relationships. 33 of the 54 African countries have laws that criminalise same sex relationships. Within the scope of heterosexual relationships, the chastity of women is valued with very little recognition of their individual sexual and reproductive rights. Generally, women on the continent regardless of age, race, ethnicity, religious background or sexual orientation, are in the majority of the sexual and gender group that carries the consequences of a society where patriarchal norms govern and characterise sexual behaviors. Sexual offences, obscenity, content or censorship laws run afoul of free expression and access to information rights. This is because they border on indecency and obscenity, which are usually, largely defined by morality, culture and religion; in most instances, these yardsticks are not standard even in a single community. Other characteristics of our African societies include the lack of honest family level and institutional adolescent sex education; intolerance of the gay, lesbian and trans community and little opportunity for women’s discussions on  sex and sexuality . Abortion is illegal or immoral and sex work, despite being a highly ‘demanded’ service, is criminal. In the past two years, the aforementioned laws, the morality question and the rise in access to the internet have made for interesting observation in as far as efforts to regulation sexual content in Africa’s mainstream media is concerned. The naked truth Sex and sexuality issues can no longer be kept under the wraps. You just need to watch television to prove it! Children’s viewing has evolved. A couple of years back, cartoon cat and mouse characters, Tom and Jerry innocently chased each other in an endless battle. In the series I watched with my eight-year old daughter last Monday on DSTV’s Boomerang a ‘small and beautiful’ She-cat, as my daughter described her, distracts Tom. Similarly, teenage television viewing borders on relationships. Any parent who takes time to sit and watch popular teen series’ Jessie on the Disney Channel and Henry Danger on Nickelodeon, knows that more often than not, episodes will depict the complexities of teenage dating. Together with the internet, the television is, in a sense, the new sex ed class for our teenagers. This makes a folly of two recent developments on the continent. Last year, Kenya was at the forefront of what led to the continental ban of an episode of cartoon series, The Loud House, on Nickelodeon. The country’s Film Classification board caused the ban after complaining that the series featured an animated gay couple.  Earlier Nigeria had caused a continental pull down of the second season of reality show I am Cait from E! Entertainment. Last month, media reports indicated that Kenya had called for a ban of yet another seven cartoons on three children’s channels for being ‘pro-gay’ and ‘normalising, glamorising or even glorifying homosexual behaviour’, a trend they noted as damaging ‘family’. It must be noted that a request by one African country for a pull down of any show on DSTV has implications on the entire continent. This is because, in most instances, some of the channels and content providers have one feed for the entire continent. This is the case for Viacom International Media Networks Africa (VIMN Africa) and NBC Universal International Networks,  that provided the aforementioned shows. While other providers like M-Net have regionalised channel feeds for South, East and West Africa in order to satisfy regulatory codes in the regions, it may still be a challenge in other regions. Take for instance, Southern Africa where approaches to sex and sexuality and sexual content differ from one country to another. South Africa has legalised same sex marriages and revised its Sexual Offences legislation to grant rights to children between the ages of 12 and 15 to consent to sexual acts with each other. Next door, in Zimbabwe, same sex relationships are outlawed, and even the distributing contraception in schools was declared a No, No!. As a result, recent reports rated Zimbabwe as having the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Sub Saharan Africa. Within that scope, a move to ban sexual content may deprive South African citizens of content that would be acceptable in their society. In the second development, which is in fact more recent , Ghanaians last month petitioned the country’s media regulator, the National Media Commission, to stop the screening of pornographic movies on three free-to-air television channels stating that by showing these, the channels disregarded ‘constitutional responsibility’. The regulator found the channels lacking in as far as meeting media decency standards. The country’s Minister of Information, Mustapha Hamid reportedly said that within the African context it was ‘incorrect’ to show the movies. Is this to say sex, in its varying forms, and sexuality issues have never been a part of our mainstream media consumption on the continent? As I reflected on the dimensions of sexuality on television in the past, I immediately remembered one of my favourite TV shows in the 1980’s, My two dads. Upon much reflection, I came to the realisation that the show was, in actual fact, about same sex parenting. While, I admit, that, at no given time were we driven to think that there may have been a sexual relationship between Michael and Joey (the two dads), my conclusion is that, there were no issues raised about the show, only because at the time, the queer society was definitely ‘invisible’. The show, therefore passed as innocent, in spite of the ‘inappropriateness’ of the story line, within the African context where a girl is raised by two men that her mother dated when she was conceived. Their co-parenting was based the uncertainty of which one of the two was her biological father. Furthermore,  publication of private intimate images of political activists in the mainstream media in order to discredit or silence them in politically related ‘attacks’, begs the question on who has rights to, and when is acceptable to publish sexual content. Never mind the scandal behind their publication, it has implications on individual rights to privacy. Zimbabwe’s state media has quite a reputation with this tactic. After he resigned from Zimbabwe’s ruling party, Zanu PF, in June 2016, former youth leader, Acie Lumumba’s intimate images were published by the state-owned tabloid, H-Metro. This followed his vocal criticism of the party and its leader Robert Mugabe after he left the party. The leak of the images extracted from a sex tape followed a search his residence by the police. In one interview Lumumba said that the leak of his images on social media and in the mainstream, were an attempt to silence him. Earlier, in 2007, the country had woken up to the country’s precedent case of the mainstream media publishing sexually explicit content when state owned newspaper, The Chronicle, published intimate images of Catholic cleric and critic of Robert Mugabe, Archbishop Pius Ncube.  Archbishop Ncube, who was involved in an adulterous relationship with one of the congregants, submitted his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI , following what he termed a state-driven, vicious attack on not just his person, but by proxy the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe. Enter the World Wide Web  The internet has presented itself as an alternative platform to overcome the aforementioned restrictive laws on publishing of especially content that relates to diverse sexualities. The relatively affordable cost, ease of publication and access to this content has made the internet very important for the publication of sexual content. Marginalised groups have space on the internet which they would have never known in the mainstream, to express themselves, resist and mobilise support. Take for instance the online call by the Coalition of African Lesbians for contributions to the Southern African Charter on Access to health; which call recognised of the lack of access to affordable and accessible health services, including HIV related services for sexuality and gender-marginalised groups. Also interesting, is the launch and rise in popularity of Nigerian feminist, Iheoma Obibi’s women’s online sex shop Intimate pleasures . The shop also provides sex education and awareness sessions online under the hashtag #Sextalk. However, the same  internet, and especially social media, has replicated offline violations in the distribution of sexual content. This time by the users themselves as they continue to violate each other’s rights through invasion of individual privacy and violence based on sexual identities. As a result there is a continuing a trend of discrimination and criminalisation of sexual expression. Chief among these is the emergence of revenge pornography. So what? The parameters of what defines pornography must be made clear because it continues to shadow the importance of

MISA Zimbabwe this year commemorated World Press Freedom Day under the theme ‘In defence of digital rights’ (Credit – MISA Zimbabwe)

sexual content in our societies today. Appreciating that morality can no longer be a basis to guide the extent to which sex and sexuality rights are exercised, would be a step in the ‘real’ direction. That the imposition of measures to suppress or restrict broadcasting of sexual content, such as same-sex marriage, rights to legal abortions, sex workers and sex education, will preserve our Africanness is a fallacy. African cultural identity is not static, it is fluid. The continued existence of sexual offences and censorship laws with obscur pornography and obscenity provisions is problematic. While we are in agreement on the protection of children against pornographic content, we need to decide whether censorship, of any kind, on other sex and sexuality content for consenting adults is feasible. In this technologically converged global media environment maybe African governments need to realistically weigh the costs of censoring what they classify sexual content against the citizens rights to access content of their choice, privacy of communications and free expression and opinion. Lastly, it is clear that within the scope of national, regional and continental multi-stakeholder internet governance processes, Africa finds itself faced with varying paradoxical socio cultural realities as it attempts to maintain strict reigns on the production and circulation of sexual content. Given the amount of debate on revenge pornography across the continent, the slow pace in its criminalisation is disturbing. People have rights to take and share images of their intimacy with who they chose in confidence. What is problematic, is the malicious distribution of those images without consent, and with the intention of causing harm or damage to another persons reputation. It is not a morality issue. It is a rights issue. As it is, some of the existing anti-obscenity laws on the continent fall short in the protection of victims and prosecution of perpetrators of some of sexual crimes. To date most victims of revenge pornography have found themselves equally liable to the sexual offence of production of ‘pornography’. If the law supposes that, then it is apparent then that ‘the law is a ass, a idiot!’

In the past, demands for equality, good governance,  justice and recognition of human rights on the continent seemed a preserve for opposition political players, civil society and in some instances, the traditional ‘private’ media. However, with the growth of mobile telephony and internet in Africa, that monopoly has been unbundled. The monopoly on the dissemination of information, free opinion and expression, organising and mobilisation is dead and buried.

Personally, I feel that the current internet governance processes on the continent are a litmus test of  the extent to which Africans can engage on an equal footing on critical socio, economic and political issues. The rhetoric at a global level has resulted in a ‘simulation’ of the multi-stakeholder model across the continent through the National Internet Governance Forums (IGFs) that bring governments to interface with civil society, technologists, the private sector and ‘netizens’ to reach consensus on the development, use and governance of the Internet.

However, the ‘traditional’ culture of governance dominated by central government and affiliate institutions in the formulation of policy and regulation continues to present challenges and obstruct full and equal participation of stakeholders in people-centered governance.

The government

Within the context of internet governance, government represented by the ministry of ICT’s and the relevant regulators, are key players in the formulation of Internet policy and regulation. In some cases, government spearheaded and dictates the pace in the processes often masking their dominance in insincere consultative processes.

It is crucial for governments to shift their view of the internet needing the same ‘controls’ imposed on traditional media. The Internet aids participatory democracy and opportunities to reach out to a populace without the geographical, transmission and circulation limitations seen in government interaction via the mainstream media. Unlike the media, it allows opportunities to engage and enhance citizen participation in national processes. This may initially be challenging as some governments, are not as open, transparent and accountable as expected, but it is undoubtedly an opportunity for change.

As governments are in the spotlight and face pressure for more open governance. Their response has, in some instances, come as varying forms of Internet censorship through total or partial shutdowns, state-sponsored surveillance and arrests and/or detention of bloggers, activists and ordinary citizens exercising rights online. Extreme cases of such censorship has been witnessed on the continent in the shutdown of the Internet in Egypt in 2011 , the 12-hour Internet curfew imposed in Gabon this September and the current Internet shutdown in Ethiopia following massive protests in the Oromia province.

Role of civil society

African Civil society must strengthen support channelled towards governments in the promotion of human rights. Human rights are not alien to governments, as they are signatory to a number of conventions and charters, all hinged on the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Within the Internet governance framework, government needs support in interacting with the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms which aims to promote human rights and openness in policy making and implementation of the policies. This interaction must include placing mechanisms in policy and law to ensure the full promotion of rights online during the implementation.

Admitedly, the relationship between African civil society and governments is largely antagonistic. This is because, civil society has played ‘devils advocate’ in its watchdog role and attempts to balance governance in the public interest. In Zimbabwe, for instance, government views civil society as having a ‘regime change’ agenda.

With that in mind, civil society must, within its mandate strategically position itself as a technical partner to government. Over the years, civil society has become integral in policy debates, norms, standard setting processes and governance arrangements at both national and supranational level. This position requires the employing of diplomatic strategies for lobby and engagement with government in consensus building processes.

According to Paradigm Initiative Nigeria Director, Gbenga Sesan cordial relationships between civil society and government in Nigeria have seen significant adoption of civil society proposals in ICT policy and Internet governance processes. This process can be achieved by identifying individuals in political party structures or parliament that can influence adoption of progressive policies.

Alternative lobby approaches are an acknowledgement that while multistakeholderism strategy brings everyone together, power dynamics still exist. It is not only enough to participate, but it is critical to influence.

The media

‘African lives do matter’ and the media that must ensure people are central by raising awareness on their socio, economic and political rights and their centrality in development and governance.

Reporting internet policy is complex mainly because of the conflicting interests of the key stakeholders. These include the interests of the government in the context of ‘national security’ and ‘public order’. It also includes private sector interests of profiteering, licensing conditions and operations in fragile states following social mobilization as witnessed in the 2011 Arab Spring and subsequent an online social movements #FeesMustFall in South Africa and Zimbabwe’s #ThisFlag.

Noting their role at the intersection of human rights and cyberspace, media must be vigilant in understanding, articulating and contextualising , not only cyberlaws, but other national laws that may violate citizens’ rights in contradiction to constitutional provisions. It is unacceptable for media not to appreciate internet governance issues, especially with the ubiquity of information available online.

The media must guard against propagandising digital rights through misinformation. Media lobby and advocacy organisation, MISA-Zimbabwe, in August 2016 noted misleading reports by the state print and public broadcaster on what constitutes cyber terrorism. The repercussions of such poor and biased reportage are fear and self-censorship in the exercise of citizen rights to free expression, association and accessing information. In the long run, such reporting will result in the continents failure to realise the full political and economic potential of the Internet. The media must realise that well researched and ethical reporting puts pressure on relevant authorities to ensure justice and equality.

Government, civil society and the media should effectively play their role in the achievement of democratic societies in Africa in a complementary multi-stakeholder strategy reliant on mutual respect and trust.

The emergence of the internet is touted as an opportunity for women in Africa to ‘play catch up’ after years of being ‘left out’ in the mainstream media. It is said that the internet is a platform of democracy and freedom where women can amplify their voices on and access critical information relating to their well being and empowerment nationally and globally. But what are African women’s realities and to what extent can the internet be made accessible to them and have meaningful impact in their lives? Globally, women have lesser access to the internet than men do, a clear indication that the global digital divide is highly gendered. In Africa, the gap is wider as significant social, economic and, to a lesser extent, political barriers continue to hinder women’s access to not only the internet, but new technologies in general. Some of these barriers include low ICT literacy and lesser access to and ownership to ICTs owing to little or no income at all. For women with access, patriarchal and cultural practices continue to limit that extent to which women can fully exercise rights to privacy, free expression and access to information. International Telecommunications Union (ITU) latest  statistics  show a nominal, albeit significant  2.3 percent increase in the number of African women accessing the internet between 2013 and 2016. During that period, there has been a noticeable increase and prominence of online content platforms focussing on women’s issues, female opinion leaders with verified social media accounts, women in Tech and internet policy who are visibly in the forefront of regional initiatives on the development of the internet on the continent. The irony of the statistics relating to access to the internet on the continent, is that seven out of ten of the worlds fastest internet populations are in Africa, where the women constitute almost 52 percent of the continents population of 1.2 billion population. Undoubtedly, these statistics are an indication that the barriers women face in accessing the internet and technologies can no longer be ignored if there is sincerity about bridging the digital gender divide. Continuing advocacy for gender mainstreamed policies and legislation by African women’s rights and gender equality activists, must now define a clear and unified strategy to ensure that women’s access to the internet goes beyond quantitative measurement. The strategy should also clearly outline indicators of positive impact of the internet on the social, political and economic well being of women. What would this involve? Consciously acknowledging that physical access to ICTs and the internet alone do not guarantee full utilisation, and going further to find out exactly which women go online and what they do when they are online. This will assist in the acknowledging that the varied uses determine the extent that women can appreciate the utilitarian value of the internet. Some women spend more time online and have the confidence and flexibility to use the internet for a variety of issues ranging from recreational use, transactional use and also for general economic welfare. Others will have very low digital literacy, and may only have access to Facebook or WhatsApp, without even the slightest inkling that they are actually connected to the internet on those platforms. There is a tendency, by especially the media and academia, to treat women as a homogeneous group by ‘lumping’ them into one marginal group. Women have differences based on geography, age, race, marital status and even sexual orientation. It is these same differences that determine the variations of motivation and interest, to fully utilise the internet. A regional strategy is particularly important, considering the general lack of political will by most African governments to prioritise bridging the digital gaps in their jurisdictions. This is reflected by the adoption of ICT policies by a number of African countries, which in trying to ensure gender equality and equity in access and use of ICTs, fail to understand existing power imbalances and gender relations at community level, and can therefore not be fully translated to gender responsive planning and budgeting of ICT development projects at implementation level. This has been evident in even the country’s that pioneered gender mainstreaming in ICT policies. For instance Mozambique’s ICT policy adopted in 2000, has a whole section on gender and youth in ICT Development initiatives though decision making, training and content development among other. The strategy that followed only made reference to women and children as victims of pornography, abuse and violence online, thereby missing opportunities to deal with real issues affecting women’s access such as literacy and geographical location. Unlike past South African ICT policies that preceded its National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper (2016) which recognised gender equality in licensing, procurement and training, the current policy skirts over gender without actually defining the strategy. On the other hand, Zimbabwe’s policy, adopted in August 2016, recognises gender mainstreaming as a strategy integration of the design and implementation of ICT programmes for equal benefit. It is critical for activists working in the sector to familiarise with their respective ICT policies in order to identify areas of intervention, support and continuous monitoring. This should so away with governments continued regurgitation of gender disparity provisions and ensure the incorporation of strategies that will bridge them meaningfully. African internet governance conversations about connecting of the next billion users, should begin to take into consideration the fact that the current disproportionate access by women on the continent translates to a set back in its facilitatory role in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Commissioned by Deutsche Welle Akademie #MEDIADEV

After messaging services and social media helped fuel protests earlier in 2016, the Zimbabwe government is clamping down on cyberspace. With elections due in 2018, online rights are expected to erode further.

On July 6, 2016, Zimbabweans across the social, political and economic divide heeded an online call to stay away from work. Spurred on by hashtags such at #zimshutdown2016 and #shutdownzimbabwe, the action was the biggest show of public dissatisfaction with the government of 92-year-old president Robert Mugabe for more than a decade. With the streets virtually empty in many cities across the country, most schools, hospitals, business and shops shut their doors.

Those calling for protest action included a social movement united under the hashtag #ThisFlag, led by pastor Evan Mawarire, and a youth campaign #Tajamuka/Sesijikile (which means “We have rebelled” in the country’s local languages of Shona and Ndebele).

Another significant contribution to the success of the shutdown was the mobilization of civil servants who stayed away from work to protest the non-payment of their salaries. Zimbabwe has been facing a severe economic crisis and is struggling to pay its government workers.

Social media played a big part in publicizing and mobilizing people to take part in the July 6 shutdown (as it did in earlier protests, such as demonstrations against the ban of imports on essential household goods and the proposed introduction of bond notes to ease a cash shortage).

One in two Zimbabweans has Internet access (as of June 2016) and the messaging service WhatsApp accounts for a third of the Internet data used in the country.

Government clamp down on the Internet 
The government’s immediate response to the July 6 shutdown?

To create a shutdown of its own – WhatsApp was unavailable for several hours on the day of the protest.

The government’s next response? To curb Internet use by hiking mobile data prices. Following the day of action, Zimbabwe’s mobile network operators announced they had been ordered to wind down cheap mobile data promotions by August 31, 2016. The promotions had allowed call, data, SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter bundles for as low as 4.50 euro (US$5.00).

This move is a huge blow to digital rights in Zimbabwe.

Buying mobile data without taking advantage of a promotion is expensive in Zimbabwe. In fact, according to the think tank Research ICT Africa, the cost of 1GB of prepaid mobile data in Zimbabwe is the third highest on the continent.

In the recent past, the Zimbabwean government has defended this high price, citing the need to expand infrastructure and the generally high cost of providing Internet access in a landlocked country. However, mobile data promotions often ran for lengthy periods, indicating that data prices were sustainable at the cheaper, promotional prices. Therefore, it seems unlikely the stoppage of promotions following protests is sheer coincidence.

Zimbabwe, whose press is ranked as ‘Not Free’ by Freedom House, already has tight controls on the media and also limits citizens’ ability to access information. In the past, Internet has been subjected to fewer controls than the press; the fear now is that Robert Mugabe’s government is seeking to bring the Net under its control too.

In recent months, the government and top-ranking state security personnel have regularly spoken about what they call the “abuse” of social media and swarmed for Chinese-style Internet regulation.

In 2016 alone, 27 people have already been either arrested or charged for political opinion deemed as “ridicule” to the person of the president, according the Media Institute of Southern Africa’s Zimbabwe Chapter. In another case, which generated much discussion on Facebook and Twitter, the leader of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, Shingi Munyeza, was questioned by police after he published a three-part series of articles online about the state of the economy entitled, ’10 point plan to run Zimbabwe Limited.’

As a result of the current climate, people in Zimbabwe have become more cautious in their social media interactions, even when sending private messages.

This self-censorship and fear of surveillance curtails the Internet’s potential to increase citizen engagement and participation in national discourse. Even more worrying is the current default surveillance and policing of opinion by citizens among themselves and on behalf of the state, a status likely to worsen as the country moves towards national elections in 2018.

Internet service providers have little leeway

Another factor that further weakens digital freedom in Zimbabwe is the legal vulnerability of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and telecommunication companies. Two pieces of legislation, the Interception of Communications Act (ICA) and the Statutory Instrument on surveillance (gazetted in 2014) clearly leave no room for ISPs to protect the rights of their users.

The laws obligates providers to facilitate the interception of user information by installing hardware or software that would provide call-related information in real time, as well as after the call. The laws also obligate providers to allow access to decrypted user data flowing through their networks. The ICA criminalizes non-compliance or refusal to cooperate by the service providers.

We have already seen this vulnerability at play twice in 2016.

Firstly, the July 6 WhatsApp shutdown can’t be explained away as a WhatsApp technical fault. WhatsApp was definitely working because Zimbabweans masking their physical location with VPNs (virtual private networks) were still able to access the messaging service. This lays the blame for the shutdown firmly at the door of the Internet providers, presumably responding to government pressure. And although Zimbabwe’s government denied ordering the shutdown, it was unusual that the ISPs made no effort to explain why WhatsApp was suddenly unavailable. Also, the telecommunications regulator POTRAZ made no attempt to hold them to account for the service failure.

Secondly, during #zimshutdown2016, POTRAZ issued a warning about “the gross irresponsible use of social media”, saying it would arrest users circulating abusive information. The warning contains a chilling sentence that highlights the cooperation of ISPs with the government: “All sim cards in Zimbabwe are registered in the name of the user. Perpetrators can easily be identified.”

These examples illustrate how in Zimbabwe, as in a number of other authoritarian states, ISPs will actively slow down, throttle or shutdown Internet services or give out customer information when instructed.

But being custodians of such critical data, ISPs should be in a better position to protect customer information, privacy and rights to free expression, association and access to information.

Following the United Nation’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Internet governance processes must ensure ISPs are able to assert their responsibility to protect and mitigate against human rights violations via their operations, products and services.

In addition, on July 1, just five days before WhatsApp shut down, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution condemning countries that intentionally disrupt citizens’ Internet access in violation of international human rights laws.

As Southern Africa convenes this year’s edition of its Internet Governance Forum (SAIGF-15) in Harare, Zimbabwe, from 8-9 December 2015 it should identify and reflect on its key priority areas.

This comes on the backdrop of developments in the past year including recommendations made at the just ended 10th edition of the Global Internet Governance Forum (IGF), held in November in Joao Pessoa, Brazil.

The nine-SADC member states that attended the SAIGF-14 hosted by the Government of Malawi in Lilongwe last year noted key recommendations that are worth revisiting for consideration and prioritisation as the continent thrives to ensure the development and governance of the internet in the region.

Multistakeholderism

Multistakeholderism as echoed in the SAIGF 2014 resolution relating to internet and human rights remains a hazy point that needs critical introspection for the continent. The recommendation makes a call to the tech community to engage actively in human rights online and internet governance related issues. Multistakeholderism is a process in which stakeholders make decisions based on consensus in an open, transparent and accountable manner.

Input into the Best Practice Forum (BPF) on Strengthening Multistakeholder Participation Mechanisms at this year’s global IGF, noted important issues pertaining to strengthening multi-stakeholder participation mechanisms, which the region must recognise and take on board. Trust, albeit recognised over time, remains a huge component of successful multi- stakeholder engagement and that transparency and accountability are the main components in building trust.

The second issue is that of defining consensus or ‘rough’ consensus so that all stakeholders are aware of processes for decision making and that the national IGFs have mechanisms or ‘equality safeguards’ in place to ensure that all stakeholders are adequately represented at decision level.

For the 2015 SAIGF, it is prudent to take stock of the extent to which member-state IGFs reflect multi-stakeholder engagement to reach a model that works within ‘our’ context.

Critical to this process is for the conveners of the IGFs to introspect on mapping of critical internet governance stakeholders within their national context. It is also important to locate these within agreed national strategies and facilitation processes.

Of note is the variations in the five Southern African countries that have established national IGFs. In Malawi the convener of the MIGF is the Department of e-government in the President’s Office. In Tanzania, its civil society led by the Union of Tanzania Press Clubs.

For South Africa the conveners are the Internet Society Gauteng Chapter, in collaboration the ZA Central Registry and Google S.A. As for Zimbabwe, this is through the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ).

While the Media Institute of Southern Africa’s (MISA) national offices in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi recognise the importance of engagement in setting up national IGFs, there are challenges that may hinder participation by some stakeholders. These include economic, social, linguistic and cultural barriers and gender inequality.

Net-neutrality vs. zero-rating

One of the prominent debates at the Global IGF related to net-neutrality versus zero-rated services in the context of both competition among internet service providers and content consumption by the everyday user. In her blog post: Zero Rating: Are we in Danger of killing the goose before knowing if its eggs are golden, pro-poor market advocate, Helani Galpaya’s argues that poor people should have access to the internet.

Galpaya’s argument that zero -rated services offer an opportunity for the poor to consume their favourite content for free or at a much lower price, was central to debates during the Global IGF.

It was argued that choices by telecommunications companies on which services or applications should be zero-rated was not necessarily driven by their popularity, but rather on how much they stood to benefit.

Critical for Southern Africa within the context of connecting the next billion is consensus on whether or not zero-rating is an issue warranting either net-neutrality policies or policies maintaining or limiting zero-rating. The latter would require a definitive role for the regulators in assessing the impact of zero-rating on fairness and competition in the sector.

Overall, this is a debate relating to the determination of special promotions, their cost and benefits for service providers, end users and content producers alike.

Developments in Southern Africa related to net-neutrality and zero-rating include South Africa’s MTN’s zero-rating of its Video on Demand (VOD) service, MTN FrontRo, in December last year. This gave MTN subscribers the advantage over other consumers of paying a waived R199 fee in a country where an estimated one million households have capacity to stream videos.

In Zambia and Malawi, Airtel customers have benefitted from Airtel Africa’s partnership with Facebook under its Internet.org application, renamed Freebasics. Airtel mobile customers in Zambia that use the android application and mobile website, access Facebook and its Instant Messaging service, Accu weather as well as local health and job services.

In Malawi Airtel Malawi and Telekom Networks Malawi enjoy free access to Facebook, Ask, Bing, UNICEF and online publication, Nyasa Times.

In Zimbabwe, mobile network operator, Econet Wireless, in the past year launched its own zero- rated services by selling data in ‘bundles’ which include Data, Facebook, Whatsapp, Opera Mini Surf and Buddie Bundles of Joy. Their other services include EcoSchool Zero, which gives its subscribers free access to over 50 educational websites.

Relating to the enhancement of digital trust, SADC member states were encouraged to undertake national transpositions of the SADC Cyber Security Model Laws and facilitate dialogue among stakeholders and create awareness on privacy and consumer protection on the internet.

They were also encouraged to promote more capacity building on cyber security and cyber crime.

This, followed adoption of the Convention on the establishment of a Credible Framework for Cyber Security and Personal Data Security in Africa at the African Union’s 23rd Ordinary Session in June 2014.The Convention addressees many issues associated with increased use of information and communication technologies in Africa.

Cyber security

During the Global IGF deliberations on the session on Enhancing Cybersecurity and building trust, one of the most critical issues raised was that cyber security is everyone’s problem. This warrants awareness that enables stakeholders to understand the cyber world and its potential impact on the individual’s privacy and threats to the nation as a whole.

Given internet growth in the region as a key driver of not only the African, but global economy and its potential in the realisation of Sustainable Development Goals, a comprehensive approach is key to tackling cyber crime and building trust between government, private sector and the everyday user of the internet.

It is crucial within the SAIGF context to outline the critical role, firstly, that awareness on cyber crimes laws plays as well as paying particular attention to contextual trends on the most likely crimes to occur in given country.

Secondly, to ensure stakeholder participation in coming up with the ideals for countries yet to adopt the law as is the case with Zimbabwe. Some critical issues to be discussed in the region should include judicial oversight on execution of the different warrants such as the interception of communication, search and seizure, and authorisation of a forensic tool.

Without the protection of the judiciary, intermediaries continue to be vulnerable. Also related to this is the debate on the publication of transparency reports by the government and intermediaries to determine the extent to which citizens’ right to privacy are protected including the prevalence of filtering and surveillance in the region.

Conclusion

Appreciation by the SAIGF and its member states that the driving factors within the internet governance framework are access, security, diversity and openness is critical at this moment.

And as the continent moves forward in its bid for a more accessible and democratic internet ecosystem, it is prudent that the principles relating to the protection of the rights of Africans to free expression, access to information, privacy and fair competition takes precedence in the interest of promoting development.

Published by :MISA(Windhoek)

The 2015 Southern Africa Internet Governance Forum (SAIGF-15) is currently underway in Harare, Zimbabwe, from 8-9 December 2015. Koliwe Majama, MISA Zimbabwe’s Programme Officer for Broadcasting and ICTs, suggests some priorities for reflection.

As Southern Africa convenes this year’s edition of its Internet Governance Forum (SAIGF-15) in Harare, Zimbabwe, from 8-9 December 2015 it should identify and reflect on its key priority areas.

This comes on the backdrop of developments in the past year including recommendations made at the just ended 10th edition of the Global Internet Governance Forum (IGF), held in November in Joao Pessoa, Brazil.

The nine-SADC member states that attended the SAIGF-14 hosted by the Government of Malawi in Lilongwe last year noted key recommendations that are worth revisiting for consideration and prioritisation as the continent thrives to ensure the development and governance of the internet in the region.

Multi-stakeholderism

Multi-stakeholderism as echoed in the SAIGF 2014 resolution relating to internet and human rights remains a hazy point that needs critical introspection for the continent. The recommendation makes a call to the tech community to engage actively in human rights online and internet governance related issues. Multi-stakeholderism is a process in which stakeholders make decisions based on consensus in an open, transparent and accountable manner.

Input into the Best Practice Forum (BPF) on Strengthening Multistakeholder Participation Mechanisms at this year’s global IGF, noted important issues pertaining to strengthening multi-stakeholder participation mechanisms, which the region must recognise and take on board. Trust, albeit recognised over time, remains a huge component of successful multi- stakeholder engagement and that transparency and accountability are the main components in building trust.

The second issue is that of defining consensus or ‘rough’ consensus so that all stakeholders are aware of processes for decision making and that the national IGFs have mechanisms or ‘equality safeguaurds’ in place to ensure that all stakeholders are adequately represented at decision level.

For the 2015 SAIGF, it is prudent to take stock of the extent to which member-state IGFs reflect multi-stakeholder engagement to reach a model that works within ‘our’ context.

Critical to this process is for the conveners of the IGFs to introspect on mapping of critical internet governance stakeholders within their national context. It is also important to locate these within agreed national strategies and facilitation processes.

Of note is the variations in the five Southern African countries that have established national IGFs. In Malawi the convener of the MIGF is the Department of e-government in the President’s Office. In Tanzania, its civil society led by the Union of Tanzania Press Clubs.

For South Africa the conveners are the Internet Society Gauteng Chapter, in collaboration the ZA Central Registry and Google S.A. As for Zimbabwe, this is through the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ).

While the Media Institute of Southern Africa’s (MISA) national offices in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi recognise the importance of engagement in setting up national IGFs, there are challenges that may hinder participation by some stakeholders. These include economic, social, linguistic and cultural barriers and gender inequality.

Net-neutrality vs. zero-rating

One of the prominent debates at the Global IGF related to net-neutrality versus zero-rated services in the context of both competition among internet service providers and content consumption by the everyday user. In her blog post: Zero Rating: Are we in Danger of killing the goose before knowing if its eggs are golden, pro-poor market advocate, Helani Galpaya’s argues that poor people should have access to the internet.

Galpaya’s argument that zero -rated services offer an opportunity for the poor to consume their favourite content for free or at a much lower price, was central to debates during the Global IGF.

It was argued that choices by telecommunications companies on which services or applications should be zero-rated was not necessarily driven by their popularity, but rather on how much they stood to benefit.

Critical for Southern Africa within the context of connecting the next billion is consensus on whether or not zero-rating is an issue warranting either net-neutrality policies or policies maintaining or limiting zero-rating. The latter would require a definitive role for the regulators in assessing the impact of zero-rating on fairness and competition in the sector.Overall, this is a debate relating to the determination of special promotions, their cost and benefits for service providers, end users and content producers alike.

Developments in Southern Africa related to net-neutrality and zero-rating include South Africa’s MTN’s zero-rating of its Video on Demand (VOD) service, MTN FrontRo, in December last year. This gave MTN subscribers the advantage over other consumers of paying a waived R199 fee in a country where an estimated one million households have capacity to stream videos.

In Zambia and Malawi, Airtel customers have benefitted from Airtel Africa’s partnership with Facebook under its Internet.org application, renamed Freebasics. Airtel mobile customers in Zambia that use the android application and mobile website, access Facebook and its Instant Messaging service, Accu weather as well as local health and job services.

In Malawi Airtel Malawi and Telekom Networks Malawi enjoy free access to Facebook, Ask, Bing, UNICEF and online publication, Nyasa Times.

In Zimbabwe, mobile network operator, Econet Wireless, in the past year launched its own zero- rated services by selling data in ‘bundles’ which include Data, Facebook, Whatsapp, Opera Mini Surf and Buddie Bundles of Joy. Their other services include EcoSchool Zero, which gives its subscribers free access to over 50 educational websites.

Relating to the enhancement of digital trust, SADC member states were encouraged to undertake national transpositions of the SADC Cyber Security Model Laws and facilitate dialogue among stakeholders and create awareness on privacy and consumer protection on the internet.

They were also encouraged to promote more capacity building on cyber security and cyber crime.

This, followed adoption of the Convention on the establishment of a Credible Framework for Cyber Security and Personal Data Security in Africa at the African Union’s 23rd Ordinary Session in June 2014.The Convention addressees many issues associated with increased use of information and communication technologies in Africa.

Cyber security

During the Global IGF deliberations on the session on Enhancing Cybersecurity and building trust, one of the most critical issues raised was that cyber security is everyone’s problem. This warrants awareness that enables stakeholders to understand the cyber world and its potential impact on the individual’s privacy and threats to the nation as a whole.

Given internet growth in the region as a key driver of not only the African, but global economy and its potential in the realisation of Sustainable Development Goals, a comprehensive approach is key to tackling cyber crime and building trust between government, private sector and the everyday user of the internet.

It is crucial within the SAIGF context to outline the critical role, firstly, that awareness on cyber crimes laws plays as well as paying particular attention to contextual trends on the most likely crimes to occur in given country.

Secondly, to ensure stakeholder participation in coming up with the ideals for countries yet to adopt the law as is the case with Zimbabwe. Some critical issues to be discussed in the region should include judicial oversight on execution of the different warrants such as the interception of communication, search and seizure, and authorisation of a forensic tool.

Without the protection of the judiciary, intermediaries continue to be vulnerable. Also related to this is the debate on the publication of transparency reports by the government and intermediaries to determine the extent to which citizens’ right to privacy are protected including the prevalence of filtering and surveillance in the region.

Conclusion

Appreciation by the SAIGF and its member states that the driving factors within the internet governance framework are access, security, diversity and openness is critical at this moment.

And as the continent moves forward in its bid for a more accessible and democratic internet ecosystem, it is prudent that the principles relating to the protection of the rights of Africans to free expression, access to information, privacy and fair competition takes precedence in the interest of promoting development.

The current debate around the sharing of infrastructure by mobile phone and internet companies is one that calls for sincere dialogue among key stakeholders, who include policymakers.
In October 2014, the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (POTRAZ), released its consultation paper on an infrastructure sharing framework for Zimbabwe. It recommended the sharing of infrastructure by service providers in the sector, a position that has been supported by ICT, Postal and Courier Services Minister, Supa Mandiwanzira.
He announced that government plans to adopt the recommendation as part of its plans to develop the sector and improve service delivery at a lower cost.
Available Services 
In developing countries like Zimbabwe, mobile telephony has been central in making services available to large sections of the population. These include mobile payment solutions (Ecocash, Telecash One Wallet) mobile banking in collaboration with banks, mobile news services with newspapers, among other services. However, a lot more needs to be done to increase the penetration of mobile services, particularly in rural areas.Undoubtedly, what remains a major inhibiting factor in widening the reach is the high cost of network infrastructure which has resulted in high service prices as operators seek returns on their investment by pushing the cost to the end user. It is largely for this reason that proponents of infrastructure sharing find the approach key to ensuring accessibility and affordability of ICTs platforms on a wider scale.

Infrastructure sharing is common globally and it has proven to be one of the most effective ways of promoting affordable prices and reducing the duplication of huge capital investments in infrastructure by service providers whose costs are recouped through exorbitant charges for users. The sharing of infrastructure varies, and depends on whether operators share network components that are either active or passive. The sharing of active infrastructure would involve the sharing of antennas, base stations, trans-receivers, switches and microwave radio systems. Passive sharing on the other hand would imply the sharing of towers, basements, electric supply, shelters and ducts.

Nigeria for instance has mandated passive sharing through a comprehensive policy that lists passive network components that can be shared. This move has resulted in the emergence of tower companies as specialist providers of site sharing such as Helios Towers Nintendo company of Nigeria.

Other African countries and companies already implementing the sharing mode include Zain & Essar in Kenya and Cell C, MTN, NeoTel and Vodacom in South Africa.

Unlike in other African countries’, sharing of infrastructure is not mandatory by law or policy in Zimbabwe. However, Statutory Instrument 28 of 2001 empowers POTRAZ, to issue guidelines on sharing for licensees and service providers.

For this reason, infrastructure sharing is minimal in Zimbabwe, and according to POTRAZ, service providers have a preference for passive sharing which stood at only 13.4 percent of the existing infrastructure nationwide in 2014.

Clarity of infrastructure sharing
In a statement issued last month by the country’s largest mobile service provider Econet, the company argues that their understanding of infrastructure sharing is the entering of arrangements by service providers that have invested in infrastructure in different geographic areas to share respective infrastructure on an equitable and reciprocal basis to avoid duplication. 

This alone is evidence of the need for further dialogue and clarity on the nature and substance of infrastructure sharing options available. Another advantage of infrastructure sharing is, indeed, the breaking of barriers for new players to enter the industry.This in essence means ‘piggy backing’ new players to engender healthier competition as service providers invest more in customer service, affordable and quality services.. In the long run, the investment on upgrades of infrastructure is shared evenly among those companies sharing the equipment, than being sustained by only one.For instance Net-One is on a drive to raise $200m to upgrade its infrastructure for fourth generation technology (4G), a cost, which could be shared among other players in the industry.
Economic benefits
Clearly, for the success of the sharing of infrastructure there needs to be sincerity by operators and regulators. The former must realise and acknowledge the economic benefits of sharing while the regulators must put in place an incentive-based policy as a way of encouraging and growing the culture of sharing of infrastructure on a level playing field. 

Another argument put across by Econet in its statement against infrastructure sharing is that the playing field in the telecoms sector needs to be leveled. They cited disparities in the contributions to the Universal Services Fund and the renewal of license fees, among other things. Service providers are expected to make a 0.5 percent contribution of their annual gross turnover to the fund. Econet has been cited as the largest contributor to the fund while in the past year Telecel reportedly faced challenges in complying with the agreement on the payment of its licence fees.It is important that at this point there must be no sense that the playing field is uneven. There is need for POTRAZ to publish all information that is relevant for stakeholders to foster openness and impartiality in the regulation of the sector. It should also be a two-way process in that the interested parties are able to interact with the authorities and play a role in ‘shaping’ a vibrant telecoms industry.In drawing up a regulatory framework on infrastructure sharing, the following should be viewed critically; fairness, pricing, safeguards and enforcement of the policy.Regulators should actually dialogue with operators to determine cost based pricing. This will ensure less disgruntlement as operators would still have control of their investments and maintain their growth strategies.The regulation should also ensure that there is clear dispute resolution mechanisms put in place, as there will undoubtedly be conflict at any given time.There should also be plans for a third- party infrastructure company that would ideally build its own infrastructure as well as buy existing infrastructure from current providers. There are two options available for such an establishment.The first being a government-owned company funded through a government fund such as the universal fund. This is the current position in Zambia and Rwanda where mobile operator, Airtel, has just concluded the sale of its tower assets to a government-owned infrastructure company, IHS Holdings.Alternatively, since all the mobile networks in Zimbabwe own their own infrastructure, they could be merged into one company in which they all have shares. The shareholding will be proportional to the size of infrastructure that each operator is bringing to the new company.

This model is working in China where the country’s three mobile carriers created a new company, China Tower, which took over ownership of the three firms’ telecom infrastructure while ambitiously planning to build one million new towers in the next two years. The asset value conferred to China Tower is more than $16bn.

However, what remains apparent is the need for the overall convergence of the telecommunications and broadcasting sectors to address the shared infrastructure debate.

MISA-Zimbabwe’s Model ICT Policy Framework 2013, stresses the need for shared infrastructure through which multiple services are offered over the same infrastructure, translating to network efficiencies.

Converged networks allow operators to offer ‘triple play’ services, where subscribers can access telephony, the internet and television over a single broadband connection.

The current situation in Zimbabwe where several services are offered over wireless networks has resulted in spectrum congestion, hence the need for a single ICT policy and regulatory framework.

Co-authored with Chris Musodza and published on BizCommunity Africa

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