Zimbabwe's cyber war

The Zimbabwe African National Union and Patriotic Front (Zanu PF), the country’s ruling party, has ‘blacklisted’41 online publications, ranging from Zimbabwe news sites based outside the country, news portals and blog-hosting sites to mainstream news organisations such as the Washington Post and CNN.

The list was said to have been decided at a politburo meeting in response to what president Robert Mugabe’s government claims is a cyber war against him with an agenda to promote regime change.

According to the Zimbabwe Independent, the Zanu PF is gearing up to engage in this ‘war’by training its supporters to use the internet and set up a number of websites to counter the effect of the Western-based online publications.

But commentators are sceptical about the impact of Mugabe’s blacklist and say it is undermined by some significant omissions.

New Zimbabwe, a South African newspaper available in the UK, and a number of independent news and campaigning sites based outside of the country, including zimvigial.co.uk and changezimbabwe.com, are included on the list. Also blacklisted is blog network Global Voices and one of its bloggers, who writes at zimpundit.blogspot.com. More surprisingly, Technorati and MSNBC?are also blocked.

Ethan Zuckerman from Global Voices wrote on his blog, My Heart’s in Accra, that he was doubtful that the blacklist meant that the Zimbabwe government was actually blocking access to these sites at an ISP level.

‘A country that’s having a very hard time keeping its currency from collapsing is unlikely to have a lot of free cash to pay for internet filtering technology,’he wrote.

He said that Global Voices’ traffic had not fallen since the ban. ‘Frankly, we didn’t notice,’he wrote, adding that Zimbabwe ranks number 119 in the list of countries accessing its site. ‘Given the current economic crisis, most Zimbabweans can’t afford much time in a cybercafe to peruse world news,’he continued.

Kubatana.net, an online community of Zimbabwean activists, said the Independent’s ‘uncritical’reporting of the meeting “feels like simply more fear-mongering’and questioned why the list included CNN but not the BBC and sites such as Global Voices though few of the Zimbabwean bloggers the site draws on for its coverage.

‘It doesn’t look much like a cunning list of strategic targets in an orchestrated campaign to smash cyber-dissent and proclaim Zanu PF hegemony forever more,’the Zucherman said.

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