Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Bishop Dave Chikosi: Zimbabwe internet shutdown: The tale of the big bully and the skinny kid

By Bishop Dave Chikosi

When a big bully says to the skinny fellow, “Drop down and give me twenty”, the skinny guy does not say, Wait. What rights do you have to ask me to do twenty pushups?” He may ask that later but not right now. Not unless he wants to get kicked in the rear end and in some other soft places.

Bishop Dave Chikosi
Bishop Dave Chikosi

Skinny guy might want to just comply with orders. But make sure immediately after the event to sign up for judo and karate lessons. The big bully is likely to pass this way again in future. You want to be ready and prepared with some counter moves of your own when that happens.

When the government of Zimbabwe issued a warrant or directive to Internet Service Providers (we now know it was a directive, thanks to free legal opinion on social media) there were too many moving and volatile parts at the time for business to stop and read the fine print of an Act written in archaic English.

The business of unpacking archaic legal language is not the core business of business. Provision of services and watching the bottom line is why businesses get into business. Nuanced readings of archaically-worded legal documents is for trained lawyers.

What in all likelihood happened was that staff at these ISPs read section 6(2) of the Interception of Communications Act and interpreted that as conferring on the Minister power beyond mere interception or monitoring of a telecommunications system. That section allows the Minister to issue “any directive to a service provider not involving any interception or monitoring of communications.”

And then read that together with 9(2) of the Act which states, “A service provider who fails to give assistance in terms of this section shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level twelve or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years or to both such fine and such imprisonment” and you can get almost get into the minds of ISP legal staff reading this in a fast moving and volatile political situation. What’s a skinny kid supposed to do in the face of such wider powers in the hands of Big Guy?

The argument that players like Econet were more than happy to assist government in its reach for the internet “kill switch” is nonsensical. How does switching off the internet benefit the homegrown multinational’s bottom line? ISPs make money when the internet is running not when it’s switched off.

Hindsight is 20/20. Now that everyone has had a chance to study and see how the Act can be appealed, ISPs are now better equipped to deal with such an egregious show of power by the Big Guy should he ever pass by this way again and start ordering everyone to do pushups. This time around the skinny kid will standup for himself, and respond to the bully with some jujitsu.