Zim, Iran in secret deal to control social media

Zimbabwe and Iran have reportedly agreed on a secret partnership to devise ways of diluting the impact of social media ahead of the 2018 general elections.

ICT and former information deputy minister, Supa Mandiwanzira.

ICT and former information deputy minister, Supa Mandiwanzira.

An experienced IT expert with inside information told The Zimbabwean that the deal was agreed recently between Supa Mandiwanzira, the ICT and former information deputy minister, and the Iranian Ambassador to Zimbabwe.

“The government is looking to Iran, among other countries, to help counter the effects of social media before the next elections. They have agreed that something must be done because social media has the potential of revealing their machinations and whipping up emotion among citizens,” said the source.

Zimbabwean citizens have increasingly turned to social media platforms to generate and share information ahead of, during and after elections, helping inform the world about goings on in real time.

Such platforms include Facebook which an anonymous blogger, Baba Jukwa also used, Whatsapp and Twitter. The mainstream media use these social media tools as news sources.

These platforms played a crucial role in informing the public of developments after the March 2008 general elections, when the Zanu (PF) government held onto the results for more than a month, and during the last polls in 2013.

The Baba Jukwa Facebook revelations, though mostly unverified, sent Zanu (PF) into panic and the government has since launched a probe into who the blogger was, resulting in the arrest and ongoing trial of Edmund Kudzayi, a former editor at the Sunday Mail.

Learn from Iran

Zimbabwean government officials have met with their Iranian counterparts in recent months, but the ICT deal has been kept a secret. However, Mandiwanzira almost betrayed the deal recently when he met with the Iranian ambassador, Mohammad Amin Nejad, in Harare.

The minister accused western governments of conniving to use social media to undermine the Iranian government, which is under sanctions over human rights abuses.

“ICTs have been used as a tool to attack people’s convictions on themselves (sic). We want to learn and know how Iran has been able to keep the country together despite sustained attacks through social media,” said Mandiwanzira.

He added that it was important for Zimbabwe to learn from Iran “to keep the country united and under one leadership and government” in the face of the proliferation of social media initiatives and citizen journalism.

Iran is considered one of the most repressive regimes that has over the years clamped down on a free media. In January, the Iranian judiciary ordered the government to block Whatsapp, Tango—a cheap call platform that operates similar to Skype—and LINE.

The government has also outlawed Facebook and Twitter, joining other countries like Iraq, Thailand and Turkey and arguing that the social media platforms undermine cultural values.

I am not aware

Mandiwanzira denied ever engaging the Iranians to form an anti-social media platform. “What you heard is not credible. As a government, we don’t have such an arrangement. Personally, I am not aware in ICT with the Iranians,” he insisted – despite his statements when he met the Iranian ambassador that are also on You Tube.

In December 2013, just after the announcement of a new cabinet following the general elections, Mandiwanzira, then deputy information minister, accompanied Jonathan Moyo, his erstwhile boss, to a meeting with Nejad.

The meeting was purportedly to strengthen “bilateral relations” even though that brief normally involves the foreign affairs ministry. Moyo is now the secretary for ICTS in the Zanu (PF) politburo.

The government has introduced two new bills, the Computer Crimes and Cyberspace crime bills, and it is also reported to be working with Chinese experts to hack communications and block jam radio frequencies.

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  • JongweRachembera

    Zanu PF always one step ahead of the opposition. 2018, looks like Zanu pf will form government yet again, more bond notes, more potholes, more unemployment, more starvation and a wider gap between the poor and the ruling elite. Zimbabwe Pvt Ltd, a country wholly owned by Zanu pf.