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Wednesday, 08 August 2007

That communications law - let's not panic yet

Despite his hatred of journalists Mugabe should know it's one thing to pass a law, and another to make it work

I should be shaking in my shoes. So should my colleagues and fellow journalists who spend their time filling blogs and the columns of foreign newspapers with scurrilous lies and obscenities about our wonderful Zanu-PF government.

The new Communications Bill apparently will enable that government - or more precisely its paid thugs in the Central Intelligence Organisation - to intercept our subversive e-mail and phone calls, descend on us like avenging angels, and cart us off to the slammer, or worse.

But a little judicious thinking on the subject leads me to suspect that it won't be that simple. And that the business of exposing Mugabe and his regime to the gaze of the outside world will continue. Bloodied, perhaps, but unbowed.

Consider this:  many of us send out our messages via internet cafes, and although these places often smell of secret government agents, some nifty keyboard work and a constantly changing e-mail address can keep one well ahead of these plodders.

Then there's a question of money. As ever, there isn't any. An informant in the CIO told me: "We've been scouting for months for equipment to build a command centre for monitoring calls and the internet. But if we find it, we can't afford it.

"We now think we will have to go to the Chinese, who may give us what we need in exchange for tobacco. But that's the sort of deal that takes for ever to set up."

But perhaps more significant is what I term the Zanu-PF cock-up factor - that uncanny ability of our politicians and their operatives to get it wrong. As my CIO contact told me: "We've been running around trying to train people, but whether they'll be able to do the job is the big question."

Quite. One to which we probably know the answer. Of course, internet service providers are expected, under the bill, to install the necessary hardware and software for the required monitoring. But it's not a task they will undertake willingly.

Judith Zulu, who works for one such provider, told me: "Such equipment is expensive. If we provide it, the government must fund us."

And then she added with icy contempt: "The government should stop wasting its time and money on such schemes. And instead concentrate on providing its suffering citizens with the fuel, drugs and fuel they need."

I couldn't have put it better myself. Could you? That's what this blog is here for

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