By Leopold Munhende
MEDIA Institute of Southern Africa’s (MISA) regional secretariat has noted deliberate attempts to stifle enjoyment of freedom of expression by governments in the SADC region.
The media support organisation with representation in eight of SADC’s 16 countries further noted countries such as Zimbabwe had acquired spyware to snoop into citizens’ communication in violation of international privacy laws.
In a communique released after its Regional Multi-stakeholder Internet Governance Forum in Harare, Zimbabwe last week, MISA demanded governments be transparent in their operations when dealing with matters that affect citizens’ freedom of expression and privacy.
“Having deliberated on the issues at stake, delegates to the Regional Multi-stakeholder Internet Governance Forum, thus called on Southern African governments to take all measures necessary to provide a framework and infrastructure that allows for affordable and accessible internet by the majority of the citizens,” reads the MISA statement.
“Governments should ensure that cybersecurity regulations are informed by the revised principles of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information which recognises the internet as a fundamental right.
“Noting that governments, particularly those of Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, have acquired spyware that allows them to snoop on citizens, and that this is in violation of both domestic laws on the protection of the right to privacy and ACHPR’s frameworks.
“Delegates called on these countries to be transparent about the acquisition and use of such technology.”
In 2018, foreign media reported Zimbabwe had signed up for facial recognition software with a Chinese company, CloudWalk Technology in what was seen as moves to further inhibit enjoyment of basic freedoms and entrench surveillance.
Cameras and phone tracking softwares have since been reportedly installed across Harare with the case of MDC’s abducted trio of Joanna Mamombe, Netsai Marova and Cecilia Chimbiri proving the state was indeed snooping on citizens.
MISA also raised questions on the cost of internet in the region which it says was considerably out of reach for most citizens in spite of that it has been accepted as a global right.
Laws enacted over Covid-19 lockdown periods, and considered undemocratic, were also discussed with delegates calling for efforts to be made towards them being repealed.
Meanwhile, MISA board chairperson Golden Maunganidze was over the weekend voted chairperson of the MISA regional body.