Why I’m Fed Up With Politics in Zimbabwe

By Masimba Biriwasha | Open Editorial | @ChiefKMasimba | February 20, 2014

Growing up in Zimbabwe, the country seemed like a magical place, filled with hope and possibility. There was a sense that you could be anything that you wanted, that you could work hard and turn yourself into whatever you wanted to be. That – if anything – we were a blessed people.

Granted, Zimbabwe had its fair share of problems. At Independence from British rule in 1980, the Government of Zimbabwe inherited some of the most serious socio-economic inequalities in the world in terms of income, assets and access to education, housing and healthcare. Continue reading

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Security Versus Privacy in Tech Age

By Masimba Biriwasha | OpEd | December 29, 2013

When you make a telephone call, just remember you’re not alone. It’s not really a surprise, when you’re on a telephone network, you can never be sure who is listening in.

In the US, there is a growing storm over revelations that the government harvests information about every telephone call to, from or within the country. That information otherwise known as “metadata”, includes the phone numbers involved, when the calls were made and how long they lasted.

It’s a pretty daunting and amazingly breathtaking task at best. At worst, it invokes images of Orwellian prying. Think, Big Brother is watching you.

The rationale is to prevent acts of terrorism, either in the US or somewhere else in the world. By sifting through huge troves of telephony metadata, patterns can emerge and suspects hunted down or preventive actions put in place, so the argument goes.

In the era of big data, it is becoming increasingly difficult where to draw the lines between personal privacy and security. US’ National Security Agency’s collection of huge troves of telephony metadata in the name of security revealed by the agency’s estranged contractor Edward Snowden hits at the nerve of how much government snooping ought to be in line with civil liberty, in this case, the right to privacy.

While the idea of maintaining security is noble, what is frightening is the “unknown unknowns” which the data can be used for. The bulk storage of telephone records by the government is antithetical to privacy, and without privacy there can be no democracy.

As the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, succinctly put it: “Without the right of privacy, there is no real freedom of speech or freedom of opinion, and so there is no actual democracy.”

The ultimate challenge is not so much that the US government should not collect information but how to define the parameters of how this is done. Is it necessary for government to engage in what New York Times refers to as ” … a daily, indiscriminate sweep of hundred of millions of phone records?” Or should that data be kept by private providers or by a private third party and only accessed if there is a court order.

At the least, there is a debate about this in the US but one shudders to think what some pariah states with call-log technologies can do to silence opponents and further aggrandize their powerbases all in the name of maintaining security.

Whatever the case, it is clear that advances in technology – instead of furthering progress – have a potential to erode human freedoms that we have for long taken for granted.

Zimbabwe, Apple to partner on solar iPads

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – The government of Zimbabwe and Apple are set to collaborate on a project that will deliver solar iPads to Zimbabwean schools, according to a recent announcement by the country’s Education, Sport, Arts and Culture minister, David Coltart.

If put into effect, this development will certainly be a game changer for schools in Zimbabwe, many of which are rural based and lack appropriate tools and infrastructure to advance education. The programme will certainly reduce the digital divide between rural and urban areas and drastically improve access to teaching aids and tools.

Zimbabwe’s education system, once among the best in Africa, has suffered from a detrimental decline in public funding in conjunction with hyperinflation and political unrest over the past decade. UNICEF state that 94 percent of rural schools, serving the majority of the population were closed in 2009 and 66 of 70 schools abandoned. The attendance rates plummeted from over 80 percent to 20 percent. Efforts are underway to resuscitate the educational system and Apple’s involvement will definitely be revolutionary to say the least.

Coltart said that he met with Apple executives in Paris, working on a new ‘School Box’ which will use solar power and micro projectors to help bring iPad teach aids to some of Zimbabwe’s poorest schools.

Announcing the news on his Facebook, Coltart said that the solar iPads would bring teaching aids to scholars in rural and remote areas.

“Great meeting with Apple today in Paris – unveiled a fascinating new “School Box” which will take iPads to the most remote rural schools – using solar power and micro projectors we will be able to bring computerised teaching aids to the poorest schools. I hope we will get the first pilot programmes started early next year. I am very excited that Zimbabwe is collaborating with Apple in this ground breaking use of technology to advance education in the most remote schools. If we can get it to work in Zimbabwe I am sure it will spread to poor schools throughout Africa – and beyond,” he said.

Students will be able to use the iPad to write reports, research topics, read electronic books and use them to study. With the micro projector, iPads can be used to share presentations also. The device will also let users browse the Web, send e-mail, share photos, watch videos, listen to music, play games and read e-Books.

“This is amazing and just what our schools need. So much can be done with access to computers, it completely changes the way you teach! Great news,” said Rebekah Marks on Coltart’s Facebook wall.

The project could be the start of a sustained effort by Apple to bring computers to developing countries but supplying tablet devices that are portable, have good battery life and can be shared amongst a group of students.

Pricing of the device will obviously be a major consideration in making sure that Zimbabwean children are not disadvantaged when it comes to accessing computing technologies.

Governments should apologize for human rights abuse

In spite of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations 60 years ago, governments throughout the world continue to violate human rights with impunity.

Amnesty International reports that restless, angry and disillusioned, people will not remain silent if the gap continues to widen between their demand for equality and their governments’ denial.

As it is, governments have exhibited more interest in the abuse of power or in the pursuit of political self-interest, than in respecting the rights of those they lead.

US, the world’s most powerful state, has distinguished itself in recent years through a disregard of human rights thereby setting a bad example for other countries.

In fact, US’ disregard for human rights has resulted in the emergence of both leaders and movements in many parts of the world that abuse human rights.

“The human rights flashpoints in Darfur, Zimbabwe, Gaza, Iraq and Myanmar demand immediate action,” said Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“Injustice, inequality and impunity are the hallmarks of our world today. Governments must act now to close the yawning gap between promise and performance,” she added. Continue reading

Zimbabwe: Queues of Despair

If a Martian landed in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital today, he would certainly be taken aback by the length and number of human queues.

Like garden worms, the human queues twist and turn throughout the city, blocking traffic as people wait to get a chance to get money from their bank accounts.

The queues start early in the morning and last well into the night. As long as people think there is a faint chance to get a hold of their cash, they remain huddled in the queue.

If anything, human queues have become an additional indicator of the collapse of the Zimbabwean nation state, in particular, the financial system.

Due to a multi-billion percent inflation, the Zimbabwean government is no longer able to meet the paper money needs of its citizenry. Continue reading