A first for SADC – Zim sets Cyber Security Ministry

By Lovemore Ranga Mataire

HARARE – Zimbabwe has become the first country in SADC to set up a ministry to deal with the abuse and unlawful conduct on cyberspace.

In a mini cabinet reshuffle on Monday, President Mugabe appointed former Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa as the new Minister of Cyber Security, Threat Detection and Mitigation.

There were mixed feelings regarding the appointment with some saying government intended to curtail freedom of expression while others hailed the creation of the ministry as a progressive step in dealing with social media vagaries.

Briefing journalists soon after the swearing in of the new ministers at State House on Tuesday, presidential spokesperson and the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services, George Charamba, said the ministry was created to deal with unlawful conduct in cyberspace.

“I have just been talking to the president about the role of that ministerial portfolio and the president was very clear in his mind that he is dealing with an emerging threat to the state of Zimbabwe, a threat that is founded on abuse and unlawful conduct on the cyberspace and a threat which is unusual, which is quite new and therefore which needs a development of a new body of law,” said Charamba.

Charamba said President Mugabe said the ministry is like a trap used to catch rats and is targeted at mischief makers and that there was need to develop the law to suit that task. He said the ministry was assigned to Chinamasa given his background as a lawyer and a former Attorney General.

The permanent secretary said the setting up of the ministry came in the wake of recent developments when the social media was ablaze with false reports alleging that the economy was on free-fall.

The reports led to widespread panic buying of basic goods and subsequently triggered price hikes.

The situation returned to normalcy when President Mugabe returned from the 67th United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The President immediately called upon industry and retailers to desist from being influenced by economic saboteurs.

Charamba said the issue of cyberspace threats was also discussed at the recent BI-National Commission in South Africa where a joint strategy to deal with the issue was mooted. In an article published on November 17, 2015 titled “Cyber-crime is Africa’s ‘next big threat”, BBC Africa security correspondent Tomi Oladipo quotes security experts saying governments and commercial online services could become the next frontier for illegal activity in Africa.

Oladipo says a cyber-security report on Kenya indicated that businesses were losing about US$146 million every year to cybercrime.  He says across the continent cyber-crime was becoming rampant and quoted South Africa’s Sunday Times newspaper saying that hackers had launched 6, 000 cyber-attacks against South Africa infrastructure, internet service providers (ISPS) businesses in October of 2015.

It was after such an incident that South Africa opened a virtual cyber-security hub in its capital, Pretoria, to help business, government and civil society work together on responses to the threats.

Research firm Columinate lists South Africa as one of the world’s cybercrime hotspots.

South Africa’s State Security Minister David Mahlobo recently pointed out that there was need for adequate awareness within the public and private sector of cyberspace threats.

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