Zimbabwe’s cyber city: safe for residents or compromised privacy?
BY FARAI SHAWN MATIASHE
In a fertile stretch of fields and farms dubbed New Harare, Zimbabwe is building a hi-tech “cyber city” a world away from the traffic-clogged streets and overcrowded slums of the country’s nearby capital.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, eager to highlight positive news about the country’s troubled economy, launched the first $500m stage of the Zim Cyber City project last year in partnership with Dubai-based company Mulk International.
It could require a total investment of $60bn, according to Mulk, a sum the government has said it is optimistic of meeting with financing from foreign and local investors. A new parliament building, paid for by China, has already been built in Mount Hampden, nicknamed New Harare for the government’s plan to make it the country’s new capital.
Eventually, the plan for Zim Cyber City is to build upmarket residential areas, shopping malls, modern offices and information technology hubs.
But even as some commentators doubt whether the project will come to fruition, digital rights campaigners are worried about plans to put surveillance systems at its heart.
Mulk International says it will install “surveillance technology that is directly connected to law enforcement authorities”, saying the facilities will ensure the safety of people living and working there.
Rights groups fear any data gathered in Zim Cyber City could be misused by authorities in a country where security forces have been accused of violence and arbitrary arrests targeting protesters and opposition activists.
“There is going to be so much increased surveillance of citizens by the government,” said Tawanda Mugari, a chief technology officer and co-founder of the Digital Society Africa (DSA), an advocacy group. “They can use them to their own advantage, to identify people,” Mugari said.
Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said the new city’s security systems would simply be used to keep residents safe. “Nobody’s privacy will be compromised,” she said, giving no further details about the plans.
There is particular concern about the possible use of facial recognition technology, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to match live images of a person captured on cameras against a database of images.
“If there are going to be cameras it means data relating to facial recognition is going to be collected,” said Nompilo Simanje, an information and communication technologies (ICT) and legal expert at the Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zimbabwe.
In countries where facial recognition tech is being rolled out, authorities say it is needed to bolster security, prevent crime and find missing children, but critics say there is little evidence that the technology reduces crime. It can also be used to crack down on dissent by repressive governments and is problematic in the absence of data protection laws, rights groups say.
In 2021, Zimbabwe enacted a cyber and data protection law, but critics say the legislation fails to strike the right balance between protecting citizens’ privacy and enabling mass surveillance.
“If there is a robbery it is easier to identify people using footage from those cameras. But if there is a genuine protest it is then easier for them to identify who was leading the protests,” said Mugari.
Echoing government officials, executives from Mulk International said CCTV cameras posed no risk to people’s privacy.
“Nobody’s privacy will be encroached,” Nawab Shaji Ul Mulk, a chairperson at the conglomerate, said. “Each outlet will have its own regular surveillance camera … the management will not be involved in those surveillance cameras.”
Zim Cyber City is not the first smart city project to raise surveillance concerns.
Saudi Arabia’s plans for a futuristic city called The Line include paying residents for sharing their data, but rights experts have expressed concern about how the data will be used in light of the country’s poor human rights record.
In Egypt, where a new administrative capital is taking shape in the desert, digital rights campaigners have voiced similar worries about the more than 6,000 surveillance cameras keeping watch over the city’s first residents.
Zimbabwe has already experimented with surveillance systems in law enforcement. Police have installed CCTV cameras for traffic monitoring in Harare and the second-biggest city of Bulawayo with help from Chinese tech giant Huawei.
But rights groups say several incidents have shone a spotlight on possible abuses.
In June last year, communications minister Jenfan Muswere commissioned a telecommunications traffic monitoring system at the Harare offices of the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz).
Potraz has said the system aims to track mobile phone traffic in real-time to monitor the revenue operators generate, but digital technology experts said it would enable authorities to eavesdrop on every call in the country.
In the run-up to the country’s 2018 general election, many people suspect voter data stored by the country’s electoral commission was leaked to the ruling Zanu-PF party. Thousands of mobile phone users received campaign messages from an unknown number mobilising them to vote for the party. The electoral commission denied the allegations of a data leak at the time.Controls
Strict controls will be needed at Zim Cyber City to prevent possible abuses, Mugari said.
“For instance, a shop needs to disclose to their customers that they are collecting what information from them and how they are safeguarding it from malicious actors. All that needs to be transparent,” he said.
Mechanisms must be put in place to ensure data is only used for the purposes for which it is collected, Simanje said.
“It is important that these cameras should not open a floodgate for mass surveillance,” she said. “When data is given to law enforcement agents it should be only for investigating a crime and should not be used for any other purposes outside that.”
In Harare, a city built for 200,000 people but now home to 1.6-million, many residents are sceptical about the Zim Cyber City project as they grapple with daily difficulties from corruption to uncollected garbage and waterborne diseases caused by ageing water and sewer infrastructure.
A widespread lack of confidence in state institutions is also fuelling their surveillance and privacy fears about the project.
“I don’t trust the government with my data,” said Chris Mutisi, a resident of a suburb outside Harare near Mount Hampden. “They are capable of doing the worst.”Thomson Reuters Foundation
‘Stone-Age’ Donkey-Drawn Carts Ply Zimbabwe’s Abandoned Remote Routes
BY JEFFREY MOYO
From the Masvingo-Beitbridge highway in Zimbabwe at a spot popularly known as Turn-P, the road passing through Neshuro Township has been degraded, disused, and derelict for over two decades, with buses avoiding the route. Now donkey-drawn carts that operate alongside jalopy vehicles have become the new alternative for remote travellers around Mwenezi villages.
The scotch carts have become even more common in areas around Maranda and Mazetese in Mwenezi as villagers switch to them for transport to hospitals and clinics.
Such has become a life for 64-year-old Dennis Masukume of the Mazetese area.
The diabetic patient is forced to use alternative means of transport.
“I board a scotch cart every time I want to travel to Neshuro hospital for my medication, which means I use the scotch cart up to somewhere in Gwamatenga where I then get some private cars that ply the route to Neshuro at nominal fares,” Masukume told IPS.
At Tsungirirai Secondary school and Vinga Primary school in the Mwenezi district, the rare availability of public transport means that even teachers have to cope with scotch carts each time they have to travel to Maranda, where they catch jalopies to the Masvingo-Beitbridge highway on paydays.
In fact, with road infrastructure badly damaged in most rural areas in Zimbabwe, villagers are resorting to olden ways of transport-using scotch carts and walking to reach places where they can access essential services like health care.
The unpaved rural roads have become impassable for buses.
Now, some villagers are capitalizing on the crisis, using their scotch carts to earn a living.
Mwenezi district, located in Masvingo Province, south of the country, has become famed for routes plied by scotch carts.
Entrepreneurs have turned to making easy money from scotch carts. Twenty-four-year-old Clive Nhongo, who resides closer to Manyuchi dam in Mwenezi, said the bad roads had meant good business for him.
“I’m charging a dollar per passenger every trip I make with my scotch cart taking people anywhere around my area, and I can tell you I make about 20 USD daily depending on the number of customers I get, considering that villagers rarely travel here,” Nhongo told IPS.While many villagers fume at the damaged roads and lack of a proper modern transport system, many, like Nhongo, have something to smile about.
“I provide the alternative transport, and until roads are rehabilitated and buses return on our routes, I might remain in business, which is fine for me,” said Nhongo.
He (Nhongo) has made wooden seats and installed them on his scotch cart to accommodate passengers.
More and more villagers, cornered with transport woes amid derelict roads in villages, are now having to rely on donkey-drawn scotch carts owned by village entrepreneurs like Nhongo.
Public transport operators like 56-year-old Obed Mhishi, based in Masvingo, Zimbabwe’s oldest town, said there was no way he could endure damaging his omnibuses plying routes with defunct roads.
Donkey-drawn carts have taken over.“It’s not only me shunning the routes the ones in Mwenezi and its villages, but we are many transport operators shunning the routes owing to deplorable roads, and yes, scotch cart operators are capitalizing on that to fill the vacuum. That’s business,” Mhishi told IPS.
Yet even as scotch carts operators cash in on the growing crisis in the Southern African country, local authorities have said donkey-drawn scotch carts have never been regularized to ferry people anywhere in Zimbabwe.
An official working at Mwenezi Rural District Council, who said he was not authorized to speak to the media, said, “scotch carts don’t pay road tax, nor do they have insurance for passengers.”
But for ordinary Zimbabwean villagers in Mwenezi, like 31-year-old Richmore Ndlovhu, with dilapidated roads that have been neglected for years, the scotch carts have become the only way—insurance or not.
Buses that used to reach areas like Mazetese now prefer not to go beyond the Masvingo-Beitbridge highway, where scotch carts and a few jalopy vehicles scramble for passengers alighting from buses. These are the passengers wanting to proceed with their journeys into villages.
Zimbabwe’s rural roads in districts like Mwenezi have remained unpaved for more than four decades after gaining independence from colonial rule.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwean President Emerson Mnangagwa has been on record affirming that his country would become a middle-income state by 2030, just about seven years from now.
Yet for opposition political activists here, like Elvis Mugari of the Citizens Coalition for Change, Mnangagwa may be building castles in the air.
“With corruption in his government and the sustained hatred for the opposition, Mnangagwa won’t achieve a middle-income Zimbabwe. That is impossible,” Mugari told IPS.
Batai Chiwawa, a Zimbabwean development expert, blamed the regime here for taking the whole country backwards.
“Is it not taking the country to the stone age era when villagers now have to use scotch carts as ambulances? Is it not a return to the dark ages when people now have to walk long distances because there is no public transport in their villages? This is embarrassing, deeply embarrassing, when people start using scotch carts as public transport in this day and era,” Chiwawa asked when commenting to IPS.IPS UN Bureau Report
African smallholder farmers count the cost of fertilizer price spike
BY NELSON BANYA, NYASHA CHINGONO
Helplessly watching her maize turn yellow as she waited for free fertilizer from the government, Zimbabwean farmer Marian Kanenungo had nothing but makeshift compost from an anthill to help save her crop – and she had low hopes of that.
Kanenungo, a smallholder farmer in Mudzi, 230 km north-west of the capital Harare, is one of many who struggled to buy fertilizer during the 2022/23 planting season after prices spiked following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“If I buy fertilizer, it means my grandchildren will not go to school. I had to use anthill soil and compost as manure but, as you know, that will not yield much,” said 50-year-old Kanenungo.
Sanctions on entities within major fertiliser exporter Russia after the invasion of Ukraine and a jump in the price of gas, key in the manufacture of nitrogen products, have pushed up prices of crop nutrients globally in the last year.
Fertilizer prices in Zimbabwe have risen by nearly 30% in that period, with a 50 kilogramme bag of basal fertilizer currently costing an average $45 and a bag of top dressing fertilizer about $60, Prince Kuipa, operations director the Zimbabwe Farmers Union, told Reuters.
The union, which represents most of the country’s farmers, said high fertilizer prices could impact crop output despite favourable rains in the maize-growing region. “The number of (fertiliser) bags that farmers can buy has been badly affected,” Kuipa said.
The Zimbabwean government has a long-running input support scheme to help with costs like fertilizer. It increased the number of smallholder farmers covered by the scheme by 25% to 2.89 million during the 2022/23 season, hoping to help more households cope with rising food inflation.
But with global prices high it has struggled to provide fertilizer to farmers, leaving many smallholders facing a poor harvest.
These include Emilia David, a 27-year-old mother of three. “To save my crops, I had to apply decomposing tree leaves. I know this is old fashioned, but there is nothing I can do. My children need to eat,” she said.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation has named Zimbabwe, Malawi and Angola as countries in the southern African region facing food insecurity due to reduced fertilizer use.
In Malawi, maize output is seen falling 4% this year, after the government’s Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) struggled to keep up with price increases, agriculture minister Sam Kawale said.
Fertilizer prices in Malawi have more than doubled in the past year, with a 50 kg bag retailing at 75,000 kwacha ($72.71), putting pressure on the government’s 109 billion kwacha budget for the input support programme.
“The cost of the programme (AIP) almost tripled,” Kawale said while receiving a 20,000 tonne consignment of fertilizer donated by Russia’s Uralchem-Uralkali on March 6.
Malawi was one of the first African countries to receive the donated fertilizer through the World Food Programme, part of 260,000 tonnes of the Russian firm’s fertilizer stuck in several European ports.
But for Zione Maulidi, a 45-year-old Malawian smallholder farmer who received some of the donated Russian fertilizer, help came too late.
“This fertilizer we have received will not help us,” said Maulidi, surveying her stunted crop. “The period for applying it is over and the maize crop has failed.”
($1 = 1,039.5000 kwacha).
In Zimbabwe’s rainy season, women forage for wild mushrooms
BY FARAI MUTSAKA
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe’s rainy season brings a bonanza of wild mushrooms, which many rural families feast upon and sell to boost their incomes.
But the bounty also comes with danger as each year there are reports of people dying after eating poisonous fungi. Discerning between safe and toxic mushrooms has evolved into an inter-generational transfer of indigenous knowledge from mothers to daughters. Rich in protein, antioxidants and fiber, wild mushrooms are a revered delicacy and income earner in Zimbabwe, where food and formal jobs are scarce for many.
Beauty Waisoni, 46, who lives on the outskirts of the capital, Harare, typically wakes up at dawn, packs plastic buckets, a basket, plates and a knife before trekking to a forest 15 kilometers (9 miles) away.
Her 13-year-old daughter Beverly is in tow, as an apprentice. In the forest, the two join other pickers, mainly women working side by side with their children, combing through the morning dew for shoot-ups under trees and dried leaves.Police routinely warn people of the hazards of consuming wild mushrooms. In January, three girls in one family died after eating poisonous wild mushrooms. Such reports filter through each season. A few years ago 10 family members died after consuming poisonous mushrooms.To avoid such a deadly outcome, Waisoni teaches her daughter how to identify safe mushrooms.
“She will kill people, and the business, if she gets it wrong,” said Waisoni, who says she started picking wild mushrooms as a young girl. Within hours, her baskets and buckets become filled up with small red and brown buttons covered in dirt.
Women such as Waisoni are dominant players in Zimbabwe’s mushroom trade, said Wonder Ngezimana, an associate professor of horticulture at the Marondera University of Agricultural Science and Technology.
“Predominantly women have been gatherers and they normally go with their daughters. They transfer the indigenous knowledge from one generation to the other,” Ngezimana told The Associated Press.
They distinguish edible mushrooms from poisonous ones by breaking and detecting “milk-like liquid oozing out,” and by scrutinizing the color beneath and the top of the mushrooms, he said. They also look for good collection points such as anthills, the areas near certain types of indigenous trees and decomposing baobab trees, he said.About one in four women who forage for wild mushrooms are often accompanied by their daughters, according to research carried out by Ngezimana and colleagues at the university in 2021. In “just few cases” — 1.4% — mothers were accompanied by a boy child.
“Mothers were better knowledgeable of wild edible mushrooms compared to their counterparts — fathers,” noted the researchers. The researchers interviewed close to 100 people and observed mushroom collection in Binga, a district in western Zimbabwe where growing Zimbabwe’s staple food, maize, is largely unviable due to droughts and poor land quality. Many families in the Binga are too poor to afford basic food and other items.So mushroom season is important for the families. On average, each family made just over $100 a month from selling wild mushrooms, in addition to relying on the fungi for their own household food consumption, according to the research.
In large part due to harsh weather conditions, about a quarter of Zimbabwe’s 15 million people are food insecure, meaning that they’re not sure where their next meal will come from, according to aid agencies. Zimbabwe has one of the world’s highest rates of food inflation at 264%, according to the International Monetary Fund.
To promote safe mushroom consumption and year-round income generation, the government is promoting small-scale commercial production of certain types such as oyster mushrooms.
But it appears the wild ones remain the most popular.
“They come in as a better delicacy. Even the aroma is totally different to that of the mushroom we do on a commercial aspect, so people love them and in the process communities make some money,” said Ngezimana.Waisoni, the Harare trader, says the wild mushrooms have helped her put children through school and also weather the harsh economic conditions that have battered Zimbabwe for the past two decades.
Her pre-dawn trip to the forest marks just the beginning of a day-long process. From the bush, Waisoni heads to a busy highway. Using a knife and water, she cleans the mushrooms before joining the stiff competition of other mushroom sellers hoping to attract passing motorists.
A speeding motorist hooted frantically to warn traders on the sides of the road to move away. Instead, the sellers charged forward, tripping over each other in hopes of scoring a sale.
One motorist, Simbisai Rusenya, stopped and said he can’t pass the seasonal wild mushrooms. But, aware of the reported deaths from poisonous ones, he needed some convincing before buying.
“Looks appetizing, but won’t it kill my family?” he asked.
Waisoni randomly picked a button from her basket and calmly chewed it to reassure him. “See?” she said, “It’s safe!”
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