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China is helping Zimbabwe create a surveillance state

Rregister to vote In Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, it’s not easy. The only registration center is two bus rides from the most populous suburb. Nationwide, there are just 71 voter registration centers, or one for every 216,000 people (although some mobile centers are operating before next year’s election).

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That’s not the only concern. Since 2018, Zimbabwe has collected fingerprints, photos, addresses and phone numbers to clean up voter rolls, which are reportedly infested with “ghost voters”. This scares many Zimbabweans, especially those belonging to the minority Ndebele group, most of whom are concentrated around Bulawayo. In 1983, approximately 20,000 Ndebele were massacred by the army. The current president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was then head of the security services. Now, people worry that data collection “is a way to re-identify and target us,” says Rodwin Sibanda of the Habakkuk Trust. non-governmental organization in Bulawayo.

The ruling party Zanu-fly ash, Another genocide will not be committed. But for 20 years of its brazen election manipulation, many Zimbabweans fear it will misuse their data to intimidate them. Ahead of the 2018 election, party thugs forced people to hand over their registration slips, telling them they would reveal who they voted for. The same mobs have burned down the homes of those who voted the wrong way in the past.

Zanu-fly ash Zimbabwe’s economy has been devastated so badly that it cannot pay teachers or nurses or feed the nearly four in 10 people in rural areas who are at risk of starvation. However, with the help of the Chinese Communist regime, it found what it needed to build snazzy surveillance equipment. Since 2013, China has provided at least $239 million in loans and grants to help develop NetOne, Zimbabwe’s state-owned telecommunications network. “It’s widely believed that because of the Zimbabwean government’s proximity to China, most of our critical infrastructure is run by China,” said Otto Saki, a human rights lawyer. Technicians from the Chinese company Huawei have reportedly helped national security agents in Uganda and Zambia spy on government critics. Huawei denies the allegations.

The government is keen to advertise that it is omniscient.Take Opposition Joana Mamombe CongressmanAnd activist Cecilia Chimbiri said they were kidnapped and tortured by state security agents. Mr Mnangagwa claimed they were lying, arguing the government “could track where they walked, slept and who they talked to”. Nompilo Simanje of the Southern Africa Media Institute in Zimbabwe said claims like this were “a clear example that governments have the necessary tools and capacity to police people”. non-governmental organization in the capital Harare.Additionally, Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto claims that Zimbabwe uses nso Group, an Israeli surveillance company. nso Says its software is used against terrorists, not militants.

Police and spies in many countries use similar tools. But in most democracies, Zimbabwe still claims to be one, and their power to do so is limited by privacy laws and independent judges. Zimbabwe has neither. Congress passed a purported privacy law last year that created a listening center in the Oval Office that has the authority to issue warrants to intercept communications. Mr Saki’s research suggests the center was designed by Huawei, which has denied such involvement.

Even nominally independent agencies have ties to the government. Election Commission run by retired Army general accused of giving voter data to Zanu-PFthen urged them to vote for Mr Mnangagwa by text message.

The government’s ambitions are centered on a huge new data center being built with Chinese help. Its purpose is to obtain information from governments and private companies, including banks. What this means in practice is ambiguous. Freeman Chari, a Zimbabwean activist, said the government had so far been “not technically savvy enough” to carry out large-scale Chinese-style espionage against dissidents. But, Mr Charley said, “this is where we’re going.”

Editor’s Note (January 3, 2023): This article has been updated to include allegations that Huawei has denied that its technicians had assisted national security personnel in Uganda and Zambia, and that it was involved in the design of the Zimbabwe Cyber ​​Security Center. It previously declined to comment on the Cyber ​​Security Center.

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