By Ray Mwareya, 11 Sept 2019
The avatar might be a cockerel, a razor or, most likely, a beautiful Eastern European or Latino woman. Behind the avatar, there might be a human, a bot or some combination of the two. With Zimbabwe’s ‘varakashi’ it is hard to be sure of much.
Their job, at least, is clear cut: disrupt debate and stymie criticism of Emerson Mnangagwa and his government. The president himself gave this faceless group the name ‘varakashi’, which is the word for ‘destroyers’ in the Shona language. During the last presidential campaign, at a rally of his ruling Zanu-PF party in May 2018, Mnangagwa — perhaps indiscreetly — spoke to the younger members of his audience: “Some of us are old; you are still youthful and masters of technology. …
By Ray Mwareya, 21 July 2019
When Robert Mugabe was toppled as president of Zimbabwe by a military coup in November 2017, Emmerson Mnangagwa took charge of the ruling Zanu-PF party and declared a new dawn of freedom and prosperity. Less than two years later, Mnangagwa leads a government that is moving quickly to import foreign surveillance technology and displaying a worrying inclination to limit internet access in order to quell political unrest.
Mugabe had begun to experiment with social media shutdowns in July 2016 when, amid a crippling labour strike, authorities temporarily suspended access to WhatsApp. In January 2019, after days of protests over a doubling of fuel prices, Mnangagwa’s security forces launched a crackdown in which 12 people were killed and 600 were arrested. …