A shutdown of the internet by the Zimbabwe government this week, in an attempt to quell deadly protests, ended up achieving the exact opposite result – a total shutdown of the economy, including key public services like health and education.
Miscalculating Government Paralyzes Country's Business Operations
Mobile networks and internet service providers suspended web services on Jan. 15 under an order by the Minister of State in the President's Office for National Security. The idea was to prevent social media platforms like Whatsapp, Twitter, Youtube and Facebook from being used by citizens to spread messages of revolution following a 150 percent increase in the pump price of diesel and petrol.
The ban was reviewed Thursday, Jan. 17 to apply only to those four popular social networks but was reimposed again later that evening. Since Jan. 14, when the demonstrations started, more than three people have died from the protests, partly mobilized on social media throughout the Southern African country's major cities. Police stations have been burned down and shops looted and destroyed.
While the government may have been looking to strengthen its hand in news management and contain demonstrations, the shutdown has completely paralyzed business activities that rely on the internet. Instead of protestors shutting down the economy, the government totalized the inability of businesses to operate with the internet blockade. Bank transfers were impossible and the stock market was also down. All bitcoin-related transactions have been effectively disabled.
Meanwhile, the government explained the shutdown with conflicting messages, from a flimsy alibi to constitutionally drawn justifications. Ironically, the country's president Emmerson Mnangagwa and other public officials continued addressing Zimbabweans on restricted social networks like Twitter, partly giving away the administration's tendency to play international politics while restricting freedoms at home.