Richard Mulonga CEO Blogger of Zambia
Bloggers of Zambia notes and commends Cabinet’s approval of the National Cyber Security Policy, however, we would like to caution that the strategy must not be used to target and infringe on citizen activities online.
In as much as we recognise the need for enhanced internet legislation to make the online spaces safe and secure for all, there is need for these laws and policies to be democratic, specific and must enhance online rights and freedoms, rather than used to silence citizen voices online.
Further, we recognise that we are heading towards a highly contested election and the internet has become an area of interest especially in the era of misinformation and the spread of harmful content, therefore, the proposed policy must not be used as a tool to usher in laws that silence critical voices on social media.
Sadly, and we have noted with concern how the term ‘abuse of social media’ has been weaponised and is being used to inspire the enactment of laws that can be used to target citizen voices on social media.
We would like to make a clarion call for the enactment of appropriate internet laws and policies that must be in line with regional and international norms and standards such as the African Union Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection and General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) of the European Union.
In as much as we agree that there is wrong-doing online, we have noted the growing intolerance against citizen voices that are merely debating public matters and speaking truth to power using online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.
In the era of Covid-19 restrictions that encourage digital access rather than physical interaction, we call for the enactment of laws and policies that must encourage affordable internet access, including safety and security mechanisms especially for women and girls who suffer cyber offences.
Our concern is that the process of building internet laws and policies in Zambia has been leaning heavily towards government institutions, and this is against the internet governance approach of multi-stakeholderism.
We call on the government through the Justice Minister and other relevant government ministries not to rush the process of ICT law and policy formulation in order to get adequate input from stakeholders.
The current rush and scanty stakeholder participation in the enactment of internet law has perpetuated current speculation that there are intentions to gag the internet during the period leading to election day as seen in other countries such as Uganda, Zimbabwe and Democratic Republic of Congo.
The internet must be left open and accessible for all especially during elections because the social media platforms empower citizens with inclusive avenues for debate, sharing opinions and ideas and scrutinising those aspiring for public office.
In addition to this, we call upon all Zambians to engage in meaningful conversations that add value to our democracy, rather than use the online spaces for spreading harmful content that has the potential to disrupt societal norms and standards.