Saturday, August 29, 2009

Southern African countries consider spying on internet comms

Southern African countries including Zambia, Malawi, Namibia and Zimbabwe are grappling with the question of whether to intercept and monitor mobile phone calls as well as Internet and other electronic services including communications over social networks.

While some countries are opening the telecom sector to all forms of services and social networks, others are closing up, claiming Internet and mobile phones are putting the security of the countries at risk. A number of laws and regulations are being developed by some Southern African countries that give powers to regulators, service providers and government security agents to censor Web sites and intercept mobile and Net-based calls.

But the technology sector is warning that the censorship laws are certain to scare away investments by regional and international service providers that may fear that investing in such countries restricts their freedom to roll out new services, including 3G technology.

The Malawi Communications and Regulatory Authority (Macra) has announced that it has passed a new regulation under which it will start monitoring the Internet and intercepting all electronic communications throughout the country. Macra is Malawi's telecom sector regulator. But it is the first time that the regulator is being given censorship powers by the government.

ISPs in Malawi will also be pressed by the new law to monitor social-networking sites including Twitter, Facebook and the Malawiana -- a local social-network site -- and any so-called "illegal content" in e-mail communications by Malawians on Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail and other e-mail services.

The law also means that digital satellite televisions will also be censored in Malawi.

Malawian Minister of Information Leckford Thotho said the government passed a law creating a new tool for censorship because the number of people with Internet and mobile phones access has increased over the past years.

"As the number of Internet users has been growing steadily over the past years, there is now a need to monitor what people were doing on the Internet to ensure that they do not involve themselves in unlawful acts," Thotho said.

Internet users in Malawi are already complaining that the Malawian government will be violating their privacy by reading e-mail and listening to their conversations.

Malawi has become the second country in Southern Africa after Namibia to develop Internet and mobile censorship laws. In July Namibian lawmakers passed the spy law, which calls for interception centers to be manned by secret service officers who can screen e-mail, SMS (short message system) texts and Internet usage, including banking services.

The Zambian government, on the other hand, said it has developed laws that allow people to communicate without government interference. The new Zambian law further allows service providers to deploy any form of technology on their networks that will allow subscribers to have access to services available around the world.

Zambian President Rupiah Banda said Zambian government was committed to providing an ICT regulatory environment that encourages private sector participation in the Zambian economy. Aware that spy laws scare away international telecom investors, Banda said he is confident that the current ICT reforms would generate national development through the use of ICT.

Banda said the Zambian government wants to use technology to enhance the country's national profile and its standing as a regional ICT hub.

The Zimbabwean government drafted and presented the spy bill to parliament, but it was later withdrawn after people protested.

Source: Agencies

Friday, August 28, 2009

'Crocodile Gang' feasts on Zim rhino

A shocking undercover journey reveals that a poaching cartel known as ‘The Crocodile Gang’, led by Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa, is slaughtering rhinos and elephants to fulfill ‘requests’ for horn and ivory.

Dubbed the Crocodile Gang, this cartel - whose existence can be revealed by the Mail today - is behind the ‘industrial-scale slaughter’ of black rhinos, prompting warnings that the species will be hunted to extinction in the region within two years.

And the “godfather” of the poaching cartel is said to be Emmerson Mnangagwa - known by locals now as “The Crocodile.” Also referred to as “The Butcher of Matabeleland”, he is the architect of Zimbabwe’s terrifying state security apparatus, creator of Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Office (CIO) - and rumored to be next in line for president after Mugabe.

Probably risking his life, Andrew Malone, a writer for The UK’s Daily Mail, reports that he went undercover, posing as an overseas buyer of illegal rhino horn to dig deeper into the widespread rhino massacre that stands to wipe out an entire species. What he reveals is an appalling world of cruelty, corruption, death threats - and the consequences suffered by those who have tried to speak out.

The meeting

Posing as an overseas buyer of illegal rhino horn, I was given an unprecedented insight into the sheer scale of the operation - and the vast sums involved. After making contact with the ivory cartel through an intermediary, we were instructed to drive 400 miles south-west of Harare and telephone a number using a pre-arranged codeword. There, after more elaborate instructions, we were told to drive to a remote location in Matabeleland, near the border with South Africa and Botswana.

Mr. Malone then describes meeting with a man named “Gerald” - who operates with members of Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Office (CIO). Gerald has just returned from a “successful” rhino hunt - fulfilling the “order”placed by a Chinese buyer.

The rhino was being killed to order: a Chinese buyer had offered to pay £3,200 per kilo of rhino horn. ‘It wasn’t easy - there is no cover because it’s winter and the animal kept seeing us by the moonlight and running away,’ he told me.

After first shooting the rhino in the lungs, Gerald and his men pursue the wounded rhino for 12 hours. When the wounded rhino lay down to rest at a watering hole, Gerald and his men shot the rhino six times, and then hacked the horns from the animal’s face using the large, machete-like knives called pangas.

Gerald had sold the horns two days before our meeting. When I told him I would pay an even higher price, his eyes narrowed. He said. ‘I will contact you the next time.’

The case of the disappearing docket

Earlier this month, the involvement of Mnangagwa and Webster Shamu, Zimbabwe’s media and information minister, came into the spotlight when a police officer stopped a Chinese man at roadblock - and was found to be carrying six rhino horns, still bloody.

The Chinese man implicated Mnangagwa and Webster Shamu.

Unfortunately, the policeman who uncovered the ivory haul has vanished - along with his report. Meanwhile, the Chinese national was released - with his [horns] - and escorted through Harare International Airport to his plane.

The Zim Daily reported the following about the corruption “cover-up”:

… a police docket against two ZANU PF heavyweights — Emmerson Mnangagwa and Webster Shamu — has vanished from attorney-general Johannes Tomana’s office. And, efforts to give Tomana a copy of the docket has seen the police superintendent who was in charge of the investigations transferred from his posting at Bulawayo Central police station to a rural outpost at Nzvimbo in Chiweshe.

Mr. Malone, in his article, explains another prominent Webster Shamu connection, Charles Davy:

Davy and Shamu set up HHK safaris, which offers trophy hunting of animals including elephant and lion, to wealthy foreigners. While almost every other white landowner has been driven from his property by Mugabe’s thugs, Davy … has prospered. A friend of Mugabe, he has made an estimated £10 million from his big-game hunting business.

According to the Zimbabwe Times:

Shamu and Davy were associated in HHK Safari Company until it was disclosed that, far from being a partner in a joint venture in the lucrative operation as widely reported, Shamu was merely a front for foreign interests.

A common thread

65,000 Black Rhinos were alive in Africa as recently as 1970. Now there are only 2,300 total surviving in the wild - and the number is dwindling. Elephant poaching continues to skyrocket.

Conservationists and wildlife experts agree: China’s booming prosperity is fueling the massacre.

Earlier this year, Wu Ming Quan, another Chinese ‘ businessman’, was caught with 500kg of ivory at Harare airport. The tusks were spotted on an X-ray machine at the airport. But the X-ray operator was prevented from confronting Quan by three members of Zimbabwe’s secret police. According to undercover wildlife investigators, the Chinese businessman had paid an additional £2,000 for safe passage through the airport. The X-ray operator was arrested and thrown in jail for threatening to bring the crime to light.

Mr. Malone also notes that a ton of ivory was seized in Nairobi two months ago - it was being shipped from Zimbabwe to China.

I wrote about the ivory situation in my post “Kenya Wildlife Service Dismayed at Resurgence in Elephant Poaching“:

Earlier this month, an illegal shipment of elephant tusks and rhino horn was seized at the Jomo Kenyatta Airport. Blood on the ivory and horns confirmed that the elephants and rhinos had recently been killed.. The animal parts were hidden in coffins, and were en route to Laos. Kenya wildlife authorities are confident that the tusks and horn had a final destination of China, where the illegal trade in endangered species parts is well-established.

And “Kenya Fears Link Between Elephant Killings and Chinese Construction Projects“:

The Kenya Wildlife Service suspects it is more than a coincidence that a large number of elephant killings have occurred in areas where Chinese crews have recently arrived for massive construction projects.

According to Save the Elephants, the majority of smugglers arrested at Jomo Kenyatta Airport are now Chinese nationals.

The Zululand Observer has now reported the following regarding the poaching of eight white rhinos in Opathe-Emakhoseni Heritage Park (OEHP):

Developments regarding the OEHP incidents have since seen four men and a woman, all of Chinese origin, appear in the Babanango Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday this week, following their arrest inside OEHP near Ulundi. They were found trespassing, as the reserve has been temporary closed to the public, pending the appointment of a new manager for the park. They were not asked to plead to any charges and the case was postponed pending further investigations. Those who appeared are Pingquan Ni (37), Shuiwang Wu (37), Daxin Zhang (42), Xiufu Lin (32) and Meixia Zhu (26). They own businesses in Ulundi.

Just last week, tame, hand-raised celebrity rhino Toliwe, featured in a Cell C TV commercial, became a victim of poachers.

Death threats

While on his mission, Mr. Malone had the opportunity to meet the founder of the Zimbabwe Wildlife Task Force, Jonny Rodriguez. There have been many threats made on his life for speaking out.

Jonny Rodriguez, a Zimbabwean former special forces soldier, is one of the few people brave enough to speak out against this government-sponsored slaughter. Founder of the Zimbabwe Wildlife Task Force, a group that works to save endangered species, he has received countless death threats.

Taking steps

There have been reports that the BBC has resumed broadcasting “openly” from Zimbabwe for the first time since 2001. And CNN might even be allowed soon.

In recent years of political and economic turmoil, most Western organizations had been refused government licenses to report from Zimbabwe. Correspondents from the BBC and other media have acknowledged reporting clandestinely from Zimbabwe, at times entering on tourist visas.

These crimes thrive in secret, and will continue as long as there is no speaking out against them.

One of the first steps, then, is to begin talking about what is going on: Help by giving a voice to the rhinos and elephants who are unable to speak for themselves.

Source: Elephant News

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Air Zimbabwe to cut 500 jobs

ZIMBABWE'S national carrier said Tuesday it will cut 500 jobs, one-third of its workforce, in a bid to prevent the embattled airline from going under.

"We have no option other but to right-size or else we are dead," Air Zimbabwe chief executive Peter Chikumba told AFP.

Nearly a decade of economic and political crisis has seen annual passenger numbers for the struggling airline drop from a peak of one million in 1996 to just 300,000 now, the company said.

The state-owned airline formed in 1980 after the country's independence has been beset by a string of financial problems.

The company currently has a US$30 million debt, and has asked the government to sell its stake in the airline in a bid to raise desperately needed cash from private investors.

"If we do not do anything about it, the business will collapse and it will be very unfortunate if this happens," Chikumba told AFP.

Last year at the height of the country's hyperinflation, which officially hit 231 million percent but was believed many times higher, Air Zimbabwe was forced to sell tickets in the virtually worthless local currency.

That left the airline struggling to pay its membership fees with the airline regulation body, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), while it couldn't pay landing fees at London's Gatwick Airport.

Chikumba was hopeful that the unity government formed in February between President Robert Mugabe and his erstwhile rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai would bring economic stability and improve the business environment.

"We are positive that the political atmosphere that has been created will bring potential investors into the airline and the country," said Chikumba.

Air Zimbabwe's fortunes nosedived so dramatically that one flight in 2005 arrived from Dubai carrying a single passenger.

The route has since been closed, together with Kinshasa and Luanda, while the airline has concentrated on busy routes to South Africa, Britain and Zambia.

The company has also been hit hard by the national brain drain as experienced personnel such as engineers and pilots are poached by rival carriers in the region and Europe.

Chikumba said the retrenchment was a way of trimming the company's workforce to match the reduced business climate, while retaining staff with the right skills.

Source: AFP

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Zimbabwe to dump loss-making parastatals

MUTARE - The government is going to privatise or commercialise some of its loss-making parastatals, Finance Minister Tendai Biti said last week.

Addressing a breakfast meeting organised by the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) in Mutare, Biti said an inter-ministerial committee was working on a programme to see which government-owned companies could be offloaded because they were a burden to the fiscus or which ones could be commercialised and turned into profitable operations.

He said: "The government will soon privatise or commercialise some of the parastatals that are non-performing. The inter-ministerial committee is working on this programme so that we can categories some of the parastatals to see whether they should be commercialized (or privatized)."

The International Monetary Fund and local analysts have long called on the government to privatise non-performing parastatals or allow them to charge economic prices to stop them from perpetually draining the national treasury.

Among some of the government's perennially under-performing companies are the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe, Air Zimbabwe, Grain Marketing Board, National Railways of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority.

Own Correspondent

NRZ killing mining, export industry

The state-owned National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) has been blamed for the decline in Zimbabwe's mineral exports because of its dilapidated fleet and equipment.

NRZ, the country's largest rail company has not replaced most of its equipment since it was installed in 1897, having outlived its lifespan of 100 years.

Last year, the government parastatal embarked on a drive to raise funding to renovate its collapsing infrastructure, but the begging bowl is still far from full, leaving the NRZ unable to secure key signaling equipment, the absence of which, experts say, has contributed to an increase in the number of accidents.

The state of the railway service mirrors the economic decline in Zimbabwe, once the busy hub of trans-sub-Saharan trade. As is the case in the rest of the country itself, corruption, mismanagement
and neglect have contributed to the rapid deterioration of what used to be one of Africa's most efficient rail systems.

According to a report released this week by the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ), a government-owned body, statistics have shown that the steady decline of the NRZ is proving increasingly detrimental to the country's export trade.

"Out of a planned movement of 1,155,760 metric tonnes of mineral exports, NRZ managed to move only 498,636 metric tonnes in 2007, a 57% decline on the projections and a performance significantly lower than its 2006 ratings," MMCZ Chief Executive Officer, Onisimo Moyo, said in the report.

High carbon ferrochrome and platinum group metals contribute over 50% of the country's export revenue.

The report went on to say, in 2005, NRZ required 108 main-line locomotives to meet demand but only 60 were available. It had mustered 126 in 1999, dropping to 112 in 2000, 99 in 2001 and 83 in 2002. There has been no major investment in motive power since then.

"The NRZ rolling stock has continued to decline and urgent support is required for this vital institution, which is one of the key pillars for the economy's turnaround," Moyo said.

In response, the NRZ blames its woes on foreign currency shortages. The company says it is adopting new measures to curb accidents by organizing annual refresher courses for drivers and other staff. This additional training would determine their future with the parastatal.

But the NRZ knows it cannot afford to sack personnel even if they are found wanting. The parastatal is losing hordes of its most experienced staff to South Africa, which is recruiting skilled manpower for its Gautrain transport project for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

Under the government's Public Private Partnerships initiative, introduced in 2005 to encourage partnerships with private business, the NRZ was identified as one of the 58 projects to be executed under the initiative. But there have been no takers.

Source: The Sunday Standard, Botswana