- By Elizabeth DickinsonElizabeth Dickinson is a Gulf-based American journalist and former assistant managing editor at Foreign Policy.
For the last several years, two things have helped keep the world informed of goings on inside Zimbabwe: the Internet, and mobile phones. Reports of protests, violence, and cholera have leaked over the borders through text messages and conversations with relatives abroad — especially in South Africa.
Now, mobile phone companies will start charging customers in dollars in hopes of avoiding the burn from 231 million percent inflation (the country just intoduced a $50 billion note). That means the 94 percent of Zimbabweans who aren’t employed will struggle to pay.
And reports will stop leaking out.
The world already struggles to find out what’s really going on inside Robert Mugabe’s police state. The local media has it rough. As Reporters without Borders put it in their 2008 report, “Since 2002, the daily lot of Zimbabwean journalists has consisted of permanent surveillance, police brutality and injustice.” Foreign journalists rarely brave it (or are allowed) inside.
Not helping matters, on Jan. 9, Zimbabwe imposed new fees on all journalists — between $1,000 and $3,000 for accreditation of local journalists, and $30,000 for foreigners. A temporary foreigner can get in for the bargain price of $1,500. Quite simply, “What it means is that they will no longer be able to report,” Human Rights Watch analyst Tiseke Kasambala told me.
Perversly enough in both cases, it is Mugabe who is yet again cashing in. Journalist fees will go straight to the government And the country’s reserve bank, says Kasambala, has been buying dollars on the black market. “They’re making huge killings on the exchange rate.” Add the press to the casualty list.
DESMOND KWANDE/AFP/Getty Images