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Why Zim blocked Econet line

By Alfonce Mbizwo, Harare, Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s government blocked Econet Wireless from installing a fibre optic cable linking Zimbabwe to high-speed undersea cables in Mozambique to preserve the monopoly of the service by state-owned fixed telephone operator, TelOne, according to Transport and Communications Minister Nicholas Goche.

Goche said a similar service was already being provided by struggling TelOne, adding that it was Government policy is that service providers must not compete for the provision of infrastructure, but on the provision of services.

“It is also government policy that the public sector must provide infrastructure such as national backbone and mobile cellular companies ride on the infrastructure. That service is already being provided by TelOne which is connected to the undersea cable in Mozambique.

Therefore it would not have made business sense to have another company providing the same service,” Goche said in an interview with a local weekly.

That suggestion was immediately shot down by Information Communication Technology Minister Nelson Chamisa who said such a move was not part of government ICT policy.

“It is government policy to make sure that we have access to the undersea cables,” said Chamisa. Econet has remained quiet on the issue.

Goche’s remarks illustrate continued efforts by government, particularly by Zanu-PF officials to control Zimbabwe’s flow of information.

Econet has a history of fighting state intransigence: it only obtained its licence in 1997 after a three-year court battle with the State when the Supreme Court outlawed TelOne, then called the Post and Telecommunications Corporation’s monopoly of telephone services, and only then after the intervention of the late vice-president, Joshua Nkomo.

The latest episode is indicative of the fight for control over the country’s communication systems between Zanu-PF’s Goche and MDC’s Chamisa since the formation of the government of national unity in 2009.

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