Washington-based think tank Freedom House says obstacles to Internet access in Zimbabwe make it questionable whether the World Wide Web can be a means for activists to mobilize the masses to press for immediate democratic reforms.
In a report on the Internet and democracy in 2011, Freedom House said that although the Internet is nominally free from government interference, the 11 percent of Zimbabweans with access to the Web mainly use it for social purposes by visiting sites like Facebook.
Titled "Freedom on the Net 2011", the report notes that although there is no clear evidence the Zimbabwean government blocks access to digital media, there were structural constraints suggesting indirect blocking. Many hesitate to engage in Web activism because most users messages under their own names so they can communicate with family and friends.
Freedom House said the most worrisome move in Zimbabwe was the adoption of the Interception of Communications Act in 2007, allowing the state to monitor mail, phone and Internet messages, and obliging access providers to cooperate in this.
“Debates on the country’s political and socio-economic issues and reactions to Internet stories on Zimbabwe are mostly confined to chat rooms and feedback sections of online news sites,” the report said.
The roles of Facebook, Twitter and other websites played a key role in upheavals witnessed in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere this year, but Zimbabwe has not followed suit.
Freedom House says Internet usage has grown rapidly in the country from 0,3% of the population in 2000 to 12% by 2009 - but notes that the communications medium is still relatively expensive and erratic because of frequent power cuts.
Freedom House Program Officer for Southern Africa Megan Shaw told VOA reporter Jonga Kandemiiri that Internet usage will increase with the introduction of new technologies.
Political analyst John Makumbe disagreed with the Freedom House report, noting at many Zimbabwean youths spend large parts of their day in Internet cafes.