The Zimbabwean Government’s attempt to seize back an international monpoly in bandwidth seem to have been temporarily foiled. According to a Dow Jones report, a Zimbabwe court reversed a government order granting the state sole control of Zimbabwe’s international telecommunications links.

The government last week gazetted Statutory Instrument 18/04 which provides that Tel One shall, with effect from January 31 2004, provide access to all international telecommunications services and provide international interconnection capacity for all other public licensed telecommunications operators including voice over internet protocol.

The move was prompted by Zimbabwe’s worsening hard currency position. In his monetary policy statement, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Dr Gideon Gono said there were foreign currency leakages in the telecommunications sector resulting from the use of multiple gateways.

According to court documents, Judge Yunis Omerjee granted an application by Econet Wireless to rescind the January 30 government order. The order created some concern that the government would increase its eavesdropping on international communications.

The government order gave private communications companies, mobile phone and Internet providers 30 days to route all their connections through state-run Tel-One and the government-owned satellite earth station near Harare.

Econet Wireless attorneys argued that the order violated a 1998 Supreme Court ruling that called for the end of the state telecommunications monopoly and granted licenses to private operators. Furthermore, Tel-One, privatized soon after the 1998 ruling, remained part of the state-controlled postal and telecommunications network, but doesn’t have the capacity to handle all of Zimbabwe’s telecommunications traffic. Econet also argued that the order gave Tel-One unfair commercial advantage over its licensed competitors.

President Robert Mugabe’s government has cracked down on dissent since his widely disputed re-election in 2002. Opposition leaders, trade unionists and journalists have been jailed, and the government has carried out a legal battle to shut down the country’s only independent daily newspaper.

(SOURCES: Intelcon, The Herald and Daily News)