Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe moved Patrick Chinamasa from the finance ministry on Monday to lead a new cyber security ministry that will focus on crimes on social media and other websites ahead of an election due next year.
Chinamasa will be replaced at the treasury by Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo in a cabinet reshuffle that also diminished the role of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, seen as a potential successor to Mugabe.
Chombo’s move, announced in a government statement, comes against the backdrop of a severe hard currency shortage that has dealt a fresh blow to confidence and investment in the southern African economy, which uses the U.S dollar.
Chinamasa was appointed finance minister after Mugabe’s re-election in 2013 and his move to head the new Ministry of Cyber Security, Threat Detection and Mitigation was unexpected.
Its creation comes after Chinamasa said last month the government would now treat social media as a security threat after accusing users of spreading rumours about shortages of basic goods, which caused panic buying and price increases.
The government has been uneasy with social media after activists such as pastor Evan Mawararire and his #ThisFlag movement last year used social media to organise a stay-at-home demonstration, the biggest anti-government protest in a decade.
Government critics took to Twitter deriding Chinamasa as new “minister of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp affairs”.
Chinamasa, a lawyer by training, will also be responsible for bringing to parliament a long awaited cyber crimes bill that criminalise false information posted on the internet, revenge porn, cyber-bullying and online activity against the government.