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February 12, 2013

SKYPE News - Skype and the Government in Three African Countries

By Jacqueline Lee, Contributing Writer

Dick Wolf has created multiple spinoffs in his “Law and Order” franchise. However, he probably never thought of “Law and Order: Zimbabwe.”

If Zimbabwe High Court Justice Charles Hungwe has his way, then “Law and Order: Zimbabwe” could play out in courtrooms all over the country. However, instead of the drama playing out on television, the drama will unfold over Skype.

Justice Hungwe believes that Skype has a role to play in evidence capture, preservation and presentation during a trial. He hopes that using Skype (News - Alert) and other information and communications technology will help to clear the High Court’s glutted waiting list.

“In the last 12 months, a total of 110 cases were committed for trial in this High Court Circuit,” Hungwe noted. “Out of those, only 23 were completed. Therefore, there is a total of 87 cases pending trial before this circuit. The picture painted by these statistics is a slow justice delivery system.”

In Hungwe’s mind, Skype could allow for remote testimony from international witnesses. The technology would save money as well as lessen trial length.

Skype is also part of the conversation in nearby Kenya. The current presidential election has pitted incumbent Raila Odinga against rival Uhuru Kenyatta. Kenyatta has a small problem: He’s been summoned to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Kenyatta’s first trip as president could feasibly be to The Hague. He stands accused along with his running mate, William Ruto. The court accuses both of coordinating ethnic clashes in Kenya after the 2007 election.

Kenya’s High Court will hear a court case on February 15 to determine whether the ICC summons disqualifies Kenyatta and Ruto from running for office. Odinga has quipped, “It will pose serious challenges to run a government by Skype from The Hague.”

Less open African regimes view Skype as a threat. Last year, the Ethiopian government passed legislation slapping a 15-year prison sentence on anyone who used VoIP services like Skype.

“The authorities say the ban was needed on national security grounds,” stated Reporters without Borders, “and because VoIP posed a threat to the state's monopoly of telephone communications.”

Finding data showing how many Africans use Skype is difficult. Still, Skype is undeniably a part of the conversation.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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