ClampdownListen to this audio file
Joyce Machombo lived in Clampdown for the first 35 years of her life before fleeing the country. Let’s listen to her story.
I was politically active from a very young age. From around 2015, young people in Clampdown started voicing their dissatisfaction with the country’s leadership, particularly the lack of political accountability and the perception that the wealthy elite controlled most of the formal economy. We mobilised on social media and messaging platforms, and public protests were frequent but fleeting.
Initially the media likened the government’s attempts to crack down on these spontaneous protests to hunting a mole. Like whacking a mound of earth to get rid of an unwanted invader only to find yourself outwitted when another pile of earth becomes visible further down the garden – no sooner had they identified one “uprising” and targeted it and another protest would pop up elsewhere.
Eventually the government (at the request of the police and some wealthy lobbyists) responded by intermittently enforcing a complete shutdown of the internet. A tax on social media was introduced and online influencers were frequently targets of special tax investigations.
Suspicion regarding anything “digital” or “online” lingered. Most of you will have heard of Double Whammy – which happened 18 months later when the government simultaneously introduced a punitive tax on all mobile money transactions and legislation requiring not only registration of all businesses wishing to operate online, but also approval for each new technology solution that was introduced.
It is a good thing it wasn’t an election year because the negative effects on the economy were dramatic.
There were long delays in getting the requisite approvals for online transactions and rejections seemed to happen on a whim, so it became almost impossible to predict the outcome of an application. A number of the more forward-thinking entrepreneurs immediately downscaled their local operations and set up their headquarters elsewhere.
A few years later, hackers from outside the country revealed that officials in the compliance office had earmarked the most promising technologies and online businesses. They stole some of the technology for themselves; simultaneously clamping down on the use of digital and tech assets by ordinary citizens and businesses while stockpiling the best of them for their own surveillance purposes.
Parents were encouraged to instil “traditional values” in their children and deny them access to, or use of, a phone, computer or other tech device for as long as possible to minimise exposure to “undesirable influences”. For a while people revelled in the return to face-to-face conversations and communal pursuits although vigilant citizens started reporting neighbours and colleagues who were using VPNs to maintain a semblance of an online life.
This at a time when, right across the border, tech innovators and digital skills were actively nurtured through public- and private-sector programmes. Earlier predictions about the future of work now seem rosy in comparison to the reality of finding meaningful work in a technophobe economy that was trying to compete in a digital world.
With fewer work opportunities and limited digital distractions people spent more time hanging out together. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that teenage pregnancy rates increased dramatically, exerting further pressure on our resources.
What did our Government do? Clamp down on emigration of course, which resulted in an increase in black market trafficking services. It got so bad that even travel within the country became difficult and one could be stopped at any time and be required to produce a travel permit. Eventually in 2038, all international travel was banned as well.
The Government’s hidden tech assets helped them with citizen tracking and they accessed satellite data to fill the gaps. Biometrics and facial recognition technology were just the beginning and the people-monitoring initiatives favoured by the fascist leaders of the 20th Century seemed subtle by comparison. Customs officials and security staff at the borders were replaced by robots who were impervious to bribes or pleading from people longing to escape the misery of life in Clampdown.
The country descended into hopelessness. Despite the rapidly growing population, local food producers hadn’t kept up with the Food 2.0 innovations in nanotechnology or production of synthetic proteins. People tried to return to the rural areas to produce food. However, many of those agricultural smallholdings were in a shocking state, having been abandoned in the Great Drought of the early 2030s when climate change coerced people to migrate to the cities.
When I was young, fellow activists and I anticipated our protests would result in regime change. We composed pithy tweets on the fly and naively thought that if people knew the truth they would find courage to act.
I see now that surveillance is more effective in silencing people than social media ever was in rousing them. The people can’t govern when they are being watched. Heads bowed and with limited energy the people of Clampdown daily pick over the remains of an economy in tatters. Who knows what the future holds for a society that has reverted to the pre-digital age.