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Zimbabwe: New Technologies in Fight for Democracy
Ndesanjo Macha is Sub-Saharan Africa Editor of Global Voices, which monitors citizen media in the developing world. Thomson Reuters is not responsible for the content of this post — the views are the author’s alone.
In countries such as Zimbabwe where media and political freedom is extremely restricted, new technologies have become powerful tools for political campaigning, communication, advocacy and mobilisation. Bloggers and civic organisations have resorted to using new tools and applications such as Flickr, Facebook, SMS text messages, YouTube and mashups to fight for democracy, media freedom and good governance.
SMS Text Messages
If you are in Zimbabwe and your phone rings, you might be receiving news headlines from SW Radio, election updates from Kubatana.net or political jokes about Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. Widespread mobile phone access in Africa has made SMS a powerful and useful tool for activists. Comrade Fatso, a Zimbabwean blogger, writes about the many political jokes circulating on SMS in his blog:
“… Another joke walking the streets of Harare is that the only difference between an election and an erection is that you can’t rig the latter.”
The UK-based SW Radio uses SMS to send news headlines to mobile phones:
“We now have an SMS news headline service sent to mobile phones.
If you have a friend or relative in Zimbabwe who would like to receive this service please email their mobile phone number to: email@example.com”
Kubatana, an online community of Zimbabwean activists, uses FrontlineSMS to send election news to their SMS subscribers and facilitate conversations. The organisation has also used this technology for its campaign, “What we want in Zimbabwe?” Amanda Atwood from Kubatana writes, “As announcements by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission have been trickling out, we’ve been forwarding them to our SMS subscribers, many of whom do not have access to television or radio, or who are hit by Zimbabwe’s persistent electricity shortage.”
FrontlineSMS, a service designed for non-profits, was also used by the Nigeria Mobile Election Monitors last year. Ken Banks, the creator of Frontline SMS, describes his work with Zimbabwean activists in his blog.
Sokwanele-Zvakwana is another pro-democracy civic organisation using new media tools to fight for democracy and rule of law. Its website offers free satirical e-cards as part of its non-violent campaigns for change. The cards are organised around different themes, here is an example:
Zimbabwe’s economy is in free-fall and it’s no laughing matter. Spread a bit of cheer by sending a humorous e-card, or send a card to alert someone of the reality of our country’s economic state.
Explore the map and then consider whether elections held in this context can ever be considered ‘free and fair’. Information on how to use the map, the map data limitations, and the background to how we mapped the data is provided below the map. Please visit our Zimbabwe Election Watch section, and explore our database for a comprehensive look at the many ways the articles listed in the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections have been breached by the Zimbabwean government.
Videos and Pictures
Sokwanele has a channel on the popular video-sharing site, YouTube and a Flickr account. Visit their Album of Terror to see the extent of state brutality against the opposition. There is a also a Flickr account from another user with Zimbabwe Playing Cards:
On the outside this looks like an ordinary set of playing cards. But take them out, it is a fantastic political weapon – against the murderous, corrupt, hypocritical regime of ‘Robber Mugabe’.
Various groups including Sokwanele have established their presence on social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace. There is a “Remove Robert Mugabe from Zimbabwe” group on Facebook. And a “Revive Zimbabwe” group. There is also a group supporting the presidential candidate, Dr. Simba Makoni.
A cultural activist network, Magamba!, has a MySpace page where they publish blog posts about the situation in Zimbabwe. The most visible member of the group is Comrade Fatso who also keeps a personal blog at Vox.
The South Africa-based election monitoring group, The Independent Result Center, set up a website to publish independent election results. During the elections, their trained monitors in Zimbabwe were sending information to South Africa via satellite and mobile phones.
This is how their monitors obtained information:
“ZimElectionResults.com obtained the results using polling agents who were specially trained to obtain data officially displayed. This information was transmitted to a results centre in South Africa using cellphones and satellite phones to the centre which was manned by call centre operators.
Since election results were displayed publicly the agents were able to take photos of the actual results:
Polling agents were also equipped with a camera to photograph the actual official results posted by the ZEC. These will be archived on this web site later as forensic evidence. The polling agents also counted the number of people entering each polling station.”
Immediately after the government started muzzling the media during the elections, Zimbabwean bloggers became one of the key sources of information and commentary on the political and economic situation in the country. Visit Global Voices’ Zimbabwe Elections 2008 page for links to posts written by Zimbabwean bloggers.
Online Political Jokes
… meetings, meetings, meetings. very boring.
12:03 PM April 04, 2008
Ooooo, nervous morning. Sending the wife shopping. She is getting on my nerves. Thinking of shutting the electricity down for laughs.
09:21 AM April 01, 2008
Thinking of live blogging the election results. Good idea?
06:42 PM March 31, 2008
Forcing people to eat election posters. Hey, at least they get fed this week. 01:49 PM March 29, 2008
just voted. Guess who I voted for?
01:49 PM March 29, 2008
A longer version of this article is posted on Global Voices.