Zimbabwe: New Technologies in Fight for Democracy

May 7, 2008

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: talk@swradioafrica.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.

Electronic Postcards

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:

Economy e-cards:

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.

Sokwanele postcard

They have posted a video of the e-cards on Jumpcut.

Mashups

Sokwanele has also created a Google map of election rigging using data from their Zimbabwean Election Watch series:

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.

zimbabwe_election_map.jpg

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’.

Social networking

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.

Mobile Phones

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.”

Blogs

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

According to one joke, Robert Mugabe is twittering! He joins the Kenyan President, Mwai Kibaki, on the popular microblogging site, Twitter:

… 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

The website Zimbabwe Democracy Now also has a Humour page on its website.

A longer version of this article is posted on Global Voices.

3 comments

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[...] a great memory e-card? …Global Voices Online » Weblog – http://www.globalvoicesonline.org|||Zimb abwe: New Technologies in Fight for DemocracyIts website offers free satirical e-cards as part of its non-violent campaigns for change. The cards [...]

on the mark this posting it really is, these ways of countering bad government is much needed now in Zimbabwe, but not only there but also in Kenya, Congo, Burma and other such places, and related to this check also the good postings on ICT for governance in http://www.thekaufmannpost.net

Posted by Nancy | Report as abusive

[...] makal nzima, bonyeza hapa (Global Voices Online) na hapa (Reuters blog). [...]

Dear humanity when will we do what we do coz thats we do to progress my 4th grade teacher once told me humans are different from apes and other animals because of our ability to think forward, homo sapien sapien she called us.The more i see i think we are not yet there not all the way. Otherwise how can you explain torture,racism, sexism, extinction, genocide, dictatorship, rape and all the vile and barbaric things based on lack of understanding and progressive thinking that happen on this small spherical ball suspended lord knows where that we call earth, now on the horizon of self destruction because of our abuse and ignorant ways. its true i collectively blame each and everyone of us in a position to make a difference for not stopping this destruction! we all see it but self interest is a terrible thing it has brought countries on the brink of oblivion and Zimbabwe has now joined those ranks. I sit sad and full of despair and optism watching the current world leaders of our time, a time in which my generation has seen the above vile actions and have been promised more to come because weak leaders like Mbeki chose to sit and watch somewhat reactive in hinds sight and cower away from humanity when we ask why there is no progress in Zimbabwe. Why are things seemingly worse what bright future are you sacrificing todays sunrise and children for? act now for humanities sake. apparently its an internal issue. ok so am i to believe internally everyones A-ok and alive and its chickens and cows that are being killed and beaten somehow the images and voices of fear are a figment of my imagination i looked up crisis in the south African dictionary so i can understand what it means there!!!!! some dictionaries say a situation without intervention is certain to go bad i like that honest version it actually states what Zimbabwe was before he uttered those words but now we are in the predicament this leader chose to remain in the same state of mind he was in when he encountered this so called crisis first hand. A smarter generation of leaders once said an injustice anywhere is an injustice every where, ain’t that why the UN-AU-SADC- ETC was created to replace the patient timid predecessors like the (LON) league of nations that preceded it before punk hitler messed that all up and now Zimbabwe’s group version once again the world leaders are in-effective beaurocratic and idle . A smarter generation had a man who said you cant solve a problem by being in the same state of mind you where in when you met this ‘crisis’… . Secrecy has brought nations to their knees and Zimbabwe is a no exception a juror of worldly peers is needed here . Ive seen a more worldly China as the Olympic torch runs ive seen a sad china hidden by its walls as Tibet en’s torch themselves and Zimbabweans unwillingly see the same happen to their kin folk, a ship of shame of saying is sailing if you ask me the captains Tabo. ive seens England’s divide and conquer divide and wound to bring racism a new air in the US one they are trying to clean after centuries of air freshener ideals to mask the air ive seen it change and free its captives and heal wound some with salt some with gentle antiseptic, wounds heal its the scares that either disappear or run deep i think england is ready to use antiseptic and not salt on Zimbabwe lessons have been learnt scares made. ive seen people die from floods cause of failed leadership ive seen people die and as a young human i feel i have seen too much to not want to shield the younger generation from ever experiencing that why cant todays leaders do the same. Change how we treat humanity save Zimbabwe, Tibet, My mar, Congo, and all the frightened worlds countries don’t let hooligans run this century AND MAKE A MOCK OF US ALL

The internet allows people in detached regions to get their voice heard by a larger audience. All it takes is a pentium III running Linux to get a webserver up, and with that a person could easily launch a blog platform like wordpress.

It is like the old saying, the pen is mightier than the sword. New technologies are like the first effects of the original printing press in terms of media distribution. It is a wave of new ideas and information about regional issues from around the world.