By Wisdom Mumera
Social media has been the chief catalyst for increased political discourse and the rise of activism by bringing politics nearer and engagement being done within a ‘safer’ context.
According to Ciara McCorley, Research Fellow, African Development and Democracy, University of Sussex the number of social media users has increased providing an easy to reach source of disgruntled people.
“WhatsApp has been widely used as a tool to mobilise. It accounts for 34% of all mobile data used in Zimbabwe, Facebook reports 260,000 daily users, of 890,000 Zimbabweans online which accounts for 3% of mobile broadband usage in the country. Newsday, an independent news outlet, increased its Twitter network by 10,000 followers in the past month alone”, she says.
2018 elections, however, provide a litmus test for the effective use of social media to influence political discourse and indications on the ground don’t point towards a period of hashtag politicians tweeting jabs on social media fighting for voters as the precedent of activists hinted.
ZANU PF has seemingly ignored the techno-savvy way of soliciting for supporters and rallying them through social media.
Few who have harnessed or found themselves on social media have been primarily using it for internal wars, (Jonathan Moyo, Justice Mayor Wadyajena) or have been hijacked in their unguarded moments (Psychology Maziwisa on jobs, President Mugabe’s infamous sleeping videos on Twitter).
ZANU has been engaging youths through traditional ways, holding rallies and marching in the streets. Youth Interface Rallies have been testaments to the ruling party’s powers to mobilise people sans tech-gimmicks, and a direct middle-finger snubbing of social media capers.
The opposition has also not dived into social media with the zeal of activists but has been guarded having it both ways with a strong emphasis on traditional methods just like ZANU PF.
A select few of its members like MDC-T VP Nelson Chamisa, Tendai Biti leader of PDP on Twitter and Jessie Majome on Facebook have been utilizing social media with any consistency.
The party’s social platforms such on Facebook and Twitter are seldom updated, and then, usually with pictures from rallies already held.
Thus for the politicians, social media is yet to be a core instrument as exhibited by activists from 2016 remaining largely the gadgetry for the adventurous only to be used sparingly.
For online activism government has crafted the Cyber Crime Bill which will increase monitoring.
A July report by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) says 18 African governments requested for information on over a hundred people on Facebook in 2016.
“The leading countries are Sudan which made 35 requests for information on 39 Facebook users between 2013 and 2016 followed by Egypt and South Africa which both made 33 requests.
“It is a similar story for Google which had 10 African countries requesting information about online users”, it said.
Without a legal provision equipping her with power, Zimbabwe is still lagging but the passage of the bill will surely see an increase.
As for the elections, the tools are still mainly the same old ones and the winner may not need to be tweeting his winning speech.