How Activists in Zimbabwe are Embracing Social Media to Influence Democracy

This year the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the United States of America turns seven years and the popularity of the movement escalated due to police-related death of Gorge Floyd. What is striking about the #BlackLivesMatter movement is how other movements have tapped into its energy. One such example is the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter movement formed as a creative way to demonstrate after soldiers were deployed into the street to stop peaceful demonstrations that had been planned for July 31. The movement expressed frustration on the heavy-handedness of the security forces in containing the demonstrations. Through #ZimbabweanLivesMatter, people communicated to the world about how they are fed up with the deteriorating standard of living, shrinking democratic space, corruption and police brutality.

A survey by Pew Research Centre in 2018, on the effectiveness’ of digital activism, showed that 69% Americans felt that social platforms were important in promoting political engagement while 67% of the respondents believe that digital activism helps in creating sustained movements for social change. It is also important to note that social media platforms enable underrepresented groups to vocalise their views or to get involved with issues that are important in their lives. Social media may also help in influencing policy decisions, for example, the Draxgate scandal exposed by newZWire – an online newspaper, set social media platforms ablaze with citizens denouncing corruption and demanding that the Minister of Health resign due to incompetence and corruption within his ministry.

The campaign saw the minister being fired but Zimbabweans are still demanding that the government accounts for all funds that were donated towards the fight against Covid-19.

Through blogging, activism is enhanced. Dr Alex Magaisa writing in his weekly blog the Big Saturday Read (BSR) published an article titled “Beneficiaries of the RBZ Farm mechanisation Scheme,” exposing the egregious levels of systematic corruption in Zimbabwe. The article provoked Dr Gono, a former RBZ governor who had supervised the scheme to clarify on what he knows about the scheme. Another example of how digital activism can influence change is the example of Mukasiri Sibanda a socio-economic justice activist on mineral resources, transparency and accountability. Mukasiri uses social media as a tool to strengthen advocacy and lobbying in one lobbying expedition he pushed the ZCDC to release its audited financial statements the organisation had last released in 2013.

In countries where tyranny exists, digital activism may help people to release anger and engage the powerful without paying the huge price of torture, forced disappearance or incarceration. When combined with the use of protection of identity digital activism can create safe spaces where people can discuss issues.

Stella Nyanzi, an activist from Uganda disputes the notion that digital activism does not influence change as she once said “social media is very elitist but by using it I know we are excluding the majority of the population. But it scares the powerful.” This statement helps explain why the Lesotho government through the internet broadcasting rules is proposing to control the internet and free access to social media by deeming anyone with more than 100 followers a broadcaster. Analysts also questions the sincerity of the Zimbabwe Cybersecurity and Data Protection Bill in promoting freedom on social media as it is difficult to distinguish a balance between security concerns and digital rights as enshrined in the bill. The patriotism bill though not crafted is more likely to affect how people interact on social media.

The #ZimbabweanLivesMatter movement changed the narrative on the quiet diplomacy and non-interference policy on the part of South Africa and the African Union on the crisis in Zimbabwe, the ANC delegation that visited Zimbabwe stood firm in declaring that there was a crisis in the country and concluded that the crisis needs to be resolved. Activism is not only about getting into the street but everyone can be an activist in their own spaces for example news anchors such as Peter Ndoro of and Sophie Mokoena of SABC continues to cover the Zimbabwe crisis so that the international community may know what is happening in Zimbabwe.

The landscape is evolving and social media is becoming an effective tool to reinvigorate advocacy and lobbying. Activists must tap into social media tools the same way governments and politicians are using these platforms to announce policy and engage their followers. Social media is the next frontier where battling for control of information dissemination will be fought and people who are going to invest strategically will influence change.

Source: People’s Opinion

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