The Sunday Mail
It’s not a secret that quite a number of Politburo members in Zanu-PF have up to now not mastered how to use a basic computer with jokes flying around that some can’t even move a computer mouse properly. Others still wonder what Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are all about. But before pointing fingers at the Politburo members, it’s important to state here that the resistance to new technology and these digital platforms is not confined to these top politicians but is widespread even in newsrooms.
The country’s courts are now seized with the intriguing case of trying to unravel the Baba Jukwa mystery and so this matter is better left in the capable hands of our competent judiciary.
However, while the courts are grappling with the matter, it is clear that the New Media in general and the social media in particular have finally “arrived” to transform the political, social and economic landscape in Zimbabwe.
The floodgates of unprocessed communication have been opened through the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Viber, LinkedIn and the short message service (SMS) among many of the ever-changing media platforms that have shrunk the world.
As the judiciary gets down to work, Zanu-PF is faced with pertinent questions that are demanding immediate answers. Is the revolutionary party ready for the New Media?
Is this party that was formed way back in 1963 – during the typewriter days, ready for the revolution in Information Technology? Put simply – is Zanu-PF ready for the social media?
It’s not a secret that quite a number of Politburo members in Zanu-PF have up to now not mastered how to use a basic computer with jokes flying around that some can’t even move a computer mouse properly.
Others still wonder what Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are all about. But before pointing fingers at the Politburo members, it’s important to state here that the resistance to new technology and these digital platforms is not confined to these top politicians but is widespread even in newsrooms. There are some professional and veteran journalists who have been overtaken by advancements in technology such that they have surrendered social media responsibilities to junior scribes who are fresh from college.
On the other hand, several companies, including media houses, are still vexed how they can effectively incorporate the new media into their systems.
For the traditional media in Zimbabwe (radio, television and newspapers) proper mechanisms to co-exist with the social media are still being experimented with time fast running out.
So we have luddites, not only in Zanu-PF but all over the country. A luddite, according to the Wikipedia, is a word derived from the 19th century English textile artisans who protested against newly developed labour-saving machinery from 1811 to 1817.
Over time, the word luddite has been used to describe those people opposed to, or slow to adopt or incorporate into their lifestyle, industrialisation, automation, computerisation or new technologies in general. Others prefer to use the term “Neo-Luddism” in reference to those opposed to technological progress for cultural or moral reasons.
It’s common these days to hear parents boasting that “I couldn’t do this or that on my phone or IPad but my son/daughter later helped me.”
They want to sound like parents who are proud of their children’s ability to use new technology but in actual fact all they are doing is hide their inability to adapt to new technology.
Indeed, the new media is upon us and there is no doubt that it’s going to be a game changer in many spheres of our lives. As for the ruling party, Zanu-PF, there is no choice but to embrace this new phenomenon or die. And the big question is – is Zanu-PF doing enough to adapt to the new media?
Among the “23 goals of the people that inform Zanu-PF policies” listed in its manifesto for the July 31 2013 elections, the party boldly states:
“The critical importance of fostering a patriotic youth as a national aspiration of the people is dramatised by the fact that – according to the 2012 population census – youths aged between 18 and 35 years and who are thus eligible to vote number up to 4,8 million. This represents 37 percent of the total population of 13 million and 61 percent of the 7,9 million Zimbabweans who are eligible to vote…”
The party went on to describe the youths as the “engine room within which future leaders” are groomed adding that the youths fall in the “age bracket which is preoccupied with finding its role and station in life”. Further the party noted that these new voters fell in the “age group that is most vulnerable to external political, cultural and information manipulation.”
From the above, it is encouraging to note that Zanu-PF acknowledges the importance of fostering patriotic youths but among the threats to achieving the goals of the people listed by the party in its manifesto, the social media is not mentioned.
Maybe this was done for strategic reasons but clearly, the social media posses a great threat to the fostering of patriotic youths because these platforms are enabling youths to access raw information easily and at no cost in some instances due to citizen journalism. The party rightly noted that the youths are vulnerable to external manipulation and, all this is going to be done mainly through the social media which the Government has little control over.
While the focus on Information Communication Technology in the Zanu-PF manifesto focused mainly on expanding accessibility and utilisation to improve service delivery and accelerate economic growth, the issue is tackled extensively in the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim Asset) under the Infrastructure and Utilities Cluster.
Under Information Communication Technology, the Government said it will focus on ICT governance whose sector outputs include revising ICT policy, developing an ICT bill and coming up with an Internet policy. The Government also said it will look into the ICT backbone and infrastructure whose sector outcomes include capacitating companies such as TelOne, NetOne and PowerTel and engaging the private sector leading to the creation of an ICT hub.
The Government further said it will roll out its E-Government plan and embark on extensive ICT research and development.
Clearly, Zanu-PF has an ICT policy in place that is supposed to be implemented by Government under Zim Asset, but developments on the ground are not very encouraging. It seems Zanu-PF has no proper structures and a passionate team dedicated to social media.
This, to an extent, can be attributed to the fact that Zanu-PF did not explicitly outline its social media thrust in the manifesto.
A quick check shows that Zanu-PF has an official twitter account – @Zanu-PF _Officials – which the last time it was active had 52 tweets, following 21 people with 1 528 followers. Worryingly, there are many fake Zanu-PF twitter accounts with one of the popular fake accounts – @Zanu_PF attracting 23 700 followers.
What this means unfortunately is that the official Zanu-PF account, due to inactivity, has been rendered ineffective while the fake accounts have become the source of distorted Zanu-PF information.
A further illustration that Zanu-PF seems not to be taking the social media seriously is its Facebook account which was started on July 5 2013 with 132 likes.
And hear this – this account was last updated on July 9 2013 when the party posted pictures of the popular “Bhora Mugedhi” following the launch of the manifesto. Just like on twitter, there are also several fake Zanu-PF Facebook accounts that churn out information that is against the ideology of the party.
As if this is not embarrassing and bad enough, the Zanu-PF website was last updated ages ago and still has the story “AU raps EU over Zim snub” as its lead story.
This is an old story from last year and surely if updating a website has become such a tall order, then we can’t even start talking about Twitter and Facebook.
It’s clear that Zanu-PF is treating the social media as platforms that are only activated during election time but this is suicidal in a country where according to POTRAZ, mobile penetration in 2012 was 85 percent and increased to 97 percent last year. POTRAZ also says in 2012, there were about 2,2 million Internet subscribers and the number has now increased to about 5 million.
While Zanu-PF is grappling with the new media, other politicians in Africa have taken the lead in utilising what now many are calling the Twittersphere. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan used the social media in 2011 to launch his presidential campaign while Rwandan leader Paul Kagame showed the potential of the social media through his tweets.
In May 2011, he took offence to remarks by British journalist Ian Birrell who had described him as “despotic and deluded” and for about an hour President Kagame responded with a series of tweets. Some say this was probably the first time that a head of state had directly engaged a journalist on Twitter.
In South Africa, the ANC is using the social media effectively after discovering that the opposition Democratic Alliance had taken the lead in deploying the social media in its political campaigns.
In Zimbabwe, Zanu-PF is fortunate that the opposition MDC has no clue on how to effectively use the social media but this naivety will not go on forever and the sooner the ruling party realises this, the better.
Efforts can be made to regulate the social media, but this won’t arrest the information avalanche. The courts will solve the Baba Jukwa puzzle, but the social media is not going anywhere.
Zanu-PF has to find ways of controlling the content and discussions on the social media. This can be done through populating these platforms and engaging trusted people who have a passion in using the new media.
The new media is going to be the battle front in 2018 – any political party that masters the art of using the social media effectively has brighter chances of winning the next elections.