The Social Media Threat: Myth or Revolution


By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Flickr_Andrew_XIZimbabwe has a poor record for press freedom and transparency.  The suppression of the private press by the former ruling party is well chronicled, yet freedom of expression is so fundamental to the constitution. Somehow the more open and technologically advanced media, such as the internet, or more specifically social media, has evaded the thinking of crinkly, party political, old salts (or the ‘chefs’ as we know them) who seem to call the shots.  That is, until now.

If the former ruling party had its way, social media subscription and usage would be purged.  It is a case of ‘if it’s not for the party, it is forbidden’. The people would not be able to express themselves, as the constitution allows, freely and without fear or prejudice.   This would be a grand strike against mythical neo-colonialism and century old imperialism, which still pump up the political vocabulary! The people should, of course, be free to uphold their opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.  Well not quite.

You see, there is a little caveat in the constitution which provides for legitimate suppression of this freedom where free speech may interfere with the interests of say defense, public safety, public order, the economic interests of the State, public morality or public health.  That just about covers everything any would be activist might wish to touch upon.  It is a broad enough caveat, with all those old imperialists hiding behind the chivuru (ant hills), for any would-be law-enforcer to stifle the thoughts and expressions of any activist!

Despite this, and at its recently held party congress in Bulawayo, ZANU(PF), which still assumes to be the absolute ruling party and sole legislator, resolved to ‘crack down’ on social media.  For such a ‘crack down’ to happen this would mean the purging of to the entire internet or at very least a few of its activist users, perhaps by mean of incarceration.  People would be prevented from blogging, tweeting or sharing their thoughts on social media platforms.  It certainly seems like the ‘liberation party’ is fearful of democracy being liberated.

Contrary to this archaic, autocratic thinking, the party’s own, more youthful perhaps, science and technology department are proposing the increase usage of social media for canvassing Zimbabwe’s youth.  The party’s existing methods of communication are no longer vogue and in line with modern trends, so they argue.  Clearly the old school and the Young Turks have different ideas and the former are certainly not being courted by anything which smacks of any popular freedoms, especially those of expression.

Zimbabwe’s youth is well educated. They must surely see through such resolute, antiquated thinking coming from the party’s senior citizens.  One wonders, in fact, how this archosauric party manages to pull the wool over the eyes of its apparently sharp party youth.  Surely they must realise how their freedoms have been eroded during past decades, how the economy has declined to their prejudice, not to mention that tiny circle to which party patronage is solely devoted, again to their detriment.  What is in it for these clearly gullible youths?  Take away their social media and the party can kiss goodbye to the social media savvy vote.

Social media in Zimbabwe has exploded.  Government has facilitated this before lamely realising its potential as a weapon of democracy.  The mobile networks are advancing their technology from the simple ‘speak and messaging’ era.  Now, the ‘browse and social network’ epoch, the technology of tomorrow, is being released and utilised from mobile phones.  Per capita usage of mobile phones has reached a staggering 15-20% – (53 per 1000 in 2005) and, as well can be imagined, a huge portion of this is in the hands of the youth.

The septuagenarian leadership is, apparently, ever fearful of a revolution on its doors steps being generated by social media, much like that which happened in North Africa.  One has to question why they should be so troubled, especially when social media generates fodder for intelligence eaves dropping.  It is a valuable resource. By all their accounts, the ‘liberation’ party is so manifestly popular with the people and, given the chance, ‘the’ party would sweep the polls and resume its absolute power and control… so they say and yet still may.

So why would a happy and content, party partisan, population ever consider fomenting violent insurrection on the platform of social media?  Surely that eventuality is as ludicrous as the proposed ‘crack down’, or is there something these awful politicians have to fear; may perchance lose; or are perhaps hiding from their incredibly, so it would seem, loyal subjects?  Are there grounds for people to agitate and revolt and is the undercurrent so thick and strong now that this has our leaders trembling in their boots before the first stones are thrown?

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8 thoughts on “The Social Media Threat: Myth or Revolution

  1. Beware the promise of democracy through the barrel of a smartphone. The apparently ‘techno savvy’ youth are only interested in playing games and having designer clothes, blu-ray players and 42inch flatscreen TVs. If they believe that their respective governments are responsible for the now drying up source of desperate desirables (we have ALL run out of money) – cry havoc and let loose the dogs of World of Warcraft. It is time to riot and sod the consequences! The so called ‘Arab Spring’ will become a Sharia law hell hole in very short order. Removing Totalitarianism with force (revolution) with no viable, corrupt free, form of takeover governance to step into the vacuum – will simply accelerate more of the same, under different guises. For further guidance, a short history of the French Revolution is an excellent reference.

  2. ‘In the meantime we have the same job we always had, to say, as thinking people and as humans, that there are no final solutions, there is no absolute truth, there is no supreme leader, there is no totalitarian solution that says that if you will just give up your freedom of inquiry, if you would just give up, if you will simply abandon your critical faculties, a world of idiotic bliss can be yours. We have to begin by repudiating all such claims – grand rabbis, chief ayatollahs, infallible popes, the peddlers of mutant quasi-political worship, the dear leader, great leader, we have no need of any of this. And looking at them and their record I realise it is they who are the grand imposters.’ (The late Christopher Hitchens.)

  3. Good update and comments, Andrew. More signs of fear and panic from the dictatorship. There is a kernel of hope in your comments – I suspect that if there is to be meaningful and positive change, it will have to come from the youth, who need to realize how the old guard have destroyed the country and their future – and start taking steps to change it.

  4. Try as they might but I somehow do not believe that Mugabe will manage to eliminate the social media completely? One can only imagine that the Arab Spring uprising and the obvious success of the social media there, might have had some influence upon the increasingly fearful ZANU PF hierarchy? They must surely realize and only too well the many similarities that exist in the minds of the oppressed masses of Egypt/Tunisia/Libya/Yemen and their own suffering people? Imagine the sight of a wounded Mugabe being hauled out of a road side drain by a crazy, stick wielding mob, all desperately hungry for revenge….or something along those lines? I would imagine that all such scenes are still fresh in the minds of the oppressed masses of Zimbabwe? No wonder why Mnangagwa would like to get rid of the internet? Such horrific scenes must occasionally haunt them and give them with the occasional nightmare hey?

  5. Andrew, the problem of a takeover by the youth is something that haunts EVERY black government in Africa. The Continent has had a history of violent coups, and so Zimbabwe is not unique in fearing the young Turks. Look what happened in S.A. with one Julius and his hordes of youth (mostly yuppie type, well educated 20-somethings, who scared the crap out of the ANC!) Thankfully for the country, he has had his wings clipped, but the fact that the youth are so gullible and thought him the Messiah is perhaps the biggest danger sign for the future of any form of democracy in this country!

  6. While this article concerned itself with Zimbabwe, it is quite correct that any authoritarian regime will be doing much as it can to suppress the free flow of information and ideas, particularly stifling those contrary to the views of the regime. It is interesting to see today, the death of ‘the great leader’ Kim Sung-Il of North Korea. I do not know much about Korea, but it does strike me that they have managed to achieve the absolute in hero worship of the great leader by 99,9% of a population, a good portion of which is starving and most of which is oppressed. The problem is, the people know no different. The mass communications of a communist state are based on deeply disseminated propaganda which follows the party line. It goes without saying that the internet is not a commonly used application in North Korea and there is no free speech or press. Everything is entirely controlled. Zimbabwe has learned from the Kim Sung-Il experience and realises that maintenance of power by the party is totally dependent upon controlling the minds of the people. We pray and hope that Zimbabwe never comes near that regime of suppression that North Korea has today.

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