Monday, 11 June 2018

Keyboards Drawn, Perceptions Ready: Social Media and Zimbabwe's 2018 Election


By Takura Zhangazha*

As is increasingly the case across the world, social media is now a permanent fixture of Zimbabwe’s political battleground.  And again as is the case in every country that lays claim  to being democratic, its use for political mobilisation proposes escalates during election campaigns.

Given the fact that Zimbabweans shall be voting on Monday 30 July 2018, social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp apart from being sources of information have become purveyors of a great deal more political opinion, innuendo, bias and activism. 

Because of this it is important to think through the current and contextual placement of social media may mean for Zimbabwe’s scheduled elections.

One thing that is almost certain is that there will be no role for global political consultants such as was the now ‘non-existent’ Cambridge Analytica that could allegedly invade what little privacy rights remain on social media and use algorithms to sway voters to a particular side.

But as is now already the case, there are organised groups of social media specialists and party supporters, sympathisers that are actively tweeting, ‘whatsapping’ and ‘facebooking’ for their side.  
And all the main political parties that are in this election appear to be expecting their supporters to harness social media to demonstrate either their popularity or effectiveness of their campaigns.

And its all fair game. For now. Though I anticipate that social media content on the elections and between parties will get more rabid as the Election Day nears and as the results start to be officially announced.

The striking characteristics of the electoral campaign related social media content is that it appears to be serving the primary function of fortifying political positions or functioning almost strictly as ‘echo chambers’ of already held perspectives/views.

At least for those that are online or have some sort of intermittent access to the internet.  This means that the initial primary target of the political social media content is to those that are ‘converted’ by way of which party they support.  So their party, its leaders and supporters must be actively seen to be on social media for the purposes of giving each other confidence and demonstrating the amount of (sometimes contrived) public support that they have.  These campaigns are therefore designed for instilling greater confidence and ‘pride’ for party members and supporters. 

In the second instance, these now confident online party supporters then try and expand their party’s reach to a broader audience. And in most cases this is the urban and Diaspora based Zimbabwean voter who has greater access to the internet and social media.  Here the content is as with the first primary target audience, highly politicised and intended to demonstrate an already existent political strength (through numbers shown by pictures of rally attendances and embellished negative stories of rival political parties.)

In turn the targeted voter also accepts, likes, receives, shares information that suits their preferences.  Especially on the whatsapp platform. Bringing to the fore, again, the fact that electoral content on social media for the 2018 election is mainly about confirming, strengthening already established preferences.  This is largely because of the highly personalised, materialist and loyalist nature of our country’s electoral-political culture. 

The middle ground of this social media content is hard to find.  It’s largely comprised of election related support organisations that will either urge people to crosscheck their names on the voters roll or put out analysis on the law and other requirements for a free and fair election.  All juxtaposed against what obtains.  Such social media content is largely ‘instrumentalised’ by one political contestant or the other depending on what the issue is. If it is critiquing the current electoral system, it will be used to malign the ruling party.  If it is commending the electoral system it is used to malign the mainstream opposition.

Then there is the personal dimension to political content around the elections that is increasingly coming to the fore.  Prominent activists and celebrities on Zimbabwean Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp have also taken to putting out content that clearly indicates which side their rooting for.  And in some cases there have been some twitter spats between them, again, based on their preferences. One can only hope that these spats stay online and remain no more than political banter.  

Though in most instances it does seem that these will spill over from the online to the physical. 
And where we discuss the relationship between the online world that social media represents with the real world, we also have to be wary about how electoral content may also affect the emotional and psychological state of those that are putting it out or consuming it.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com) 

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Re-Reading Tsvangirai's Bio 'At the Deep End': Reflecting on Legacy, Leadership, Ideology

By Takura Zhangazha*

I recently re-read Zimbabwe’s late former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s biography or memoir, ‘At the Deep End.’  Written in collaboration with the late journalist William Bango, the book is essentially about  Tsvangirai’s reflections on his own life.  Both the personal and more significantly (for me at least)  the political aspects of the same. 

And its purpose was probably to emphasise the political more than the personal.  Either way it tells the life story of a man who conscientiously worked to improve the lives of workers as a unionist and the those of the people of Zimbabwe as a political leader. 

I was re-reading the biography more out of nostalgia of the activist days I first encountered Morgan and also in order to reflect on his immense contribution to the struggle for the democratisation of Zimbabwe.    

This is despite the controversy that has now come to surround the process(es) of selecting his successors in the mainstream opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) political party that he led until his passing on. 

I was more interested in what Morgan in his own book felt he had come to represent in relation to political values and principles.  And what both portended for his leadership legacy.   

Like most people born in the 1950’s, Morgan’s initial political consciousness was based on encounters with nationalist parties and the violence of the colonial settler state.  He however does not make any claims to having been an active member of the then liberation movement at an early age.

His more significant political consciousness stemmed largely from the work he began doing as a trade unionist of the Associated Mine Workers Union at Trojan Nickel mine in Bindura.  And unionism is generally couched in the politics of direct representation of workers (and their interests or else you lose the representative post.)

In the euphoria that was national independence, and through the urging of the new government, that was to see Tsvangirai become a member of the ruling Zanu PF party.  All trade unions were now required to join the new Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) led by Albert Mugabe (brother to then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe). 

In rising up the trade union ranks to become national vice president of the AMWUZ (and subsequently moving to Harare to take up the post) Tsvangirai maintains a specific focus on unionism and does not demonstrate any intention at ascending the ruling Zanu PF’s party leadership ladder.  This is a key point to make because his commitment to labour unionism would define his leadership of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.

In the position of secretary general that he took up in 1988, his primary concern was the welfare of workers.  But events such as that of the demonstrations at the University of Zimbabwe in the following year would escalate his political collision course with the establishment.  In fact he was detained without trial for at least 90 daysweeks after the ZCTU issued a statement in solidarity with the university’s students union.

His clearer ideological leanings emerged when the impact of government neo-liberal economic policy the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) started negatively affecting workers.  Though he does not claim it in his book, the documents that the ZCTU authored at that time such as one referred to as ‘Beyond ESAP’ had clear left leaning ideological nuances. 

The acts of solidarity with striking civil servants and the leadership of the ZCTU to help from and lead the National Constitutional Assembly, did not however cement any leftist ideological leanings.  But they expanded an attempt at a holistic approach to leadership that Tsvangirai would come to use a that at the formation of the labour party backed Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). 

And this meant that Tsvangirai was not an ideologue despite his evident strong belief in the rights of workers.  Hence he abhorred the liberalisation of the economy which led to job losses for many workers and insisted on a form of economic protectionism of local business and industry. 

It also turns out that Tsvangirai was a strong believer in people-centered consultative processes.  Before the formation of the party, and he makes regular reference to this, ZCTU undertook a study to figure out what the people wanted.  One of his colleagues, who gets commendable mention, Timothy Kondo, undertook a nationwide research on issues affecting the people on behalf of ZCTU. 

Combined with a multi-stakeholder approach that led to what was the National Working People’s Convention (NWPC) in early 1999 which tasked labour to form what was then called a ‘working people’s party’.

Tsvangirai then fully embraces ‘social democracy’ but in a manner that I hazard to add is more to the centre than to the left.  This was probably in keeping with what the ‘third way’ politics that was trending politically via the then 'global' leadership of Bill Clinton,, Gerhard Schroeder and Tony Blair at the turn of the century. 

To quote him on this ideological matter, Tsvangirai says, ' Our policies and ideals had been set out at the NWPC and the general policy thrust was for democratic change, in the real sense of the word.  We had said that we were social democrats: we believed in a clearly defined but limited role of the state in governance and in the economy'.   

I am sure that the latter line may have been said with the benefit of hindsight on his part.   And it does sound less genuine than the slightly more radical and protectionist argument against ESAP motivated economic liberalisation.

In this regard it is always useful to keep in mind that Tsvangirai's memoirs were written at a time when he was already in the inclusive government and decidedly less radical for what in my view at that time were expedient reasons.  And assumptions at a globally acceptable statesmanship.

That is where the rub in recalling Tsvangirai's leadership is.   Both as a lesson to those that would seek to lead or be led.  It is always imperative to remain true to the values and principles that brought one to leadership.  Even in the most difficult of circumstances.  Contrasting the genesis of his leadership with the time when he passed on there appears to be a coherent pattern of commitment to the working people of Zimbabwe.  Even if mistakes were made, Tsvangirai could never shake off his original understanding of politics. That is the people always come first.  No matter that the methods he used were sometimes out rightly populist and borderline messianic. Or that in the age of the inclusive government they became more neo-liberal in approach and intent.    But above all else he was probably a believer in direct representation (unionism) of an affected majority even if he would come to control its immediate outcome or popular meaning. Ideology or no ideology.

What I personally learnt and now observe with the benefit of hindsight is that however ones political fortunes change, it is always important to remember what got you to where you are and remain as organic as possible with that base.  It helps. Despite new pressures, opportunities or very personal preferences.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personality (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)



Friday, 1 June 2018

The Democratic Importance of Zimbabwe Political Party Primary Elections in 2018

“Primary Elections: Strengthening or Undermining Internal Party Democracy?” in Zimbabwe’s 2018 General Election

A presentation to a Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI) Public Meeting
Thursday 31 May 2018

New Ambassador Hotel, Harare, Zimbabwe.

By Takura Zhangazha*

Cde Chairperson,

As always, I am grateful at having been invited to come and share some of my thoughts on the official topic of this public discussion today concerning what is now a certain general (harmonised) election on 30 July 2018 in Zimbabwe.

The issue that I had been advised to share thoughts on, “Primary Elections for 2018: Strengthening or Undermining Internal Party Democracy may initially appear to have been overtaken by recent events such as the signing into law of the Electoral Amendment Act as well as the proclamation of three key electoral dates namely the holding the election itself on 30 July 2018 preceded by nomination court on 14 June 2018 and just in case presidential candidates final to garner the 50%+1 vote count, a presidential run-off vote scheduled for Saturday 8 September 2018. 

To begin by stating the obvious, for what would be considered the biggest prizes (presidential office and parliamentary majorities) of electoral contestations since national independence, the political party is key. 

This latter and initial point of my brief discussion may sound abstract but is, in my view, a fairly pragmatic assessment of our political realities. 

Even the title of the topic under discussion suggests I am correct in my assertion. 

If we are to discuss, as advised by MPOI, the ‘(political party) primary elections of 2018; strengthening or undermining internal party democracy’ we, as would contemporary Christian theologists and their understanding of the religious functionality of the ‘family’as the primary unit of society,  look for a primary organizational unit that underlies our understanding of what would be national politics.

In post independent Zimbabwe’s case the primary unit for political mobilization in pursuit of political power has historically been the political party.  This unit, in its ability to organize and mobilise the proverbial ‘masses’ to a specific cause has remained supreme over and above all other political considerations.  In the case of the ruling party Zanu Pf, this understanding of the pre-eminence of the organization (party) led to the ouster of its long standing leader, Robert Mugabe, undemocratic as it may have been (in the final analysis the party ‘triumphed’). 

The same with the largest opposition party the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC in its perpetually varying formations) the passing away of its again longstanding leader, Morgan Tsvangirai has left remaining leaders with a claim to internal party legitimacy fighting over control of, you guessed it, the party or what remains of it. 

So the question of ‘internal primary elections’ and their meaning for democracy in Zimbabwe’s context, can only be answered from the perspective of understanding the supremacy of the party as the foundational unit of political activism/action and belonging in our body politic. 

And it is important to also point out that internal party processes have a direct bearing on national political culture and actions. That is to say, the more democratic a ruling or main opposition party is internally, the more likely the nation state or country will be also democratically governed.  
This is because democratic internal party party processes such as primary elections allow a culture of transparency, democracy and direct leadership accountability.  It also allows ordinary members of the party leadership eligibility and as a result thereof performance assessment in relation to principles and objectives of the party.  

This is currently not happening in the ruling or opposition parties that straddle our national political landscape.  And I will come to an assessment of each shortly.  . 

Where we are faced with a general election the key questions that emerge are whether this primary political organization is up to the task of seeking and acquiring electoral victory.  Because the topic at hand is time specific vis-a-vis the 2018 elections, it is important to outline the reality that the internal status of the party is a key determinant to its prospects for electoral victory.

I will begin with the ruling party Zanu Pf.  Following its coup-not-a-coup internal party transition of removing Mugabe from power, it appears to have re-coagulated around its intention to retain state power via a re-legitimisation process that would be the 2018 general election.  It has however faced internal challenges over retaining those that had previously stood with its former leader and those that embraced (and stuck their necks out) for what it now refers to as the new dispensation. 

It has attempted to balance both for expedient electoral reasons.  Hence its primary elections were a hotchpotch of accusations and counter accusations of local leaders having never supported the ‘new dispensation’ and therefore undeserving of elected positions in the 2018 elections.  What is has however done is sought to reinvent itself in intra party democratic tradition.  It has allowed its members to contest in its primary elections on what would on the face of it be regarded as a ‘fair’ electoral field. Even if you were alleged to be part of the now infamous ‘G-40’ that sought to retain Mugabe you were allowed to contests as a candidate (so long you were not part of the direct ‘criminals’ around the former leader).  And some of these alleged candidates won resoundingly in the ruling party’s primary elections. Others who were at the front of ‘Operation Restore Legacy’ of November 2017 had to be restored to internal party primary election ‘victories’. 

The fact that there have been various meetings including one ironically dubbed a ‘reconciliation meeting’ between winning and losing candidates points to the fact that these primary elections in Zanu Pf still have untold stories about their effect on its actual electoral performance come polling day.  But as Zanu Pf leader Mnangagwa has publicly stated, they have a strong expectation of victory despite the challenges they have faced in their own internal party leadership transition.  The primary elections in the ruling party are therefore assumed as a routine process.  Not only by way of its own internal undemocratic tradition but also by way of seeking a new intra-party legitimacy for its controversial ‘new’ leadership.

Where we consider the opposition MDC-T and its loosely put together MDC Alliance, the differences far outweigh assumed similarities.  The former relate to the fact that the opposition has still not only not completed primary elections but more significantly is still squabbling over sharing pre-election spoils with its ‘alliance’ partners.  Assuming that these pre-election spoils survive to become post-election ones, again there are challenges as to whose candidates in the alliance won and who gets to control them. 

Where the (united) MDC-T had chosen to go it alone, their primary elections would have been simpler and pointed to an internal democratic processes.  But because of the ‘sharing’ of safe seats in the context of the alliance and a transposed ‘consensus’ candidate selection system in the MDC-T, the intra party process has served more to divide than unite their party(ies).Alliance or no alliance.  This means that the primary elections in the opposition, whatever format they have taken and will take, are no longer supportive mechanisms to an electoral victory. At least not via the party(ies).

Cde Chairperson,
Because the topic is so broad I cannot capture all of the key points I wanted to raise, I will restrict my remaining time to only two key further points.

The first being that the 2018 elections, in so far as it concerns the ruling party is a foreign policy election.  Their newfound attempts at 'internal democracy' via their recent their primary elections are not just for their party but also to try and show face with the broader world that they are a changed party after Mugabe's rule. 

It is more of a public relations exercise but they do not intend to lose the general election in its presidential, parliamentary or local government aspects.  In their assumptions of electoral victory they intend to re-establish themselves as a ruling establishment in the neo-liberal mould of the 1990s.  This is when the seeds of free market capitalism or the  ‘ease of doing business’ was key to linking up those in political power and those with capital to combine to create an assumedly unassailable power pact of a rent seeking elite ruling class.  

All in keeping with what global capital (east or west is rapaciously seeking across our African continent, especially South of the Sahara).

The second key point that is necessary to make is that the mainstream opposition as led by the MDC-T in failing to demonstrate a different intra-party political trajectory/culture from the ruling Zanu Pf party is falling into a tragic trap of mimicking that which it may not be able to dislodge from political power.  The ‘consensus’ candidate lists of the alliance and the divisions that they have caused in the larger MDC-T together with a consistent lack of intra-party political and financial accountability has left all opposition forces politically hamstrung.  Regrettably this has meant that they have generally followed Zanu Pf lead in how to either dissipate their internal disputes by trying, vaingloriously, to resolve them by laying claim to either ‘chine vene vacho (the party has owners)’ or ‘generational consensus’. 

The third and final point I am concluding by Cde Chairperson is almost a reiteration of the point I made at the beginning of our discussion.  The political party, in Zimbabwe’s context is the basic unit of political mobilization/organization for elections in relation to the topic.  But more significantly, the political party is a purveyor of political values and practices. Where a party is internally undemocratic and either in power or close to power, its tendencies negatively affect national political culture and practice. Where the opposite is true, that means internal party democratic practice means a democratic national political culture.   Not only in the heated moment of primary elections but for posterity.  At the moment neither of the two main political parties vying for state power have demonstrated that they are thinking beyond their historical liberation war legacies, celebrity statuses, age or a globally failing consumerist/neo-liberal/free market culture. 
Thank you cdes. 

#Takura Zhangazha spoke here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)


Monday, 28 May 2018

ZEC's Data Driven Electoral Relationship with Zim Mobile Phone Companies

*By Takura Zhangazha

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) is officially concluding its initial voters' roll inspection process on Tuesday 29 May 2018.  To its credit it did so with a decent amount of advertising on state television,  radio and mainstream print media.  In a first, it collaborated with the three major mobile phone companies (MPCs) Econet Wireless Zimbabwe , Netone and Telecel (the 3 sisters) to establish a Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) platform for those that registered and gave their actual mobile numbers and physical addresses to ZEC to confirm that their names were on the new voter’s roll.   

What made this new methodology employed by ZEC and the MPCs  was that there was probably a service provider -to- customer relationship between them.  And therefore an exchange of money. Probably from ZEC to the three (3) companies.  This transaction was probably more effective with Econet because it’s the largest mobile phone service provider in the country. Both by way of numbers of its subscribers but also its countrywide reach and services. 

Beyond this what was also transacted between ZEC and the MPCs was basic but mass data.  The MPCs know your number (if you are on its network).  ZEC also knows your current address or at least where you will most physically definitely vote from (and has a record of you fingerprints). The protection of that personal data is the preserve of all of the above.  Almost in similar fashion to how you use mobile banking, a combination of your bank collaborating with mobile phone companies to link your bank account with your phone.  With the promissory note of protecting the privacy of transactions that you undertake.

The only key difference is that ZEC is not a bank. Nor were you asked to fill in a form to allow the MPCs to be given even minimal and 'bank-like' secure access to your data.

But for many urban voters in Zimbabwe issues or explanations of how data is protected or even utilised by ZEC and other players does not surpass the evident convenience of checking their names on the voters' roll via their mobile phones while seated on their couches. This is despite that some who had the energy to go and cross check their names physically found that there were still one or two details such as spelling of names that still had to be corrected. 

Perhaps the most interesting issue is how ZEC came to the decision to work with mobile phone companies in the voter’s roll inspection exercise.  And what sort of tenders are being issued and the nature of contractual arrangements (payments) that are being made.

To take it further, there is also the issue of a broader debate about what license ZEC has with the bio-metric data it has collected.  Even if it has not illegally shared it with unknown or known third parties. Before and particularly after the general election (we do not really know for now).

This is also in light of developments in the global north where the European Union has enacted a new law that seeks to prioritise the protection of privacy via major holders of personal data of its individual citizens.  Called the ‘General Data Protection Regulation’ or GDPR it seeks to strengthen the right of individuals to privacy through for example shortening explanations of data protection policies of organisations that hold it as well as imposing heavier fines for breaches of the same. And also to ensure that there is a simpler and more understandable consent process for the use personal data by companies/organisations.

We do not have such a law in Zimbabwe except for the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) as well as a draft bill on data protection. This is probably because there is no outcry about how privacy is protected via companies (banks, mobile phone service providers and state institutions) with access to our private data. Or also because too many questions over and about data and its use in the country may affect the profit margins of the same companies or their ability to know every other detail of our lives not only for advertising revenue but also political predictability/control. Even though for now we are not aware of its capacity to use algorithms to affect political perceptions and thereby actions or results.  

The convenience provided by some of the service providers that we give our personal data to is also a big factor here.  Not just because we want to be more modern and sophisticated (especially if we are in urban areas) but also because in and of itself the technology that enables the synchronisation of (mass personal) data is like a new toy we are not sure what to do with.  And we tend to learn after it injures us.

Just to be clear, there would be nothing wrong with ZEC being more accountable with how it intends to use as well as protect the decent amount of data it has on Zimbabwean voters.  And where it chooses to work in tandem with private telecommunications players based on the same data, to not only be publicly accountable for such processes but also seek our consent for the same. Even if the main argument might be ‘convenience’ it does not surpass our right to the privacy of personal data. Or what ZEC or those it decides to collaborate with decide to do with it. Even after the 2018 election. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Friday, 18 May 2018

Political Activism and Zimbabwe's 2018 Harmonised elections


A Presentation to the University of Zimbabwe, Election Resource Centre Symposium on the 2018 Harmonised Election. 
Friday 18 May 2018
  

By Takura Zhangazha*


Cde Chairman,

Let me begin by thanking you, the Faculty of Arts here at the University of Zimbabwe and the Election Resource Centre for inviting me to share my views at this important symposium on the country’s 2018 harmonised general election.  And to be particular to share my perspectives on ‘Political Activism and the Harmonised Elections’ as advised by the organisers.

On the face of it, this is a fairly straightforward topic.  Mainly because wherever there is an election, obviously all the political activists come into full bloom.  Even those that you would have thought were more preoccupied with religion or sport than all things electoral or political.

The more ambitious activists become candidates or campaign managers of others. 

This is the lighter side of political activism around elections.  And on the assumption that it is done in a democratic context.  But I will return to this point toward of this brief presentation.

The reason why this topic is important is because of the dark history of political activism and elections since national independence and as informed by the culture of violence that stemmed in part from, the liberation struggle. 

Since 1980 the dominance and power of he ruling party has set the tone around what it means to be a political activist or an activist for a political party in pursuit of political power.  Intentions at dominance led to ruling Zanu Pf party leaders carrying over the culture of violence that informed the liberation struggle into its own civilian structures, particularly in the rural areas.  Hence where there were differences with the then main opposition PF Zapu, there were regular incidences of violence meted out against opposition activists trying to hold meetings especially in what were considered ruling party strongholds in the early 1980s.  This violence was to escalate with the historical tragedy that was to become Gukurahundi in the same decade where at least 20000 civilian lives were lost in the Southern parts of the country.  

Even after the unity accord between the two main liberation movements in 1987, an intrinsic culture of violence in political activism did not peter out. It continued with ruling party activists continuously harassing the new Zimbabwe Unity Movement opposition activists in 1990.  And the same became more evident in 2000 onwards with extreme levels of violence being meted out on the Movement for Democratic Change activists. 

Historically therefore, the dominant form of political activism has largely been one characterised by resort to violence against those that are not in support of the ruling party.  Ideas rarely mattered.  Defence of personalities and the ‘party’ did.

In recent times an interesting dynamic has occurred.  The victim has also learnt how to become a perpetrator.  Opposition activists, so long bearing the brunt of ruling party violence (with state assistance) have taken on similar characteristics of not only violence but more significantly protecting the party and its leading personalities.  Again, the activism is less and less about ideas but power, even if only internal party power, and protecting it.  Hence the perpetual splits and violence against former party members in the main opposition MDC party.

Where we consider this year’s general election and the political activism that we are witnessing around this, we must not lose sight of these historical considerations.  While the events of November 2017 have been touted as a new dispensation by the ruling party, the proximity of the general election makes it diffiuclt to tell if indeed the latter has changed its approach to political mobilisation. 

The current political activism that we are witnessing largely through primary elections and rallies has been admittedly less violent.  this is a tone, as in the past, that is being set by the ruling party and its leadership.  The reasons for this new approach is as they have stated, to give the elections an irrefutable legitimacy in they yes of the international community.  And after the departure of Mugabe, they had had a lot of goodwill from the diplomatic community which they do not intend to squander in the short period before the election.

So the activism this time around will be much less violent with such incidences being the exception rather than the rule.  

But I must make a specific point about this state of affairs based on what we witnessed in 2008.  The relatively peaceful political activism of the moment and on the part of the ruling party is predicated on an assumption that it will still be able to win the election.  Where it fails to win the 50%+1 presidential vote count required for victory, it may change its spots in a run-off.

There are is one other key aspect concerning contemporary political activism that I will allude to before concluding.   This is the startling fact of how in the now a lot of political activists (never mind their ages) are motivated by materialism.  And its not just the t-shirt, cap or bag of rice that they are given in return for political support but I am referring here to bigger materialist motivations.  More and more campaigners, ‘kingmakers’ are thinking beyond the t-shirt and more at tangible economic opportunities that proximity and ascendancy in a political party can bring.  And some of these material benefits can be in the form  of residential stands, tenders, access to credit and protection of business interests (including for those in the informal sector). 

In conclusion cde Chairman, the political activism of the 2018 harmonised elections is largely going to be peaceful as informed by the approach and attitude of the ruling party.  The opposition will tend to mimic this except in incidences of frustration or where they become victims and resort to retaliation.  It is an activism that will not be driven by a pursuit of ideas but a motivation to protect the party and its leading personalities.  All in return for sometimes crass but general material reward.
*Takura Zhangazha spoke here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com) 

Monday, 14 May 2018

Zim 2018 Election: Trading Democracy for Neoliberal Foreign Policy


 By Takura Zhangazha*

President Mnangagwa’s spokesperson and permanent secretary in the Ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services, George Charamba's  recent statement on the scheduled 2018 harmonized elections should have quite literally stopped the press.  Or at least had one or two an activist apoplectic about the pre-empting of what would/should be a democratic process.  

At a conference organized by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC)  and other media  stakeholders, he is reported to have said that these elections are about international re-engagement and (international) legitimacy of the Zimbabwean government and the country. 

To quote him at the length,

“This election is about restoring international re-engagement and legitimacy; that is where we are. It must be flawless, it must be transparent, it must be free, it must be fair, it must meet international standards, it must be violence free and therefore it must be universally endorsed because it is an instrument of foreign policy...it’s about re-engagement and legitimacy; we are playing politics at a higher level.”

This was a statement said with a great amount of confidence.  Not only on the basis of its assumed irrefutable political logic but also its evident link with the expected political fortunes of Mnangagwa’s short tenure government.

Read in another way and looking for nuance, Charamba’s statement is a declaration of intent on behalf of the ruling establishment/party.  And its most obvious intention is to win this election.  Not in aide of true democracy.  But instead only in order to further its re-engagement with global powers and capital while at the same time shedding off any international concerns about its ‘electoral’ legitimacy beyond accusations of coup-de-tats.

So for the ruling establishment this election is a mere formality to what it considers a consolidation of its intended long duree hold on political power. All the while currying favour with global capital and giving pretense to concerns of a liberal international political gallery. 

Everything else therefore around the 2018 election is not necessarily driven by any deep notions of commitment to democratic practice let alone values.  At least not by those with incumbency. 

So as they say, this election will appear to be the most normal, the most peaceful, most observed or monitored and even most reported in decades.  The end effect however is pretty much choreographed and elitist. 

Choreographed in the sense that it is almost the equivalent of a political rite of passage for those that would have been accused of undemocratically/forcibly removing a president from power.  They therefore need this election, not as a rite of passage fraught with the risk of an electoral loss, but more with a guarantee of a legitimacy that may be more for the outside world than it is for the country’s own citizens. 

This may not matter as  much as most elections on the African continent have to pass the test of global capital in collaboration with global superpowers (if you can tell the difference between the two). 

What makes Zimbabwe’s case unique is that the collusion between the incumbents, global capital/superpowers may be enough to ensure the election passes the legitimacy test and enhances the re-engagement (neoliberal) agenda. 

And I do not think that Charamba’s statement demonstrates any fear of the mainstream political opposition, let alone an unexpected ‘cliffhanger’ political situation in which his party loses the election.  The opposition, divided as it is, fits snugly into the broader scheme of things.  The ruling establishment needs an opposition for it to pass the test.  If the MDC-T was not there on its own, they would, for the purposes of 2018, have invented it. 

But there is an opposition which appears to have greater freedom to campaign than it had under Mugabe.  The only regret is that the opposition may be too preoccupied with itself to miss the full import of Charamba’s statement.   And in any case, the whispers in the corridors of opposition political power is that the 2018 election is a dress rehearsal for 2023.  So a greater majority of opposition leaders don’t expect to win this year.  They however want to either be in parliament or be considered strong enough to have the ear of a ‘victorious’ establishment  and hopefully be around to be presidential candidates in 2023.

So what Charamba calls ‘high stakes’ is not so sophisticated.  Its basically a new cohesion of the ruling party leaders, private capital and religious leaders in order to consolidate a new hold on power with an intention at permanence in it.  The main opposition players, mostly by default, but others a little more deliberately, are bit part players in this (with due recognition and material reward to be realized at a later stage). 

You may ask, does any of this really matter to the people?  A well-considered response would be yes it does and where there is any doubt, yes it should. What we are witnessing is a coagulation of two types of elites.  The political and the economic. The former being those at the head of Zanu Pf (with a sprinkling of opposition individuals/leaders) and the latter being global and local private capital(ists).  They are all united in one thing, their (long term) right to dine exclusively at the high table of the free market.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)




Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Africa and the Internet as Religion

 By Takura Zhangazha*

The internet’s relationship with Africa is always going to have moments of colonial throwbacks. Mainly because it is not just a technological construct that emerged from thin air.  It is a representation of technology that comes with the historical, social and contemporary baggage of racism, sexism, discrimination and even manipulation of human behaviour. 

This is an issue I was reminded of while listening to presentations/talks from experts on the internet, algorithms and privacy a the recently held re:publica 2018  three day meet up in Berlin, Germany. 

These discussions/interactions were very much aware of the fact that the internet has done more good than harm (social media, engineering, communications, augmented/ virtual reality, internet of things and artificial intelligence).  The point however was to elaborate on what is least discussed about it. 

As an African who had been invited to be on a panel about blogging in Africa via the website AfricaBlogging, I was always going to be keen to see, hear and understand the continent’s placement and interaction with the internet and its offshoots. 

What emerged (for me at least) was the very harsh reality that in Africa we don’t take a critical let alone objective appreciation of the internet.  At least in relation to how it impacts our rights (both positively and negatively, for instance, juxtaposing the right to free expression and the right to privacy). Or how we may/don't consider immediate comparative analysis of how the internet may be used to manipulate our own perceptions of political, social and economic events using algorithms based on its major currency, big data.  

So Cambridge Analytica may not be that much of an issue on this side of the world.  Yet it should be.
This also includes considerations on what exactly are the internet and social media  global monopolies such as Google and Facebook really up to on the increasingly connected continent. A participant in one of the sessions made an all too familiar assertion that ‘in Africa the internet is Facebook and Facebook is the internet.’ This assertion is based on the given fact that the application has around 177 million subscribers. And is also offering what is referred to as ‘free basics’ to an increasing number of countries.

What then becomes important is how Africans derive meaning from the internet and its utilitarian value.  In general, this value has largely related to its social media aspects as they relate to a phenomenal increase in the capacity of us Africans to receive and impart information.  And as it relates to the human rights of freedom of expression, access to information and in part the right to freely associate.  The jury is still out on how the application relates to the human right to privacy.

The catch is that even these universal values may not apply equally over and about the internet across the world. (I dont quite know if any African in Africa has earned the right to be forgotten by the internet.)  

As a result a key question is what do the inventors let alone controllers of the internet intend for it to do/impact on the African continent?  And what would it be similar to?

In my very personal view, the reach of the internet and its mitigated content (algorithm anyone?) is as enlightening as it can be limiting.  It sort of reminds me of varying strands of missionaries bringing the bible, its teachings with both an outline of a new and 'better' lifestyle as well as more significantly, the Livingstonian perspective on the significance of 'commerce'. 

The internet connected (free basics) mobile telephone therefore becomes not only a tool of this profit motivated perspective but also a controlling mechanism of how we as Africans may be able to perceive of the internet.

As abstract as it may seem, we are in the age of the reinvention of the African persona.  Both as global human beings but more tellingly as those that are on the backfoot of this no longer so new technology and its epistemological (knowledge production) implications. Almost as though it is the contemporary version of the colonial 'new frontier'.

As Africans, we have not explored enough of what this all means.  Nor will we be allowed to do so, especially via the same platform(s).  We are viewed as a market for its products as well as potential reinvention.  Mainly as the 'Saidian' 'others' and as consumers of the  internets' massive arsenal of the convenience of communication never before witnessed in global human history.

But it is here to stay.  Algorithms and all.  We are better off, as Africans,  seeking to harness to our contextual interests and ensuring that we produce enough content for its gigantic 'content appetite'. And also understanding how it functions, at the moment on 'big data'.

We should be screaming back at the global north and the monopolies that have the greatest internet influence over it on the basis of our own ability to understand for example coding, algorithms and more significant its contextual utilitarian value.

Where we fail, we will continue to attend society and internet 'get togethers' in similar fashion to those that attended, as Africans, global religious summits, by being considered as those that were on the right path to new knowledge but never close enough to help determine the same's future. Gatherings that had and now have high priests, popes, archbishops and followers of 'the way'.  Hence we return to colonial throwbacks. Online. Resistance may not however be as futile as assumed.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)