The Social Media Threat: Myth or Revolution

Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front

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Zimbabwe 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 defence, 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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