Category Archives: media

Closing Zimbabwe’s Digital Divide

Recently I spent time in Harare Zimbabwe where I had been invited by  TBWA Zimbabwe to speak at the Digital Marketing Conference alongside Zimbabwe’s leading voices in digital marketing and content development cohosted by TECHZiM. One of the highlights for me was participating in a panel discussion on Bottlenecks in Digital Marketing which you can watch here.

Some of the key takeouts from the conference for me are that:

  • Zimbabwe has a wealth of digital minds across all forms of media, from broadcasting to publishing to content creation and so much more.
  • Zimbabwe’s legislators are woefully out of touch with what is happening and this needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
  • Our industrialists, the country’s economic engine, are not yet ready to adopt digital marketing and this was exemplified by their absence.

I was surprised that none of the financial services sector, miners, pharmaceuticals, agri-processors, motor industry, farmers, transport sector amongst others were in attendance. This is not bad news at all as it gives a clear indication of the amount of work those in digital media need to do to educate mainstream industry so we bring them onboard. I say “we” because this is an opportunity for all digital minds to capitalise on.

That said, there are a few long established companies that are leading the digital charge and hopefully through their efforts, others will follow. Most notable amongst these is the state-owned publisher, Zimpapers led by their Chief Technology Officer, Darlick Marandure. Just the fact that Zimpapers has a CTO is cause for pause, I don’t know of any other non-telecoms company that has such a post.

Much talk was made of how to monetise your content and whilst Youtube’s content partnerships lead Teju Ajani was extremely popular, it is the local market for digital content that I believe needs to first be harnessed. If digital content developers cannot sell their product to the local market first they then have the uphill task of competing on the international market against literally millions of competitors.

The first Zimbabwean company to pay well for online content will be the one that really defines Zimbabwe’s digital future. Who that will be one can only guess but the more such conferences that are held, the sooner this day will come. In the meantime, the quality of content coming out of Zimbabwe’s digital space keeps getting better and one can only be impressed by this considering the myriad of challenges developers face that are unique to the country.

An inconvenient Prayer

It is generally agreed that Zimbabwe is a deeply Christian country although I’ve never been convinced of the veracity of this. These days the lines between Christianity and traditional beliefs have become increasingly blurred, just go to a Catholic mass if you don’t believe me. My wife who grew up going to churches that adhere to strict Catholic doctrine was surprised at the unfamiliar songs language and drums at last Easter Sunday mass at Christ The King in Bulawayo.

As the political and economic troubles of the country have continued two places have seen a dramatic rise in patrons, churches and drinking places, though serving diametrically opposed communities both attempt to offer their patrons a chance to forget their problems and a moment of solace. I will not debate who does a better job of it but am reminded of a certain communist and his views on the masses and their opiates of choice.

In recent times I have come to question the religious fervour that has swept up so many Zimbabweans regardless of where they are in the world. This is evident on social networks which allow a window into how we relate as Zimbabweans across the globe, I doubt you can go through five “Twimbo” profiles without seeing some religious reference. An often heard and read refrain when people discuss issues Zimbabwean is “Mwari pindirai”, meaning “God intercede”. When your team loses a game you see it. When a politician says or does what politicians say or do, you hear it. When a taxi/combi driver does what taxi/combi drivers do, you hear it. A banker, lawyer, butcher or priest steals from ordinary people, you hear it. A major corruption ring is exposed, you hear it.

You hear it in just about every situation, sometimes sincerely, sometimes comically. It is the equivalent of “I give up” and I have come to believe that’s exactly how people mean it, especially when it comes to our seemingly never-ending crises. The recent exposés about ridiculous executive pay at parastatals and urban councils has seen “Mwari pindirai” take on even greater prominence in everyday language, both spoken and written. I’ve even read it in reference to the new white pressure group Zimbabweans Against Sanctions who have been met with much suspicion online.

I am tired of hearing this refrain because it is a symptomatic of a new culture of giving up, it is a copout. People abdicate their responsibilities with a well-timed but inconvenient prayer and will insist that “now it is in God’s hands there is nothing else that we can do”. It is symptomatic of a people who increasingly convince themselves that there is nothing they as individuals can do to change their lot. It is tempting to forgive Zimbabweans for being this way after so many years of all kinds of crises, or plagues if you prefer, but I am not about to do that. People continue to utter “Mwari pindirayi” as they go about their daily lives as if waiting for someone from somewhere to come and solve all their ills. This expectation of an unknown saviour has opened a space that has been quickly occupied by charismatic pastors promising any miracle you can think of, as long as you believe, and tithe of course.

A people who defined themselves by their work ethic and go anywhere attitude are now at the heart of Southern Africa’s pastorprenuer culture. Is this really what we want to be about? Are we so intent on ignoring our problems that we will take any way out that presents itself? One day we will wake up from this collective stupor and realising just how much we have given up will collectively call out “Mwari pindirai” only for a voice to answer back “but what did you do for yourself?”.

The Kansas City Shuffle

The Kansas City Shuffle is a confidence trick or con. The perpetrator creates a big enough diversion to distract their intended target so they can can carry out their mission. To pull off  a proper Kansas City Shuffle though, you need a body, a dead body.

Yesterday Zimbabwe watchers were shocked at the televised assassination of (the character of) Miss Lindiwe Zulu by South African Presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj. It was the proverbial accident in slow-motion you just can’t turn your eyes away from.

For those who do not know, Miss Zulu is President Jacob Zuma’s  international relations advisor and representative on the SADC facilitation team mandated to oversee the implementation of the 2008 Global Political Agreement (GPA), the founding document of the current political dispensation in Zimbabwe.

At the signing of the GPA Zimbabwe’s three leading political parties, through their principals, appointed chief negotiators who would represent their party interests in the GPA implementation process with South Africa as the facilitator. When Jacob Zuma became President of South Africa in 2009 he became the SADC facilitator and as is his right, assembled a team to represent him in the facilitation process, enter career diplomat Miss Zulu, already a senior member of the African National Congress, who by all accounts I have read, is well respected and liked.

As was to be expected the facilitation team have been lambasted from time to time by the parties but events and statements of the last two to three weeks escalated beyond expectations. It started with President Mugabe making a thinly veiled and insulting personal reference to Miss Zulu during a campaign speech. It was on a Friday so the weekend papers went into a frenzy over the statements. In an interview on Radio 702 the  following week Miss Zulu brushed the statements aside as a distraction from the work that was being done in Zimbabwe.

Miss Zulu continued to make statements on the situation in Zimbabwe on, we all believed, behalf of the SADC facilitation team and President Zuma. This did not please President Mugabe who on Friday, took aim at her again and in statements attributed to him asked for her to “just shut up” about Zimbabwe as she did not have a mandate to speak on the country. He went on to say only President Zuma could speak on Zimbabwe as far as the facilitation process was concerned.

On Saturday there were reports, to be denied the following day,  that President Zuma had warned President Mugabe to tone down his rhetoric as this could jeopardise SA-Zimbabwe relations in particular and SADC in general. The world went to sleep thinking all was well and balance had been restored to the universe but this was not to be.

On Sunday President Zuma issued a statement through his spokesman Mac Maharaj which effectively backed President Mugabe and apologised for Miss Zulu’s “unfortunate” statements regarding Zimbabwe’s readiness to hold elections. Being a watcher of South African politics I am used to Mac Maharaj coming out swinging as the Presidential hatchet-man but this was a shock and deeply disturbing. President Zuma’s spokesman followed this up with interviews on various news channels to make sure the message was well and truly heard. South Africa and by extension SADC, had capitulated to President Mugabe’s Zanu PF and offered up a sacrifice. It doesn’t help matters that there have been rumours for months that President Mugabe wanted Miss Zulu gone and even an unsubstantiated claim of an assassination plot. Could this be the endgame? ZANU PF showing that the entire SADC region dare not come up against it? The timing is indeed fortuitous for ZANU seeing as Zimbabwe is in the middle of an election campaign, suffice to say, time will tell.

However, assuming that Presidents Zuma and Mugabe are right in their assertions, a few questions come to mind.

If it is correct that it was not Miss Zulu’s place to make statements on behalf of the facilitation team since her appointment, why is it only being made clear now? She has been speaking on Zimbabwe for years.

If Patrick Chinamasa and Tendai Biti as chief negotiators for ZANU PF and MDC T respectively, can make statements on behalf of their principals and parties regarding the GPA why is Miss Zulu not extended the same privilege? It would be interesting to see Miss Zulu’s letter of appointment and terms of reference.

In the meantime the SA Presidency’s statement has touched off a firestorm on social networks with some questioning President Zuma’s support of women’s professional advancement,  in particular those who serve in or on behalf of his government.

I have little doubt Miss Zulu will come back from this, it’s the nature of politics, luckily for her, the GPA has run it’s faltering course and in less than two weeks Zimbabwe will, for good or bad, have a new political dispensation. Hopefully the era of political character assassinations will no longer be a hallmark of Zimbabwean politics.

Below are relevant links: 

South Africa regrets unauthorised statements on Zimbabwe http://bit.ly/129bs0s 

http://www.news24.com/Africa/Zimbabwe/Mugabe-urges-Zuma-to-silence-advisor-20130720

Don’t Call Me Mfana!

At 37 years of age I am still confused by the need older people seem to have to refer to me as mukomana or mfana, both meaning boy. Do they think it’s a term of endearment or do they feel some subliminal obligation to put me in my place, that being below them in the patriarchal hierarchy that is, for lack of a better term, African society. This happens in just about every kind of interaction imaginable and I can’t think of any situation where such a reference would be anything but derogatory.

I consciously don’t do it to men younger than I am because I know how much it pisses them off too. Where it is most irritating is when it happens in professional situations, there you are trying to get through a meeting, taking or giving instruction and it gets thrown in like some random slap in the face to wake you up from any illusion that you were being taken seriously. At what age does one graduate from being called mfana, does it ever happen? I grudgingly take it from my father and older relatives but beyond this family circle should I have to  tolerate it?

Time for real change

President Mugabe is on record referring to his cabinet and party executive as boys girls numerous times in both Shona and English. There are many stories of these same men and women literally grovelling at his feet, one minister has proudly acknowledged going as far as to sign his letters to the President, “Your ever obedient son Obert Mpofu”. Good for him if that works for him but is this really what or who we are? Recently Prime Minister Tsvangirai publicly castigated the MDC T youth leader Solomon Madzore for allegedly inciting violence, in warning him and the youth league, the PM said ” manje vapfana vangu . . ” (now my boys . . ). Now besides the fact that Madzore, in my opinion did no such thing, where does the man who claims to represent change get off referring to a senior party member as a boy, at a rally no less? Madzore has been in and out of jail for his party numerous times in the last two years and still has cases pending linked to party activities and this is the man you name and rebuke in public whilst calling him “mfana”?

With this kind of prevailing attitude from our political leaders its then no surprise that they may have limited appeal for many between the ages of 18 and 40. On January 28 this year Minister of Youth Development, Indiginisation and Empowerment Saviour Kasukuwere was in Bulawayo to meet the youth and talk to them about government initiatives to empower them. He did not have an easy time of it as they expressed their displeasure at government intransigence on these same initiatives very clearly. Is this lack of commitment to the youth symptomatic of the practices I alluded to earlier? I believe it is and with these practices so entrenched in our society what hope really is there for true youth development in Zimbabwe? Are the over 60s who run this country willing to change their ways or genuinely hand over power to a more vibrant  and attuned generation?

How to treat the youth (vote) right

Now I know this is an oft trotted out comparison but I believe it is incredibly relevant to this discussion. Barrack Obama’s 2008 presidential run is often cited as having changed the way political campaigns are done around the world. Countless analysts have identified the community organisation strategy as the secret weapon that won him the election. His campaign team composed of the greatest number of such youth volunteers ever assembled and they delivered. Recently whilst in South Africa President Obama held a town hall meeting at Johannesburg University’s Soweto  campus with youth from South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, at no time during that meeting did I hear him refer to them as anything but young men and women or ladies and gentlemen. I am a keen Obama watcher and at no time since 2007 when he announced his bid for his party’s nomination have I ever heard him refer to his campaign team as boys and girls.

The mutual respect evident in that first campaign saw the youth volunteers come out swinging for President Obama the second time around ensuring a comfortable win and second term in office. This is non-existent in Zimbabwean politics and society at large, the youth are simply expected to do their duty. They are not seen by the politicians as a voting block who must be wooed despite making up the majority of the population.

Beware the ghosts of March

Whilst I don’t have the statistics, I would wager that those under 40 make up the bulk of Zimbabwe’s voters yet the messages coming out of the campaigns do not seem to be particularly relevant to them. For how long can politicians expect to continue with the same strategies every election and keep a dynamic electorate interested? During the Constitutional Referendum in March this year much was made about the poor voter turnout and many asked if Zimbabweans had not become disinterested in politics. I have not seen these questions being asked now that the elections are here despite the chaos of the voter registration exercise and the disastrous special voting for civil servant earlier this week. At the time of the referendum there was talk that the youth had not come out in their numbers and this voter apathy was a worry for the coming elections. Jump to two weeks before harmonised elections and what has been done to bring the youth to the ballot box? Very little from what I can see. Instead we have candidates continuing to treat them as their children and in some cases, private militia, moving through areas coercing people to attend rallies or to keep other politicians out of “their leaders'” constituency or ward. Youth voter apathy has not been properly dealt with and politicians might be in for a rude surprise come July 31, then again, I could be wrong.

In my ideal Zimbabwe no-one will manipulate the youth or anyone else for that matter in this way and mutual respect will reign supreme in all our dealings with each other. So Mr, Ms or Mrs Candidate, if you want my vote, don’t call me mfana!