Egypt protests fuelled by social media – can Zimbabwe learn from this? Trevor Ncube interview

Whether the social media-led revolution in Tunisia and Egypt could happen in his homeland. The following is an interview between CEO, Mail & Guardian, and a Zimbabwean and Alec Hogg a writer and broadcaster. He founded Moneyweb and is its editor-in-chief.\r\n

ALEC HOGG: During a session that I attended in Davos over the weekend, in fact, the newly appointed central bank governor of Tunisia – I think he’s had the job for about five days, Mustapha Nabli – said that the dramatic ending of a dictatorship in his country was driven 90% by the youth, and they were using social media like Twitter and Facebook. A similar strategy is being used by pro-democracy forces in Egypt to the degree that the president there, Mubarak, actually closed down 85% of the internet. 

We linked up with M&G Media’s chairman, Trevor Ncube, who is in Harare at the moment, and asked him whether similar tactics and tools could be used by the youth in that country to overturn its long-entrenched regime.
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TREVOR NCUBE: If you look at the profile of the people that were on Liberation Square in Egypt – doctors, computer engineers and that kind of stuff – these are people that are streetwise, savvy, they understand the importance of social media and so forth.  Social media in Zimbabwe is a very small phenomenon. It’s a phenomenon limited to a very negligible percentage of Zimbabweans.

Thus it wouldn’t have a similar impact.  In fact, it would be not the platform to use. But there’s an argument to be made about using your usual SMS as a way of communicating, were there to be a revolution of that sort.  The problem, though, with that one must be quick to point out is that there are three mobile operators in the country, and the government is watching them. 

There is legislation on that kind of communication around licensing and so forth, which the government has made noises about before – about mobile operators allowing their platform to be used for political purposes.  So the mobile operators are likely to be jittery to be seen to be used by the public to communicate messages that are perceived to be political. 

But whether they can do anything about people communicating SMSes from person to person, messages that are revolutionary and are seen to be radical, is one thing, and whether the government can come in. But Zimbabwe being what it is, you cannot preclude the government coming in and victimising a mobile operator on allegation that your subscribers are using your platform to communicate political messages.

ALEC HOGG:  It seems to be more of a Mubarak situation as per Egypt than a Ben Ali situation in Tunisia.

TREVOR NCUBE:  It is to a very large extent. I’ve been watching Egypt with a lot of interest because the parallels are quite interesting.  The control, the tactics for instance used to attack the demonstrators last night, using camels and horses and so forth, sponsored intelligence people and so forth, these are tactics we are familiar with in Zimbabwe in terms of the repressive regime that Zimbabwe has become. 

We are very much limited. I think Egypt is far ahead in terms of its telephone infrastructure, and public’s use of that infrastructure, particularly social media.  Zimbabwe is still far behind.

There are very few Zimbabweans inside Zimbabwe at the present moment using Twitter as a way of communication.  Facebook is very widely used, but I doubt that it would be used to the same extent on a political basis.
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ALEC HOGG: That’s Trevor Ncube, who is the chairman of M&G Media.

Moneyweb