Are Zimbabwean Political Parties Serious About the Internet?

AN analysis of websites of Zimbabwe’s main political parties reveals a startling disregard for the importance and potential of using the internet.

One is left wondering whether some of the leaders know that they have a website at all. All the websites are not up to date on content. You just begin to wonder whether Zimbabwean parties are serious about the internet given what is going on in North Africa and beyond.

Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn (MKD) (www.mavambokusiledawn.org)

In the wake of two confessions by former party members Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn (MKD) party may have to issue another statement if not two besides the current undated one entitled ‘MKD Neither an Election Party nor a Covert Project’ because the negative tag seems not to be going away. Some of the problems are like chickens which have come home to roost.

‘Braai stick’

The first ‘confession’ or disclosure was made by Dumiso Dabengwa, then Interim leader of Zapu who was quoted as saying MKD leader, Simba Makoni was a "braai stick". "We used Makoni to stop the old man (Mugabe) and Tsvangirai; whose track record we did not feel would make him a good president. UMakoni wayeludlawu lokos’inyama, Nxa usugedile ukosa inyama uyalulahla udlawu uzidlele inyama yakho (Makoni was a braai stick. You put away the braai stick when you have finished roasting and then enjoy your meat,"said Dabengwa to Zapu officials in Gwamayaya communal lands in Nkayi on Wednesday, June 29, 2010 (Zimeye, 01/07/10).

Kudzai Mbudzi’s Confession

The second ‘confession’ was allegedly made by retired Major Savious Kudzai Mbudzi in January when he reportedly claimed that MKD was a Zanu-pf project meant to destroy the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

"I knew from the beginning that Makoni and I were never going to win, we were just used to remove Zanu-PF from the mud," said Mbudzi before re-joining Zanu-pf (RadioVop, 23/01/11).

MKD Spin

Although it is not clear which election MKD is referring to in its online ‘survey’ entitled ‘Who will you vote for in the next election?’ which started on Monday 9th October 2006 and was still ongoing as of 13/02/11, the party does not hide its ambition as it is leading all other parties with 363 votes (48.5 %), MDC-T 235 votes (31.4%), ZAPU 66 votes (8.8%), Zanu-PF 46 votes (6.1%) and MDC-M 32 votes (4.3%). However, the MKD online poll results were not confirmed in the real world in 2008 election when Morgan Tsvangirai polled 1 195 562 votes (47.87%), Robert Mugabe had 1 079 730 votes (43.24%) Simba Makoni got 207 470 votes (8.31%), and Langton Towungana, Independent got 14 503 votes (0.58%) (Eisa.org.za, accessed 11/02/11).

Speaking moments after Simba Makoni had officially announced his decision to contest the March 29, 2008 presidential election as an independent on 5th February 2008, two days after he had been barred from contesting in the Zanu-pf primary elections in Makoni Central, Manicaland Province, Mbudzi reportedly said Makoni ‘consulted widely’ and had the backing of 90% of key people in the party (Zanu-PF). He said that they would not launch a party and were comfortable with the name Zanu-pf since "the constitution is fortunately silent on the use of symbols and names" (New Zimbabwe, 07/02/08). Mbudzi was not the only one who had high hopes about Simba Makoni’s electoral appeal.

Formerly a Professor of Development Studies at the University of Zimbabwe, Brian Raftopoulos saw Makoni’s appearance on the Presidential, as a result of: ‘the continuing struggles within Zanu-pf between factions that have all benefited from the ruling party’s patronage; the rampant decline of the economy; the divisions in the opposition; and the failure of the SADC mediation.’

Regime change

In an article on the MKD website, former Zanu-pf Minister, Fay Chung says ‘Clearly the anti-sanctions strategies followed by the Zanu-pf Government over the last decade were seriously deficient if they existed at all …sanctions were and are real. The wish for regime change was and is real’ (Mavambokusiledawn.org accessed 11/02/11). Equally ineffective is Zanu-pf’s strategy of using the visiting Chinese Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi to call for the lifting of targeted sanctions against some Zimbabweans for alleged human rights abuses at a time when Amnesty International has condemned Mugabe’s party for Zimbabwe violence (The Zimbabwean, 11/02/11). Furthermore, Zanu-pf women’s league Manicaland provincial chairperson, Jane Knight threatened to bomb the offices which are owned by a local white businessman and MDC official, Dirgit Kidd (RadioVop 10/02/10).

The MDC led by Welshman Ncube (mdczim.com)

The party’s website seems unaware or not bothered at all by the drama we saw last week involving the ‘firing’ of Welshman Ncube by Arthur Mutambara followed by the ‘expulsion ‘of Mutambara by Ncube and the refusal by Robert Mugabe to swear in Ncube as the new Deputy Prime Minister as well as the reported ‘donation’ of Mutambara by MDC-N to Zanu-pf!

Not up-to-date

It is not clear what has caused the Welshman Ncube MDC not to update its website especially the Executive Structure in view of the ‘party’s congress. Whether it’s the site administrator’s fault or the fact that the leadership dispute is before the High Court, the party’s homepage, says the Executive Structure comprises: Arthur Mutambara, President and Deputy PM, Welshman Ncube, Secretary Gen and Minister of Industry and Commerce; Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga, Deputy Sec.Gen and Minister of Regional Integration; Fletcher Dulini-Ncube, Treasurer-General and MP for Lobengula, Magwegwe; Miriam Mushayi, Deputy Treasurer-General; Jobert Mudzumwe, national Chairperson and Edwin Mushoriwa, Secretary for Information and Publicity. There is no reference to the recent congress and its new structure nor the game of expulsions.

Whereas the party’s website says the forum is open only to registered and logged in users, there is no access (space for registering username and password), neither is there evidence of interaction with browsers on any issues. In the gallery are picture albums. With things moving so fast in the party, the website seems oblivious to all the issues on Zimbabwe’s current affairs such as the reported plans by Zanu-pf to replace the US$ with the Chinese Yuan currency should it win elections which Mugabe wants to run this year. Although the site does not have links to Facebook, Twitter or You Tube, Ncube is said to be on Twitter.

Eat own Words

Some analysts have argued that Welshman "Ncube might have to eat his own words on ‘trivial’GPA posts" now that Mugabe has refused to swear him in as Deputy Premier. They cite what he said in October 2010 to his followers on twitter, ‘to us it is not about positions but rather about what we can do to improve the lives of ordinary people. We are frustrated that our partners have slowed the full GPA implementation over issues, including the appointment of Gono, Tomana and Bennett’ (SW Radio Africa, 04/02/11).

ZAPU Home page(www.zapu.org)

Unlike the MKD where only the party leader features on its homepage, Zapu’s website displays pictures of its leaders and spells our what it stands for in the areas covering constitutional reform, gender equality, opportunities for youth, social development, economic development, natural resources, foreign trade and foreign policy and has a link for its manifesto. However, the Zapu homepage had not yet been updated following the tragic loss of Thenjiwe Lesabi last week.

‘Brandvantage’

One lengthy article that is difficult to miss but stale is entitled ‘Zapu’s Brandvantage Over Others Advantage’ and is a rebuttal of a commentary by Sibusiso Dlodlo in the Standard newspaper of November 21 to 27, 2010. A noticeable feature on the Zapu homepage is the Jubilee 50 Appeal marking the party’s 50th anniversary. Following reports that ‘Zapu is broke’ (The Zimbabwe Mail/ RadioVop 07/02/11), it is not surprising that there are four icons on the party’s website appealing for donations.

Zapu National Treasurer, Macdonald Muswere reportedly said donors had not been forthcoming ever since Dabengwa broke away from the Unity Accord which was signed by the late Zapu founder and former vice president, Dr Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe of Zanu-pf. Zapu’s consolation could be that it is not alone in being skint as Zanu-pf has also reported it was faced with a bill of nearly US$1 million in overdraft charges. Since Zapu contested in previous elections but did not win a single parliamentary seat, it is understandable that its homepage has active links to Facebook, Twitter and You Tube making it one of the few that are maintaining contacts with the young generation. That may also be instrumental in fund raising efforts.

The Movement for Democratic Change led by PM, Morgan Tsvangirai (mdc.co.zw)

There is evidence of currency of information on the website of the MDC led by Prime Minster, Morgan Tsvangirai such as articles and pictures of events as recent as Friday 11th February 2011. In its offensive against Zanu-pf, the MDC’s website has articles like: ‘Wheels off the Herald’, ‘Police Alliance with Zanu-pf a major source of threats to the people of Zimbabwe’, ‘Zanu-pf must stop abusing hapless youths’, ‘Violence: President Tsvangirai meets Mugabe’ and Nelson Chamisa’s address to the Transparency International Zimbabwe public meeting on ‘the Declaration of Assets by Public Figures’ held in Harare, among others.

Informative

The articles on the MDC-T website have dates unlike most of those on the Zanu-pf homepage. There are sections describing the MDC, its leader, the team, the agenda, ‘get involved’ (register to vote, spread the word, contribute to change and photo gallery). Therefore it’s informative. The ‘follow us’ icon has active links to Facebook, You Tube and Twitter where there are pictures of MDC’s friends and followers.

Like Zapu which uses its website for recruiting members, the MDC’s homepage is similarly on a membership drive. The MDC website also has an email and webmail links making its leadership accessible. There is a message box for contacting the MDC’s president. MKD has an email and various phone numbers for contacting the party. The Zanu-pf website’s sign-in button is inactive thereby restricting access to the leadership.

Discussion forum

Ideally as a non-commercial organization, the MDC’s web address should have been .org not .co.zw which makes it vulnerable to hacking and possible snooping by the much dread intelligence agents. For unclear reasons, the MDC website’s discussion forum was not downloading on Sunday 13th February 2011 although on Thursday 10 February 2011, it showed four issues for discussion namely: ‘Should the MDC pull out of the inclusive government?’ ‘The Constitution we want,’ ‘2011 Elections’ and ‘MDC and Corruption.’ This writer noticed that the site’s discussion forum had been interfered with because some of the postings were corrupted or inappropriate, probably that is why the forum link had been deactivated. However, if the site administrator values the public’s views, the webmaster should have left a message that ‘the page you are looking for is undergoing maintenance’. Otherwise discussion forums are invaluable for ideas and feedback.

Zanu-PF Homepage (www.zanupf.org.zw)

The Zanu-pf website has its own peculiar characteristics of getting on the propaganda offensive like a boxer who starts to throw blows on entering the ring with or without gloves! It’s press statement and articles like the one entitled ‘Why continue to bother Gono?’ have no dates presumably to enable them remain posted indefinitely without getting stale.

On the Zanu-pf homepage, the surfer immediately encounters aggressive propaganda, starting with ‘MDC-T Reign of Terror in Harare’. The article claims that Zanu-pf has been ‘carefully studying the unfolding violent situation in Harare’. However, eight members of Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-pf party who were arrested on Monday 7th Feb 2011 after they allegedly looted the Gulf Complex stunned a Harare Magistrates Court when they revealed that they received orders from Zanu-pf bosses to attack foreigners and that the violence was ‘systematically co-ordinated from the party’s Harare provincial offices at 4th Street (Zimeye, 12/02/11).

Zanu-pf’s Opinion and Analysis page

Interestingly only two of the four issues listed in the forum of the Zanu-pf website have 6 posts made in July 2010, while the other two ‘bumper tobacco harvest’ and ‘corruption in MDC-T run local authorities’ were created on 4th February but have zero posts! This shows lack of interest in the Zanu-pf forum and the issues put forward. As noted before, the webmaster has gone AWOL. Gadzira Chiruumhanzu is listed on the Zanu-pf website as the Director for Science and Technology/Webmaster and his email address plus phone contact numbers given. So there is means of access, at least. Hopefully they will update their website, unless they have reservations about ‘inciting’ interest in the internet.

The Mubarak dilemma

While they may not openly admit having nightmares in view of Tunisia and Egypt, Zanu-pf spin doctors are facing the Mubarak dilemma – whether to switch off the internet and risk upsetting Mugabe’s Chinese guests or just hope the 2006 snooping laws will buy them enough time to strategise for the worse case scenario. Keeping the entire country incommunicado is not an option. Mubarak tried it and he failed. Even in Morocco, where the regime has allegedly severely constrained the independent print media through direct and indirect censorship, the internet has put the country’s censors under great pressure since the first connection was made in 1995 (Balancing Act Africa, Issue No 275).

No time to say farewell

Mubarak tried to switch off the internet, and shut down Aljazeera, but after a week he re-connected Egypt and lifted the ban on the satellite tv company which has extensively covered the events in Tahrir Square to his irritation. In the final analysis, Mubarak did not have time to say farewell as left for the holiday resort sooner than he had planned leaving his new Vice President whose post had been vacant for 30 years to say good bye for him!.

After watching Aljazeera’s Witness TV programme on Sat 12th February 2011 at 7.45 p.m. GMT it became clearer how the rise of Egypt’s blog revolution started in the face of state repression in 2007 and now Egypt is said to be the eighth largest Facebook nation in the world, according to a Research Fellow speaking on the programme.

Domino Effect

The Mubarak domino effect is already being felt in North Africa and the Middle East with reports that over 30,000 soldiers were deployed on Saturday 12th February in Algeria to disperse demonstrators who were protesting against the government of Abdel Aziz. In the streets of Sanaa, Yemen, thousands of anti-government protesters inspired by Egypt’s revolution were calling on Saleh to step down as president. Meanwhile, according to Aljazeera, the prosecutor’s office in Egypt was on Saturday investigating allegations of corruption against three former cabinet ministers. That will happen one day in Zimbabwe.

In denial

In his ‘dissertation’ on Tunisia and Egypt (The Herald, 05/02/11) George Charamba misses many points on why and how revolutions have swept through the 30-year regimes. He is in denial of the possible by manufacturing an external enemy as usual – this time America, which he vilifies religiously enough to earn his thirty pieces of silver. While his articles are nauseating, they provide a handy archive of the bankrupt thinking behind the denial of freedom of expression in Zimbabwe.

Catalyst

Despite the controversial Interception Law of 2006, one of the catalysts of change in Zimbabwe will be the internet especially with the reported completion of the US$22.7million undersea fibre optic cable, coupled with the fast spread of mobile broadband, SMS, as well as the Voice Over Internet Protocols for inexpensive long-distance phone calls. While George Charamba says the catalyst in the jasmine revolution was the igniting self-immolation from a poor youth in Tunisia, what happens between now and the elections could have the trigger for a revolution in Zimbabwe. Again contrary to Charamba’s assumption that going into the diaspora tends to radicalize Zimbabweans, while a contributing factor, it is images of violence being perpetrated on their parents, relatives, friends or compatriots which makes people angry and bitter.

 

Reach-out

Unless Zimbabwean political parties recognize and meaningfully reach out to the young generation at home and abroad in time, they risk marginalizing them and being overtaken by change possibly greater than that of the jasmine revolution. We don’t mean orchestrated ‘Zvirise sei’ jingles or abusing jobless people to go looting other people’s properties under the guise of indigenization nor making grade one children draw a picture of a leader of one political party. Why not ask the school children to draw pictures of all the leaders of Zimbabwe’s main and fringe parties so as to instill a sense of unity in diversity at an early age than subjecting them to communist regimentation of a leadership cult?

Clifford Chitupa Mashiri is a London based political analyst and regular columnist for The Zimbabwe Mai, he can be contatcted at zimanalysis2009@gmail.com