GlobalPOWER Women Network Africa Conference Opens in Harare

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwashs | iZiviso Global Editor At Large

HARARE, Zimbabwe – Women parliamentarians, leading African women entrepreneurs, civil society leaders, and development partners from Africa are meeting in Harare over the next two days for the inauguration and launch of the GlobalPOWER Women Network Africa.

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The conference, being attended by approximately 300 participants, is aimed at providing a strategic political platform to accelerate game changing approaches to HIV prevention and sexual and reproductive health and rights responses for women and girls. The idea to create an Africa-specific GlobalPOWER Women Network stemmed fom a September 2010 meeting in Washington DC that saw prominent female decision makers come together alongside their US peers to discuss how to accelerate the implementation of the UNAIDS Agenda for Women and Girls.

Participants at the conference are expected to address the key issues affecting girls and women in Africa including eliminating new HIV infections among children, keeping mothers alive and maternal and child health. The meeting will result in the “Harare Call to Action” to advance women’s empowerment and gender equality through HIV and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights responses.

President of the GlobalPOWER Women Network Africa and Zimbabwe Deputy Prime Minister, Thokozani Khupe said that women must take an active role in ensuring their empowerment.

“To achieve the vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths, it is critical to recognise women and girls as key agents in making this vision a reality – society has to invest in the health of women and girls,” Khupe said.

Addressing the conference, Zimbabwe President Robert Gabrial Mugabe said the launch of the network will take the issue of women’s emancipation and empowerment a step further.

Äfter the launch, the real work will begin and call for the same passion, unity of purpose and consistency in pursuing the goals which have characterized this Women’s Network thus far. Of particular note will be the challenge of giving unstinting support to women candidates of every hue and cry; of varying professional qualifications, driven by different talents and capabilities to realise their potential in the collaborative work of Global Power Women Network, the Africa Union and UNAIDS,”said Mugabe.

In Africa, women and girls carry a disproportionate burden of the HIV epidemic – they constitute 59 percent of all people living with the disease. To make matters worse, gender inequality compounded by gender-based vioence, increase women and girl’s risk of HIV infection.

Ëmpowering women and girls to protect themselves against HIV infection and gender-based violence is a non-negotiable in the AIDS response,”said UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibe.

Old Mutual Shuts Down Top Independent Arts Hangout Book Cafe/Mannenberg in Zimbabwe

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

One of Zimbabwe’s legendary arts and culture hangout, the Book Cafe and Mannenberg, located at the Five Avenues Mall in Harare’s Avenues suburb is scheduled to close its doors to the public at the end of the year due to lack of lease renewal by Old Mutual Property, owners of the property.

The two venues which are managed by the Pamberi Trust, have played a central role in the cultural life of the capital city. In fact, they have been the soul of the creative industry hosting artists of all guise from around Zimbabwe and the globe.

The Book Cafe was recently awarded the 2011 Prince Claus Awards worth €25 000 for its role in “culture and development”, built and focussed on a platform of freedom of expression across music, poetry and theatre with public discussion, film and multi-disciplinary arts.

According to a statement from Pamberi Trust Trust, OK Zimbabwe Pension Fund and its agents Old Mutual Property who own the Five Avenue Shopping Mall served notice to all tenants in the building that they intend to occupy the premise in 2012. Representations to the owners and the agents have proved to no availa, read the statement.

“After 7500 concerts and functions, 650 public discussions, over 70 book launches, 35 theatre productions, staging of 150 international touring acts and countless new local acts and collaborations that emerged within, Harare’s iconic music and performing arts centre, Book Cafe and Mannenberg, will close its doors to the public in Fife Avenue Shopping Mall,” said By Paul Brickhill, Pamberi Trust’s Creative Director .

“About 600,000 have entered the twin venues since opening, as Book Cafe in 1997 with Luck Street Blues, and Mannenberg in 2000 with historic performances by Africa’s great jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim. The two venues gave rise to the urban mbira phenomena, a Friday night institution in Harare’s nightlife, pioneered stand-up comedy, championed freedom of expression, laid the foundation for slam poetry, and created major youth and female arts development programmes. The venues were closely associated with many great jazz and blues acts in the early years, and latterly with the reggae renaissance sweeping Zimbabwe.”

Brickhill beamoned the little regard that is paid to civic cultural and intellectual life in Zimbabwe.

“One has to wonder what kind of Zimbabwean spirit and legacy we will create for future generations when the needs of civic cultural and intellectual life are so easily supplanted by those of commerce and profit, even while they can co-exist happily. Book Cafe, for those who truly know its heart, has been a place of beauty, joy and togetherness; and so it never failed to uplift the spirit. 350 artists earn a dignified livelihood at the venues, as well as 45 staff. Never in its history did it offend. All have been welcome, and so all came to visit at one time or other. As Edgar Langeveld once said, if you care to sit at Book Cafe long enough, a week or so, every kind of Zimbabwe will wander through,” said Brickhill.

“The pantheon of music, poetry, comedy, theatre and other artists that emerged through the Book Cafe and Mannenberg is simply the stuff of legend, their number runs not in dozens but hundreds. They know who they are, and in most cases so do the audiences. Some are here, some scattered, some have passed away and some retired. We pay tribute to them all”.

“There are not too many in political, social and media spheres that did not at some time engage in public debate in Book Cafe, and that includes many leaders of yesterday and today. We have been a place of free expression, a platform for exchange of public dialogue”.

“What will happen now is that we will bid farewell to Fife Avenue. The artists, audiences and friends who came to know and appreciate this space may also say their goodbyes, since each had their own way of being part of us and each other at Book Cafe and Mannenberg. This festive season is our last in this venue, and this New Year’s Eve is the last we shall enjoy together at this place, with a hug and a wish for the coming year at midnight”.

“Does the show go on? We will make our announcements in due course. For now, what I can say is that as one door closes in life, so another opens. After 30 years, we have not given up, despite some desperate hardships along the way. We have history. Honestly, it is for us just another bend in the path. To quote my old friend David Ndoro, with whom we invented much of the early years, ‘It is a journey, not a destination’. And so, yes, it will continue”.

“I would like, on behalf of some 1200 artists and our team here, to sincerely and humbly say thank you to every person who has supported, attended or performed at shows and events, who enjoyed themselves, engaged with others in the world of ideas and laughed together. To our many partners in the arts and civil society, as we always said, ‘we are building the kind of Zimbabwe we want to live in’. And so we did. And so we will continue”.

Fibre Optics Set to Transform Zimbabwe

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – A fibre optic project linking Harare-Bulawayo-Beitbridge to the undersea cable in South Africa is almost complete, according to reports in the state-owned daily newspaper.

“Once complete, the fibre optic project is expected to bolster service provision by state-owned telecommunication companies NetOne and TelOne,” reported the newspaper.

Expectations are that Zimbabwe which is landlocked will have faster Internet and telephone connection, transmission of data as well as multimedia facilities.

The Harare-Bulawayo-Beitbridge link is in addition to the Harare-Mozambique link which was completed last year at a total costpf US$6,3 million.

It is expected that by 2014 the country will be internationally networked, with about 1 340 km of cables, carrying massive amounts of mobile phone, television, internet and other telecommunication signals.

Vast job opportunities will open up while government bureaucracy, costs of internet access and doing business will be lowered, say experts.

The development is seen as ushering in a new era in Zimbabwe, for example, it is anticipated that software developers, students, internet fanatics, broadcasters and other sectors will cash in as telecommunication services become better. Put simply, fibre optic internet cables are expected to change lives and livelihoods in the country.

Zimbabwe has traditionally relied on Mazowe earth satellite link which is not only limited but very slow and expensive.

“The linking to the undersea cable will almost certainly knock down prices although it must be pointed out that in the initial stages of the connectivity tariffs will be high owing to the need by these companies to return their investments. But in the long run, internet, and other telecommunications services which will be based on this linking will drastically fall down,” said Patrick Tsvetu, an ICT sector expert based in Harare.

Is Traditional Journalism Facing A Demise?

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Berlin Germany – There is no question that the internet is transforming the news industry, just as it has reshaped so many other industries.

The internet has democratised access to publishing tools, making it much easier for new entrants to join the news ecosystem, from blogs to new organisations like WikiLeaks, the Sunlight Foundation and the Huffington Post, none of which existed six years ago. And smartphones let people publish text, photos or video wherever they are.

That is not to say that everyone is now a journalist, but it means that the chances of something important being captured by somebody at the scene are much higher. All these developments provide new ways to do journalism, and can also improve the practice of journalism by making the activities of its practitioners more transparent.

Technology has redefined the space of news and information:

We can read whatever we want

Wherever and whenever we want

The tyranny of news media and traditional journalists is over. In 2005, one of the leading publishers Rupert Murdoch made this ominous state, “I BELIEVE too many of us editors and reporters are out of touch with our readers.”

The centuries-old profession of journalism is undergoing change so cataclysmic that it may soon be unrecognizable. Traditional, or “legacy,” journalism models are indeed in a state of decline.

Modern journalism exists due to a curious convergence of factors that trace their origins back to the beginning of the last century. We think the world needs journalism and journalists.

However, the days of relying god-like figures from above to tell us what’s important, presenting journalism as gospel are over. The model of traditional journalism which often regards readers as stupid is over.

The internet, by altering the underlying economics of the news business, has thinned the ranks of professional journalists. Has the net created other modes of reporting to fill the gap?

The very foundation of traditional journalists which relies on advertising is increasingly becoming obsolete, and a disaster is already beginning to happen to the profession of journalism as it has been traditionally practiced.

More than ever in human history, there are more people that can source information, assess, interpret, share and analyze. Put simply, journalism is no longer an exclusive practice. The tools of the trade are no longer an exclusive reality in today’s media environment.

Lets starts with a basic definition: journalism refers to the journaling of selected daily activities. What new media has done is to provide people with the tools to create their own content, they are doing that, and this is enabling an emerging global conversation

Traditionally, journalism was the preserve of a news or media house with a structure, system and style and the news house.

News media houses had preconceived objectives to package, report news, issues and people which they would sell to audiences or so called eye-balls.

However, in the beginning, journalism was practiced to inform people – it was a social good. But as a result of industrialization, an industry grew round journalism and enterprising business people emerged and built a business round the business of informing people.

Today, the power of the grip on the audience is being lost and now being replaced by the power of the audience. Now, people are easily sidestepping the traditional practice of journalism which relied on monopoly of knowledge and information and are becoming part and parcel of the creators of news and journalism themselves.

The exclusive professional role of the journalist is no longer tenable. In other words, the exclusivity of the role of collecting, analyzing, verifying and disseminating of information  is now throroughly disperse  d due to the power of new technologies.

Costs

Traditional journalisms was highly prohibitive in the costs of collecting and disseminating content as well as footing the costs of journalists but this is collapsing.

Moreso, traditional journalism was severly limited in diversity, variety and individualization but the new media has built a wide variety of choices for audiences.

In this respect, traditional journalism could never tell whether it engaged with its supposed audiences relying on things such as Letters to the Editor but the advent of new media platforms such as Facebook has largely shifted this dynamic. Today, the audience has become less predictable, and exists in real time presenting real challenges to traditional journalism.

Today, audiences can come up with their own analysis of news thereby upturning the fixated old presentation formats of traditional journalism.

Traditional journalism involved audiences in a miniscule way due to the limitations of space, time and resources.

The advent of citizen journalists, a complete no-no in traditional journalism, has also resulted in new perspectives. Because journalists cannot be everywhere, new media tools now give power to audiences to collect and share information anywhere and at anytime. Take, Syria or Egypt as an example.

Ethics

While new media has been accused for the proliferation of ethical breaches, it is fact that ethcal breaches are not exclusive to the new journalism platforms. Take for example, former US Today’s Jack Kelley, who fabricated portinons of stories and plucked quotes from other newspapers. In addition, former Washington Post’s Janet Cooke, was forced to return the famed Pulitzer Prize for fabrication in 1981.

Ownership

Ownership and commercial pressures largely influenced traditional journalism with journalists having very little room to maneuver. This in itself limited the breath and scope of content, the very essence of journalism.

Breaking News

Traditional journalism is no longer positioned to provide breaking news due to its snail pace. Stories of significance  are now being broken on new platforms in ways that are far from the formats of traditional journalism.

What we are saying is that new platforms have refashioned traditional journalism to its very foundation, which is, simply, to communicate and exchange information.

According to the Pew Centre report 2010, in 2002 only 24 % of the people got their news online, 43% got it from radio and about 45% got it from reading the newspaper. But in less than a decade, the transformation has been tremendous. In 2010, 34% of the people got their news online, 34% on radio, 31% from newspapers and 44% on mobile.

Retired General Solomon Mujuru’s Death Lights Up Social Media

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – Once again, social media and mobile telephony makes the news for breaking the news.

Early Tuesday, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, were abuzz with news of Retired General Solomon Mujuru’s death. Mujuru, who was 62, died in a fire accident at his home.

Social networks carried vital information to Zimbabweans both locally and abroad ahead of traditional news outlets.  Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, had by mid-morning updated its profile on Mujuru to indicate that he had died.

If anything, this proves that social networks and the mobile have indeed come to Zimbabwe in a big way, and will increasingly become a source of local news developments.

The news went viral as people shared news via their mobiles phones and on social media platforms.

By mid-morning, the national broadcaster, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, had not yet carried news of Mujuru’s death, prompting some people to question its news-gathering approach.

With technology and news in the digital age spreading information so quickly, the broadcast network was rather slow to fill the information gap.

Regardless, the news spread like wildfire across the twittersphere and of course on to Facebook, with many Zimbabweans expressing shock, commenting and sharing the sad news.

Reporting on Mujuru’s death confirms that conventional news media in Zimbabwe have to position themselves appropriately in relation to the social networks and mobile phones to report news.

However, even though people heard the news of Mujuru’s death on social networks, they still wanted the information to be verified. Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks encourage people to speculate.

As much as they can be a source of news, social networks can be a repository for false or misleading reports.

What is required is for conventional news outlets to leverage on the power of social networks without compromising traditional journalism principles such as accuracy, brevity, objectivity and fairness.

In the face of social networks’ ubiquitous distribution of news that maybe false or true, traditional news outlets still have a key role to play in providing investigation and context into issues.

Solomon Mujuru, also known as Rex Nhongo (May 1, 1949 – August 16, 2011) was a Zimbabwean military officer and politician who led Robert Mugabe‘s guerrilla forces during the Rhodesian Bush War.

In post-independence Zimbabwe, he went on to become army chief before leaving government service in 1995. After leaving his post in the Zimbabwe National Army, he got into politics becoming Member of Parliament for Chikomba on a Zanu PF ticket. He was generally regarded as one of the most feared men in Zimbabwe. His wife, Joyce Mujuru, became Vice-President of Zimbabwe in 2004.

JCI Zimbabwe to honour ten Outstanding Young Zimbabweans

Harare, Zimbabwe – Junior Chamber International’s Zimbabwean chapter (JCI-Zimbabwe) will on 30 July host a gala to celebrate ten outstanding young Zimbabweans aged between 18 and 40 at the 7 Arts Theatre in Harare.

According to JCI Zimbabwe president, Patson Mahachi, the aim of the event is to honour young people who are creating positive change in the country in business, environmental activism, personal development, cultural activities, community service, child and women’s rights activism among others.

“The theme of the 2011 gala is “Celebrating Success”. We are expecting many young people to come through and join us in celebrating fellow young active citizens creating positive change,” said Mahatchi.

Founded in 1967 in the then Rhodesia, JCI Zimbabwe currently has more than 220 members across the country. Its mission is to provide development opportunities that empower young people to create change in their communities.

JCI Zimbabwe National Public Relations Director said that the ten finalists will compete at international level with nominees from over 100 countries around the world. He added that Afro-jazz musician, Victor Kunonga is expected to perform at the event.

“Victor is a symbol of success as shown by the number of accolades he has collected. We find him befitting to lead the line-up of young artists that have agreed to come and celebrate positive change with us. His music has good doses of inspiration,” he said.

“It is a great honour to come and share the evening with great achievers. We hope that this will be a good opportunity to showcase ourselves as alternative role models and be recognised as good ambassadors for positive change,” said Kunonga.

Four Zimbabwean have made it into the top 10 nominees in the world to date, including, Charlene Hewat, founder of Environment Africa in 1995, Strive Masiyiwa, founder of Econet Wireless in 1999, Advocate Sabelo Sibanda founder of the School of African Awareness in 2005, and Betty Makoni, founder of Girl Child Network in 2007.

Mobile Internet Rises in Zimbabwe

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – The queue of people waiting to have their mobile internet activated snakes out of the mobile phone shop owned by Econet, Zimbabwe’s leading mobile operator until the customer consultant directs new arrivals to another branch.

According to the customer consultant, Chido Masunda, over 1,000 people are coming to the shop on a daily basis to get their mobile internet activated on their mobile phones.

“From the time we open the shop in the morning until we close we have so many people that come into the shop. There is definitely a lot of interest in mobile internet,” she said, adding that she is forced to turn away some people.

Many of the customers interested in mobile net are young, technologically savvy urbanites; the service is largely unheard of in the country’s rural areas where 70 percent of the population resides.

“I want to use my mobile internet to check out my Facebook, my email, download music as well as read newspapers,” said Nobukhosi Ndlovu, who activated her mobile net a month ago.

According to Masunda, subscribers can buy internet bundles ranging from 1 to 1000 megabytes to allow them to connect to the internet. Each megabyte costs 50 US cents. At such a cost, many people will struggle to afford the luxury of sending and receiving large files. But early signs are promising.

Since Econet launched its mobile broadband package in the last quarter of 2010, the uptake has been exponential. Latest statistics show that 1.8 million people, that’s more than 30% of the mobile operator’s 5,500,000 subscribers now have mobile internet, and the number is growing on a daily basis.

In fact, Zimbabwe’s mobile phone industry has been projected to reach 13,5 million subscribers in 2015 and worth a phenomenal US 1,34 billion by 2016, according to IE Market Research (IEMR) and the growth partnership company Frost & Sullivan (F&S), respectively. Projections are that Zimbabwe will have universal mobile connection by 2014, and with demand for voice services increasingly met, future growth is predicted to occur around mobile internet and broadband provision.

“With demand for voice services increasingly met, future growth is predicted to occur around mobile internet and broadband provision. Both mobile operators and internet access providers will benefit from this second wave of growth,” reads the Frost & Sullivan report.

Unlike a decade ago, today it is very easy to secure a mobile phone and a sim card – prices have drastically gone down. More lower-income Zimbabweans, in both rural and urban areas, are now using the mobile unlike in the past when it was a preserve of the elite. The arrival of cheap, Chinese-made mobile has also increased mobile usage in the country.

Unfortunately, there has been little to no innovation in the local mobile sector in terms of value added services which could be attributed to the lack of meaningful investment in the technology sector over the past decade due to the country’s political fallout. Voice and SMS-text messaging remain by far the most popular uses of the mobile phone.

There has been very little development in mobile banking, farming, health care provision, environment protection or improving  human rights among others. With exception, though, Kubatana.net, a grassroots organisation have been pioneering the use of mobile technology in civil society work. According to Kubatana, the project titled, “Freedom Fone” leverages the fastest growing tool for personal access to information 24/7 – the mobile phone – & marries it with citizen radio programming. Freedom Fone makes it easy to build interactive, two way, phone based information services using interactive audio voice menus, voice messages, SMS and polls.

“Audio files are stored by Freedom Fone in a Content Management System (CMS) which is updated through a simple to use browser interface. These audio clips populate an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) menu through which callers can navigate for information. Deployment in any language is possible as key global files for menu prompts can be uploaded through the browser interface to the CMS,” states Kubatana on its website.

“Individuals can contribute questions, content and feedback by leaving voice messages via the IVR interface. Freedom Fone can be operated as a collective, with different groups managing different channels (IVR menu options) of information from the same installation.”

Apart from this, the main benefit has been increased access to cheaper voice services and mobile internet. In addition, the overall growth in mobile has significantly contributed revenue to the telecommunications sector. Currently, the mobile penetration rate is 54 percent. According to statistics, Zimbabwean mobile communications market earned a total of $372,2-million in 2009.

“Mobile operators are the largest contributors to telecommunications revenues in Zimbabwe,” said Frost & Sullivan ICT Industry Analyst, Protea Hirschel. “As 3G networks expand, mobile operators compete more directly with Internet access providers. These, in turn, have entered the voice market, adding to competition.”

Despite the fact that mobile operators are raking in a lot of profit, network quality of mobile networks in Zimbabwe is generally considered to be poor by subscribers. To make matters worse, erratic power supply remains a significant challenge for all telecommunications operators.

Nonetheless, F & S reports that the mobile market in the country will experience a compound annual growth rate of 20,1%, considerably lower than the 40,6% revenue growth experienced from 2008 to 2009. The company’s forecast report released in May 2011 titled “An Overview of Zimbabwe’s Vibrant Telecommunications Market” says that subscriber numbers in Zimbabwe trebled from early 2009 to mid-2010, whereas fixed-line subscriptions remained stagnant. Mobile subscriber numbers jumped from less than two million at the end of 2008 to 6.9-million in mid-2010.

According to IEMR’s five-year Mobile Operator Forecast on Zimbabwe issued in April, Zimbabwe’s largest mobile operator, Econet Wireless is expected to take 70 percent of the market share.

“I think the company that will emerge the winner is the one pouring money into infrastructure right now, Econet Wireless. New entrants will obviously have a hard time penetrating as they will face some resistance from the incumbents,” said Limbikani Soul Makani, founder of TechZim, a blogging platform on technology in Zimbabwe. “Interconnection, for example, hasn’t been a walk in the park for Internet Access Providers wanting to introduce voice services. Small entrants are therefore facing delays while the incumbents grow their networks even bigger.”

The country’s decade-long political and economic fallout coupled with international isolation clearly resulted in little to no investment in the technological sector. The Global Information Technology Report 2007-08 ranked Zimbabwe in 125th position on the Networked Readiness Index (NRI), out of 127 countries surveyed by the World Economic Forum.

With the political system still in somewhat of a limbo, there are fears that the projected growth in the mobile telephone sector will be inhibited.

The impact of politics on mobile telephony in Zimbabwe is without a doubt. Take for example, the country’s mobile penetration rate rose from 9 to 56 percent since the inception of the inclusive government in September 2008.

When incumbent President Robert Mugabe signed a power sharing agreement with arch-rival Morgan Tsvangirai, and Arthur Mutambara two years ago, hyperinflation was estimated at 6,5 quindecillion novemdecillion percent, or 6,5 followed by 107 zeros. Violent elections in which President Mugabe was declared the winner result in Zimbabwe being ostracized at international level, stemming the transfer of technology into the country among other things.

According to Information, Communications and Technology Minister, Nelson Chamisa the country is making strides in the technology sector and is looking at actively taking information technology to rural communities. Further, ICT products can now be imported into the country free of duty.

Recently the Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) completed the installations of the optic fibre cable that now links the state owned fixed operator to the East African Submarine System (EASSy) undersea cable through Mozambique. This is expected to significantly increase Internet and other communication connectivity speeds. The fibre, covering a distance of about 280km, is the first phase of the planned national backbone rollout.

A combination of growth in mobile telephony, installation of the fibre optic projects and increased use of data services are likely to result in a boom in the technology sector.

Mobile telephony is likely to stimulate a host to innovations in the country. In effect, experts say that an increase of 10 mobile phones per 100 people typically boosts gross domestic product (GDP) by 0,6 percent per annum in developing nations.

There is no doubt that technology will play a vital role in Zimbabwe’s political, social and economic recovery, and the mobile phone will feature prominently in that trajectory.