Why I’m Fed Up With Politics in Zimbabwe

By Masimba Biriwasha | Open Editorial | @ChiefKMasimba | February 20, 2014

Growing up in Zimbabwe, the country seemed like a magical place, filled with hope and possibility. There was a sense that you could be anything that you wanted, that you could work hard and turn yourself into whatever you wanted to be. That – if anything – we were a blessed people.

Granted, Zimbabwe had its fair share of problems. At Independence from British rule in 1980, the Government of Zimbabwe inherited some of the most serious socio-economic inequalities in the world in terms of income, assets and access to education, housing and healthcare. Continue reading

Political and Civil Liberties Plummet in Sub Saharan Africa

By Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large | @ChiefKMasimba | January 23, 2014

Political liberties and civil rights have fallen in sub Saharan Africa, with the largest decreases in freedoms of expression and association, according to a report issued by Freedom House. The report also notes that there has been a growth in authoritarian rule for the eighth year around the world.

“For the eight consecutive year, we have recorded declines in freedoms around the world, and in the past year’s findings we have discovered 54 countries that have registered declines compared to 40 countries that have recorded gains,” said David Kramer, Freedom House’s Executive Director. Continue reading

Zimbabwe: Seeing Beyond Politics

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe’s trajectory since it attained independence from British colonial rule in 1980, and more critically its development over the past decade has been defined by politics as if that is the only factor of life that matters.

The political approach to shaping our nation has obviously scored some successes, markedly the massive investments made into the social sector during the early years of our independence. Despite that there have been setbacks in recent years, we are still reaping benefits from this investment, albeit, many of our talented people have opted to seek greener pastures in far shores.

Looking at the trajectory of Zimbabwe, however, it’s not far fetched to say that seeing politics as the be all and end all of everything will not necessarily fulfill all our aspirations as a people. Given the self-serving nature of politics, it is time that the citizenry begins to adopt a new attitude and see that there is a greater life outside the realm of the political.

Like Godots, politicians are often not in a position to come and deliver, and with their sugar-coated words, they always manage to hoodwink us into waiting for promises that are never deliver. Politicians and politics in general feeds off keeping us hoodwinking to never ending cycles of plastic promises, campaign rallies, empty speeches and grand state rigmaroles that are all much ado about nothing and barely move our lives and livelihoods an inch. It has already been argued that politics being one of the highest paying opportunities attracts a lot of people, especially the crooks.

AS Zimbabweans, it is time that people should offer up solutions themselves, rather than calling on political leaders to provide them. The circus that politicians have subjected us to over the past three decades has induced a sense of  helplessness among the citizens. As citizens, we need to take our power back and begin to be the change that we want to see.

Throughout the world, innovation – which in essence can push the boundaries of being – has never been known to be a function of politics. If we are going to be able to unleash our extraordinary potential, and spark a dynamic that will influence a shift, it is essential that we look more and more inside ourselves to unlock the talent that we have which the politicians are only putting to waste. Getting the old idea that politicians are our saviours must therefore be a constant aspiration of every Zimbabwean today and forevermore.

The good fortune that we assume must come from politicians must emerge from within ourselves; the challenges that politicians have created for us must serve as a basis for our self-renewal.

Achievement is built when conditions are difficult. Achievement is built when the direction of the economy is uncertain, and when there’s no guarantee of success. Indeed, there will be obstacles, excuses, distractions, frustrations and disappointments that will push back against our desire to fashion a new perspective but we must not give up for the sake of our children and their children’s children.

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.

Zimbabwe Fails Its Young People

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha| AfroFutures.com Global Editor-At-Large| Harare

ZIMBABWE’s acrimonious political system marked by a bitter rivalry between ZANU PF and MDC political parties combined with a decade-long economic collapse has sidelined the social and economic rights of young people, according to a recently published study.

The new study, which surveyed 1500 urban-based youths  in Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Mutare and Chitungwiza, revealed that most young people, that is, 76 percent of the respondents had a basic understanding of their socio-economic rights. Most of the young people felt that promoting such rights through human rights education is required.

In addition, 58 percent of the youth respondents said the government has the primary responsibility for providing socio-economic rights

The study, which was conducted by Youth Initiative for Democracy in Zimbabwe (YIDEZ), aimed to investigate young people’s views on social and economic rights, focusing on awareness, availability and accessibility of such rights.

Many youths in Zimbabwe – approximately 65 percent of the total population – are currently trapped in poverty and unemployment, with their voices largely curtailed in nation building endeavours such as the constitution making process. The study, titled, “Socio-Economic Rights: Youths Know Your Rights,” revealed that the current constitution does not have a provision for economic and social rights of young people. This is despite the fact that over the years the government has ratified various international human rights instruments which it has failed to incorporate into domestic law. According to Sydney Chisi, director of YIDEZ, the ongoing constitution making process had been a missed opportunity to address the issue of young people’s economic and social rights.

“The motivation of the study was the context of socio-economic rights within the framework on the ongoing discussion on the constitution. One of the missing links is that the discussion has been largely political and there has been very little focus on issues of socio-economic rights. If you look at the political discourse in post independent Zimbabwe, you’ll see that we have been moving away from issues of social and economic rights,” said Sydney Chisi, director of  YIDEZ.

To reduce unemployment rates and increase access to jobs, most of the young people surveyed said that Zimbabwe needs major legislative and policy reforms and external assistance for economic development. Sixty-two percent felt that an effective land audit should be conducted by the government to repossess all unproductive land and redistribute it to productive farmers.

The survey found that 32 percent of young people felt that title deeds should be issued to farmers to ensure security of tenure and boost confidence in the farming sector, while 6 percent felt that government must mobilize and distribute farm inputs before the beginning of each season.

“It is all about bread and butter issues. It about access to health, education and responsible local governance. It is difficult to talk about politics and democracy without taking it consideration fundamental human rights. The absence of access to fundamental social and economic rights will exacerbate the abuse of young people. Politicians have a way to come and promise services to young people. So we want young people to know about their basic social and economic rights  as a way for them to demand accountability from their local and national governance structures without necessarily being partisan,” said Chisi.

In the study,  72 percent of the respondents, said that despite slight improvement in the provision of health care following the formation of the inclusive government, young people were still facing a plethora of challenges to access affordable and quality healthcare. In addition, the respondents felt that decrease in public financing of the education sector, exorbitant fees and shortage of teachers is hindering young people from accessing quality education.

According to the study, the sidelining of social and economic rights can be a powder keg that if left unaddressed can hinder the country’s development.

“Zimbabwe has become a nation that is marked by oppressive political arrangements that favour particular segments of society and marginalize the basic survival rights of the average masses. It is saddening to note that social and economic rights have taken second or no place at all in the country priorities,” says the study.

Wikileaks: Foe or Friend to Open Society?

Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha| AfroFutures.com Global Editor-At-Large| Harare

THERE was furore in Zimbabwe’s highest political circles when WikiLeaks – an international non-profit organisation that publishes submissions of private, secret, and classified media from anonymous news sources, news leaks, and whistleblowers –published classified US state department diplomatic cables on Zimbabwe. The leaks made news headlines and reflected, more than anything else, biases in editorial stance of state and privately-owned media outlets.32

In spite of Wiki Leak’s founder, Julian Assange’s belief that total transparency is for the good of all people, the impact of the spillage of US secrets has been controversial to say the least.

Like in Zimbabwe, the publication of the US state department diplomatic cables caused serious political fallouts in many countries around the world, including the United States itself, Belarus, Palestine, Tunisia among others. In a discussion held recently at the Columbia University Journalism School in partnership with Index on Censorship, one of the world’s preeminent advocacy organizations, panelists put the spilling of United States government secrets under the spotlight.

Mark Stephens, a lawyer who represented Assange at his extradition hearings, explained how Assange redefined society’s traditional view of whistle-blowers.

“The genius of Julian Assange was to recognize a gap in the market,” he said, arguing that Assange pioneered a new way of handling classified information. He also suggested that WikiLeaks has raised questions about how to handle an organization that exists outside of sovereign states’ regulations.

Panelist, P.J. Crowley, a former Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, argued that Wikileaks had backfired against open expression.

“In pushing out 251,000 documents without regard for what was in them, Assange put in danger the very [democratic] activists he thought he was empowering. Possible consequences of this mean less information in cables, less information in discussions, so you have a less informed public service,” said Crowley.

In the wake of the WikiLeaks’ release in Zimbabwe, The Standard newspaper reported on alleged secret diamonds deals involving First Lady Grace Mugabe and the Reserve Bank Governor, Gideon Gono. The First Lady slapped the newspaper with a whooping US$15 million dollar lawsuit. In addition, the state media reported that the attorney general launched a probe to investigate Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s involvement in western sanctions following media reports of a classified US state department cable relating his meetings with Western ambassadors.

Nhlanhla Ngwenya, Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zimbabwe director said that both the state- and privately owned local media had failed to report objectively on the WikiLeaks saga. He said that local media used the cables to buttress their editorial positions.

“The state media used the Wikileaks to sustain their editorial position against the opposition without noting that the leaks merely consisted of subjective assessments by individuals and not the official position of the US government. The private media did not make an effort to seek comment from the implicated sources,” he said.

“The thing is when you report on a personal opinion it should be balanced; the cables consisted of diplomatic opinions. If you report opinion as fact, there’s a problem.”

According to media analysts, Wikileaks risks “collateral murder” in the name of transparency. In other words, it can be used as a tool to suppress what its leader claims it stands for.

Liesl Louw-Vaudran, an associate editor at the Institute for Security Studies, a South Africa-based think tank was quoted by the Voice of America as saying that the spilling of the secrets could lead to destabilization in Zimbabwe. As events in Zimbabwe have revealed, the information leaked by WikiLeaks can potentially be used as a “political tool.”

“Certainly for southern Africa, the WikiLeaks Zimbabwe revelations are most significant, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say they could destabilize Zimbabwe – and thus the region – even further in the months to come,” she said.

“I am not for one second saying WikiLeaks did not have the right to make the information public; I am merely exploring the possible ramifications now that this information is out there,” she added.

However, US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Charles A. Ray, was more blatant, calling Assange an opportunist.

“Mr Assange is an opportunist who has used this information for self-promotion. Along with freedom of the media is responsibility. Freedom of the press does not allow you to yell fire in a crowded theatre. It goes along with responsibility,” said Ray while addressing journalists at the Gweru Press Club.

“You need to be careful who you hold up as exemplars of a free press. Assange is certainly not a champion of freedom of the press, and he’s certainly no champion of people when he was told that the lives of some of the people in the leaked cables could be killed and his response was if they deal with the Americans then they probable deserve to be killed. I don’t even call him muckraker, I call him muck.”

At the panel discussion in New York, Richard Cohen, weekly columnist for The Washington Post posited that the massive leak of classified material will actually work against the Wikileaks’ goals of greater transparency in the long term.

“Assange proceeded without thought of the people affected. A lot of what was revealed was interesting but didn’t change any minds. It will intimidate people [in the future] from talking honestly,” he said.

A kind of freedom in Zimbabwe’s queues

AT FIVE IN THE MORNING I woke up with the image of a long human queue in the back of my mind. A friend had sent me some money from overseas, and in order to get access to it I had to be the proverbial “early bird” in order to be the first in the queue at the bank.

As I roused myself from sleep I thought with sober sadness how long I would have to stand in the queue to get my money. I would have to queue for at least three hours before getting served. Standing in queues that appear like mushrooms everyday in Harare has taught me patience. I am amazed and alarmed at my capacity for waiting. The struggle to withdraw money from Zimbabwean banks feels like a ton load of ants crawling and stinging the skin. The daily withdrawal limit is less than one American dollar, barely enough to buy a loaf of bread.

Outside, birds chirped an early morning chorus, their beautiful harmony far removed from the bedlam that Zimbabwe has become. The electricity suddenly failed and I couldn’t make the cup of tea that I was so much looking forward to. Electricity cuts are a common experience in today’s Zimbabwe; we have grown so accustomed to them that we dismiss the dark reality with a flippant remark or a shrug – much like we have become accustomed to long queues and the country’s stagnant politics. Continue reading