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

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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.

What Obama Means to Africa

Nothing could be more symbolic of Africa’s support for US President-elect Barack Obama than Kenya’s declaration of Nov. 5 as a national holiday in recognition of Obama’s ascendancy to power. But, if Africans expect Obama to dish out handouts, as some commentators in the continent have intimated, then they are clearly mistaken.

From the far flung villages of Kenya (the homeland of Obama’s father) to the cash strapped streets of Zimbabwe, Obama’s electoral victory wafted through the continent like a breath of fresh air, ushering in a new dialogue about identity, democracy and politics.

Because Obama is African by ancestry, it was always predictable that Africans would greatly celebrate his electoral win. However, it is nothing short of foolhardiness for African people to expect Obama to work miracles that will resolve the continent’s ills.

If anything, for Africa, Obama’s win must be strictly seen for what is: it’s merely symbolic. And in politics symbols do matter. Continue reading

Harare Hiatus

I RECENTLY KILLED a goat in the hope of selling the meat for US dollars.

Like many Zimbabweans, I have become accustomed to a culture of trying to make a quick buck to cope with the economic struggles and food shortages. Unfortunately for me, no customers came forward to buy the goat meat.

Now I am cracking my head to come up with another money-making deal that can get me American currency.

The reason is simple: my landlord wants her rent in US dollars. She says Zimbabwean dollar notes are like tissue paper and she has no need of them, so I am left with a little choice but to hassle.

Got to this link and read more.

Obama-mania for Africa

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

First things first: (his brains aside) Barack Obama is handsome, cool, and energizing like a drop of dew on an October morn.

By ancestry, Obama is an African and it’s not far-fetched to say through him the ancestors have spoken with a voice that has resonated across the globe, rebranding the black image. Just like me, my friend Innocent has been glued onto Obama’s presidential campaign.

We both know the twist and turns of the law professor cum US Senator cum presidential candidate’s campaign trail like our hidden souls.

“Obama is a shining star of our generation, and his rise has been nothing less than meteoric. He represents a line of great inspirational and transformational leaders like Nelson Mandela, and he’s making history right before our eyes,” says Innocent.

I couldn’t agree more: if anything, Obama’s decision to run for presidency is one of the best things to happen to Africa after Mandela.

Apart from his personality, Obama’s message of hope, if actualized, is one that can potentially heal global wounds inflicted by increasingly belligerent US policies over the past eight years of George Bush’s rule. In fact, I must admit that that I have become emotionally, spiritually and intellectually hitched to the Obama star over the past two or so years of the US presidential campaign trail.

With all due credit to Obama, he has managed to build a golden stair that has resonated with many people across the world. For the first time in my life, I have absolutely fallen in love with public service life, courtesy of Obama. Continue reading

Mugabe’s Wrath of the State

President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zimbabwe African National Union has, in recent days, embarked on a warpath against civil society organizations.

 Robert Mugabe

 President Robert Mugabe: Africa’s strongman

Ordinary citizens with political views that favor the opposition political party, Movement for Democratic Change, have also not escaped the wrath of the state.

 Mugabe’s government accuses civil society organizations of both working in cahoots with the MDC and being funded by Western countries.

In Zimbabwe today, the venom of the state machinery, including the military, the police and the state-owned media, is being unleashed against anyone perceived to be connected to the opposition, which won the parliamentary elections in March — a first in Zimbabwe since it attained independence from British rule in 1980.

Since 1980, ZANU-PF has won all the parliamentary and presidential elections by any means possible — fair, foul or murderous.

Incumbent President Mugabe, who narrowly lost to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai 43.2 percent to 47.9 percent in the March election, blames Western forces (as he has glibly done for the past eight years) for his loss of popularity.

Ahead of a runoff election scheduled for June 27, Mugabe has invoked all the state machinery’s hell against his people, and is determined to win by any means necessary.

Throughout the country, opposition supporters have been abducted and discovered with limbs, private parts, ears and tongues chopped off in scenes reminiscent of ritual killings.

“It’s a desperate situation,” said Keith Mazonde, a Harare-based nongovernmental organization worker in a Skype interview, “But the old man [Mugabe] is going nowhere.”

“I think he will win, but if you get me right, it’s a different kind from the win we know,” added Mazonde.

The clampdown of civil society organizations by Mugabe’s government comes in the wake of an order barring humanitarian aid organizations from distributing food and agricultural aid to impoverished Zimbabweans.

Mugabe has accused humanitarian aid organizations of using food handouts to campaign in favor of the opposition. NGOs have been ordered to re-apply for operating licenses.

According to Zimbabwe’s National Association of Nongovernmental Organizations, HIV patients will likely die as a result of the ban on food aid because they rely on NGOs for home-based care and antiretroviral medical assistance.

“The country has become a bedlam for people seeking an honest means of living. It looks like it will get better if only Mugabe goes, and a government of national unity is the way forward,” said Obert Sherera, an NGO worker.

UNICEF estimates that a total of 185,000 children are likely to miss the essential support they need, including healthcare and nutrition, and labels the government ban against NGOs a “human rights violation.”

“One day it will all come to an end but for now people are living in fear,” said Nornia Dumare, a political activist in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city.

Already, political analysts are saying that under the current circumstances it will be impossible for Zimbabwe to hold a free and fair presidential election.

According to a Human Rights Watch report, the Zimbabwean government’s campaign of violence and intimidation against the opposition MDC has extinguished any chance of a free and fair presidential runoff on June 27.

The report titled “‘Bullets for Each of You’: State-Sponsored Violence Since Zimbabwe’s March 29 Elections,” said that 36 politically motivated deaths and 2,000 victims of violence have been recorded in the run-up to the June runoff election.

“Since the runoff was announced the violence in Zimbabwe has gotten even worse,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Zimbabweans can’t vote freely if they fear their vote may get them killed.” 

Wired Journalism for Africa: Making It Work

The emergence of online digital tools have dramatically revolutionized the traditional story-telling and publishing model. Rather than merely rely on text and pictures, journalism has an opportunity to open readers or audiences to a revolutionary interactive experience.

 

Also, production is highly low cost. In todays’ digital storytelling environment, a combination of sound, images, and video can be utilized to enliven the process of storytelling.

 

In itself, this approach enhances the interactivity of a specific digital platform, thereby increasing the levels of dialogue and conversation.

 

Unlike the traditional journalistic model in which news is seen as a product to be created and delivered to audiences, online digital tools largely involve audiences playing an active part in defining the meaning of news.

 

“The audience decides what journalism they want. It always has. And the journalism that people want today has nothing to do with gatekeeping. Unfettered access to information and unparalleled interaction with that information is today’s standard,” says Mark Briggs in an article titled “Raising the Ante: The Internet’s Impact on Journalism Education”.

 

According to Briggs, journalists today lack the skills required for building the multi-dimensional story-telling model.

 

“The ability to recognize and make sense of so many sources of information, rumor and speculation – and to publicly interact with those sources – are new skills that many journalists do not possess,” he says.

 

The challenge in today’s digitalized environment is to create a news model that facilitates dialogue, and makes the audience participate in shaping the value of the conversation.

 

It is no longer a one way street.  

 

Journalism in today’s digital media environment, will be circular as opposed to a top-down model, in which readers and audiences are regarded as passive in the process of content creation.

 

The practice is more about creating an open space utilizing web technologies that can bring people together to address complex, important issues and achieve meaningful results among people.

 

In its ideal form, journalism seeks to inform, educate and empower citizens to be knowledgeable actors in decisions that affect their own well-being. Journalism is therefore an attempt to define reality.

 

In a wired environment, it is a fallacy to say that that privilege of content creation is the preserve of traditional journalists.

 

The internet has given citizen s the power to define their truths and share that information with the rest of the world.

 

Conversation-focused journalism is indeed the way of the future. In the developing, such models have to exist more traditional print methods.

 

Due to low connectivity, and adeptness to digital technology, many people still heavily rely on traditional means in spite of the apparent limitations.

 

Efforts to actively encourage and engage with audiences, particularly young people, need to be promoted. Furthermore, there is need for a platform that promotes the culture and identity of the target audiences.

 

Platforms must be designed and implemented in a fashion that energizes the target audiences to become active participants.