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

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Social Media Not Everything for Zimbabwe’s Democracy

ImageA MONTH prior to the recently held elections in Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe’s social media space went through an upsurge of activity.  In fact, there was such a hullabaloo around social media with political, civic organisations and mostly Zimbabwean urbanites turning to the medium as if it were also casting votes.

Countless pages cropped up on Facebook focused on the Zimbabwean elections. Baba Jukwa, undoubtedly emerged as the poster child of Zimbabwe-elections related social media activity garnering over 300,000 followers within two months leading up to the plebiscite.

Political parties and civil society also jumped onto the social media bandwagon generating some conversation about their respective agendas. Much of the social media activity related to the Zimbabwean elections occurred within a month of the actual vote. So, in a way, many of the social media actors in Zimbabwe came too late to the table.

Without a doubt, the just-finished elections were the most watched since Zimbabwe won its independence from colonial rule in 1980. Social media played a significant in ensuring the flow of information and keep citizens aware.

However, a key lesson from the just ended elections is it is important not to overstate social media’s potential for transforming governance in Zimbabwe. While it is true that social media websites offer a low-cost and relatively low-risk way for citizens to engage in conversation about democratic governance, Zimbabwe’s technological infrastructure is not sufficiently developed to enable social media with a wide reach, enabling activists to mobilize a mass public.

From a technological standpoint, Zimbabwe is currently estimated to be five years behind other countries in the region. According to estimates, only around 4,1 million Zimbabweans mainly in urban areas or 30 percent of the population can claim they have some kind of internet access. Internet literacy is limited, as is web content that relates specifically to Zimbabwe. Despite a significant rise in the number of website that were established to focus on the elections, access is still limited.

Affordable access to communications networks is a basic requirement for the effective functioning of governance, civil society as well as for economic development.

Social media’s impact in that sense has been largely to expose the Zimbabwe electoral process to the outside world. Among Zimbabweans, social media has had an impact especially on urbanites and the diaspora. Lack of connectivity continues to hamper access to information for many people in rural areas.

In terms of implementation of social media, many of the political and civil society institutions came too late to the table. To make matters worse, efforts to mobilise voters especially were rather disjointed. There was somewhat a knee-jerk approach to the way that social media was utilized. Overall though, the Zimbabwe elections 2013 were by far the most hyper-connected. More youths could have been captured and encouraged to participate in the process if a more holistic approach had been employed.

Suffice to state that, there are about 1.1 million Zimbabweans on Facebook, with most accessing the platform via mobile internet which is still exorbitant.

With regards to content management, most of the social media activities were like shooting in the dark. Take, for example, no one knows how many Zimbabweans are on Twitter despite its huge potential. There was very little measurement of metrics to assist in determining messages to establish a conversation with the electorate. Instead, much of the social media activity was much like a conversation among the converted.

To emphasize, social media did bring a spotlight to the elections but mostly for the benefit of those in urban areas and outside Zimbabwe. Many of the young people still had to rely on traditional methods. There was a need in social media efforts to integrate online and offline efforts. This was certainly not the case. The process of involving more youth in the next electoral process via social media should begin now.

Mobile internet access is growing exponentially. In recent years, there has been significant growth in this sector. Nonetheless, in a country with exponential unemployment, the cost of hand-held devices and web access remains an obstacle to greater growth. The more an individual is income-less the more the probability to be excluded digitally. Digital poverty is more prevalent in rural areas where the majority of the population – approximately 62 per cent of the population – resides than in urban areas.

Many experts believe that democracy in the 21st century will increasingly depend on access to the Internet and technology. But in Zimbabwe, the potential of new technology to influence political governance in still a factor for the future trajectory of politics in the country.

In the future, the internet, and thus social media, is likely to play a greater role in Zimbabwe’s politics and culture. Zimbabwe is being connected to the undersea cable. Fiber-optic infrastructure is being set up across the country. It is expected that the nation will have ubiquitous connectivity and low-cost access to data by 2014. New opportunities are thus likely to arise, in terms of both business and politics.

What social media has shown in the Zimbabwean elections is that sometime in the not too distant future, social media tools like Facebook could facilitate spaces for people to openly express themselves in defiance of censorship, circumventing both state-owned and privately owned media. The tech-savvy younger generation could play a leading role.

Young Zimbos Opt for Smaller Families

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large

HARARE, Zimbabwe – Maidei Tikiwa, 26, of Chitungwiza has three children. Hararian, Tambudzai Chikanga, 28, has two. For Shamiso Dube, 30, of Mutare, it’s three. Ruvimbo Mazani, of Tafara, has four.

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Blessing Chitambo, 20, wanted two – and got them when her twin boys, Tafadzwa and Tafara, were born four year ago.

“I have always wanted to have two children, that’s something I agreed with my huaband. Two is very normal,” said Chitambo.

Traditionally, six has been the number of children favoured by most Zimbabweans. But the ideal family size appears to have gone through a shift.

Nowadays, deciding how many kids to have isn’t as easy as settling on a magic number, especially against a background of a tough economy, increased educational opportunities for women and increased job demands.

In the past, the number of children that couples chose to have was often determined by household workloads. Hence, couples opeted to have big families in order to secure labourers.

However, today’s parents are increasingly facing a lot of things that need to be balanced. Young couples intend on having children (and those that are looking to have children someday) have to balance school, career choices and relationships. What is interesting is that, unlike in the past, there is now little extended family influence in making decisions about family size.

“It’s now a very personal decision how many children I’m going to have. It’s something that my husband and I have already decided. However, I can’t say what we decide should be a straight-jacket for all,” said Mazani, who added that she and her huband, Tawanda, talked extensively about how many kids they wanted to have.

James Sitiya, 32, who is planning to get married next year, said the choice of a partner largely determines the number of children.

“I think the more educated we become, the less children we opt to have. I see it among most of my friends that are married – three is the highest number of children that most are opting for. It’s just an imperative that one has to balance career development with starting a family,” he said.

In the twentieth century, the typical Zimbabwean woman had six to ten children. During that time, children were largely seen as an asset. Children were regarded as a resource that could be put to work. Parent expected their children to look after them when they were old. Very little money was spent on the education of children, particulalrly, girls.

More recently, children are now seen as an investment. There is an increasing realization among younger Zimbabweans that children require investment in order to have a successful adulthood.

It is proving more difficult financially and logistically to have more children nowadays. Howvever, there is some clear brainwashing that two children, especially if it’s a boy and a girl, is the perfect size for a family. That message is hammered via advertising.

Whatever the case, what is apparent is that Zimbabwe’s family size has significantly shrunk. Two seems to be taking hold, and it’s not surprsing given that it takes appromixately US$200,000 to rear a child from age zero to 18.

Harare’s Water: A Ticking Time Bomb

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large

HARARE, Zimbabwe – Harare City Council’s Waste Water Manager, Engineer Simon Muserere, on Monday revealed that contaminated water is being released into Lake Chivero, the city’s biggest source of drinking water, putting the health of more than half a million people at risk.

Likening Harare’s situation to an overstretched catapult, Muserere said a total of US$18 million is required to avert a disaster. He said that a total of 90 out of 144 mega litres were being treated on a daily basis, with 54 mega litres going untreated.

Muserere said that breakdowns at the city’s largest eight-hectare sewerage, Firle Sewerage Treatment Works, and constant power cuts combined with high amounts of grit, phosphates, ammonia and nitrogen were contributing to failure by the city to treat water. He said local industry was also culpable due to their failure to reduce pollution activities.

“Our main challenge has to do with social engineering, there is lack of knowledge in addition to infrastructure problems. Some industrialists are offloading their responsibilities to the man on the street. They are just pouring everything into the waters and that’s why the city is failing to treat the water. Until industry changes their behaviour, we’ll continue to have problems,” said Muserere, adding that failure to engage in hygienic practices is leading to high costs of water in the city.

Muserere said that the Harare currently services approximately half a million people as well as two and a half million people in the satellite towns of Chitungwiza, Epworth, Norton and Ruwa.

“All the satellite towns are upstream in the water catchment areas which means that they are also offloading waste into Harare’s water source,” he said. “The satellite towns are not honouring their dues to the city by not attending to their waste water systems.”

However, the capital cannot disconnect the four satellite towns because this could trigger outbreaks of cholera and typhoid.

Afro-Jazz Maestro, Victor Kunonga, Mesmerises Disabled Children With Music

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

HARARE, Zimbabwe – Tradititional music and Afro-jazz maestro, Victor Kunonga, put up a sterling performance at the inaugural Special Schools Arts Festival Guitar held on Friday at St Giles in Harare.

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Under the glare of the mid-afternoon sun, Kunonga took to the stage and mesmerized the audience with soul-foul music signatured by his unmistakable guitar work.

In fact, throughout his performance, Kunonga got off the stage and mingled with the audience much the amusement of the children with special needs. The children trailed him around – laughing and dancing – as he plucked away at his guitar.  

“I am here because it helps to serve the plight of the disabled children. I have, in my small way, been able to raise awareness about their issues. They don’t necessarily get everything from me but I can help to raise awareness,” said Kunonga in an interview.

Kunonga, who is also a Global Coalition for Alleviation of Poverty (GCAP), said that its important to instill a sense of pride, responsibility and discipline in children with special needs so that they do not grow up feeling sorry for themselves.

“When the children can stand up and perform, they can grow up with a sense that they’re able to do something. As a result, when they’re adults, they’ll just behave like everyone else,” said Kunonga.

Kunonga said that a the GCAP amabasador his role is to make sure that no children is left behind in the country’s development efforts.

“One of the goals of the Millenium Development Goals is universal primary education for all children. We must make sure every children is considered. Children with special needs must not be an afterthought,” he said.

Photographic Exhibition Explores Environmental Devastation

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

Harare, Zimbabwe  – A hauntingly beautiful exhibition titled, “While We Wait”  which highlights the degradation of the earth’s resources opened to the public on World Environment Day, Tuesday in Harare.

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Speaking at the opening of the exhibition, Environment and Natural Resources Management Minister Francis Nhema said that Zimbabwe needs a green economy.

The exhibition, which consists of a photographic and filmic depiction of the devastation of the earth’s resources, will run until June 20. The exposition by photographer Eric Gauss and filmaker Nigel Gullet, makes a provocative and abstract look at the impact of the abuse of the environment.

In one of the pictures titled “Drowning,” a little boy is shown drowning in litter, cans, cigarettes and a discarded computer monitor.

Also on showcase is a five-minute film which highlights the extent to which the earth’s resources are being abused.

European Union Ambassador Dr Aldo Allicio said that twenty years ago, in June 1992, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development also known as the Rio Conference or the Earth Summit, the risks were clearly spelled out.

“In front of the gravity of the situation, 172 governments reached an agreement on the Climate Change Convention which in turn led to the Kyoto Protocol. Fundamental documents were signed; important legally binding agreements were proposed to the stakeholders, like the Convention on Biological Diversity or the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Other conferences followed and we are now preparing for RIO + 20,” he said.

“But “While we Wait”, as is the title of this beautiful exhibition, the ‘clock is ticking’ and our environment is increasingly threatened by the challenge between growth and sustainable use of natural resources. And it seems that sometimes selfish interests prevail.”

He added that there was a need for awareness and action in Zimbabwe on the environment.

“Zimbabwe is endowed by exceptional natural resources that if properly managed could be converted as a pillar for sustainable economic growth that reconciles the respect of pressing environmental concerns with the right of Zimbabwe to seek prosperity for its citizens. Unfortunately number of threats exists and need to be tackled urgently, in order to avoid that the blessing becomes a curse,” he said.

He pointed out that alarming deforestation that impacts on biodiversity and Zimbabwe carbon dioxide absorption capacity. He said that land degradation in arable land that reduces agricultural potential, biodiversity loss that undermines Zimbabwean natural heritage, water pollution that leads to environmental health diseases and climate change that weakens rain-dependant activities continue to pose challenges.

Domestic Resources Missing in Africa’s AIDS Response

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha Biriwasha | DevAge Global Editor At Large

HARARE, Zimbabwe – Ninety per cent of AIDS programmes in Africa are foreign funded, a situation that is highly unsustainable especially in the face of the global economic crisis, Director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for East and Southern Africa, Professor Sheila Tlou revealed in an exclusive interview at the inaugural GlobalPOWER Women Africa conference held recently in Harare, Zimbabwe.

“There are individual variations among countries but indeed in a lot of our programmes continent-wide, ninety-percent of the funding comes from external sources, for example, the Global Fund, PEPFAR and other development partners. There is an AIDS dependency on the continent,” she said, adding that Africa needs increased domestic resources targeted towards the AIDS response.

“We need to have domestic resources because if every country can own the epidemic and say that it’s ours – that can do quite a lot.”

She attributed the continent’s AIDS dependency to the history of epidemic which has been largely characterized by foreign funding of AIDS programmes.

“When HIV came, I would say, a lot of donors were willing to pour a lot of money in, and maybe the situation could have continued had the world not experienced the global economic crisis,” she said.

Tlou said that though African governments have long-recognized that they need to dedicate domestic resources to the AIDS response, there was still a lack of political commitment to implement declarations.

“In 2001, African presidents met in Abuja and made a declaration to devote 15 per cent of national budgets to health but it’s happening in a very few countries. If we can have at least every African country saying we’re going to put 15 per cent of their national budgets to health, we would be far much better off,” she said, pointing out that countries such as Botswana, Mauritius, Namibia and South Africa had committed fifteen percent of their national budgets to the health sector with tangible improvements in the response to AIDS.

“The political commitment needs to be there. Fifteen percent is not a magical bullet but it shows that countries have goodwill to respond to the epidemic whereby donors can say we are helping those who’re helping themselves.”

Tlou added that AIDS programmes in Africa currently exist in silos, far removed from each other, lacking in integration and a holistic approach.

“The real problem is that the AIDS response in Africa is disintegrated. We need to take AIDS out of isolation and make sure that it is integrated into the whole healthcare system,” she said.