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technologies = New chances? The Internet as survival tool for Zimbabwean
January 26, 2009
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In the aftermath
of the 2008 elections in Zimbabwe the world had to witness incredible
atrocities against civilians and participants of the Zimbabwean
democracy movement. Yet, this outburst of violence was just the
peak of a long and sad story of fierce repression. In addition to
the recent economic crisis including hyperinflation and food shortage,
Zimbabweans have been suffering serious human rights violations
during the last years (see Human Rights Watch 2008a/b, EIU 2008a/b,
Freedom House 2008). Many social movement organizations (SMOs) fighting
for democracy disappeared (Interview Müller), while those that
survive encounter severe obstacles to their work.
keep on actively campaigning and courageously withstanding the repression
as we are able to witness via the Internet. Various newsletters,
blogs and updated websites kept people informed all around the globe,
even when violence burst and street protests would have been impossible.
An impressive example is the interactive
map of Zimbabwe featuring the time and place of more than 2000
reported cases of violence published on the Internet in the direct
aftermath of the elections.
is striking considering the hostile environment the SMOs are facing.
This paper suggests, therefore, that the Internet serves the Zimbabwean
social movements organizations as a survival tool providing them
with vital resources beyond the reach of the governmental repression.
"The group can do no more than its resources and its environment
permits (...)" (Freeman 1979: 167). Taking this statement by
social movement scholar Jo Freeman seriously, we will apply Resource
Mobilization Theory to analyze the impact of the Internet on Zimbabwean
pro-democracy organizations, but also provide information about
the political and economic environment of Zimbabwean SMOs to give
a better understanding of the range of obstacles they are facing.
I will start
by reviewing the Resource Mobilization Theory. The author finds
the approach most appropriate for this research, because -according
to the scholars who first developed this theory-"(...) we focus
more directly upon social movement organizations"(McCarthy
and Zald 1977:1216), whereas other movement scholars tend to concentrate
on social movements (SM) in general, their outcomes and their development
(see e.g. McAdam et al. 1996, Tilly 2006, Kriesi 1995). We will
analyze the vital resources for the SMOs and how they are obtained.
I try to find an adequate operationalization given the differences
between Zimbabwe and the Western democracies where the theory originates.
of the paper presents findings on the relation between Internet
and social movements. As with social movement research in general,
we find a strong bias towards theorizing Western movements, although
there are already studies about SMOs using the Internet in developing
countries. We analyze the theoretical approaches in conjunction
with the research on developing countries to obtain a better picture
of how SMOs use the Internet.
In the next
section I conduct a first test of the assumptions based on a sample
of 16 organizations who answered my questionnaire (see Appendix).
The form had been sent by Email to 75 Zimbabwean SMOs labeling themselves
"democracy", "civil activism", "political
activism and opinion" and/or "human rights" groups
on a Zimbabwean
NGO-Networking-Website where the Email contacts were taken from.
should be viewed as a first investigation in this field of research
and are not representative due to the small sample size. Nevertheless,
they give us an indication as to how the Internet supports social
movement organizations in developing countries and what should future
research focus on, as I will discuss in the last section of the
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