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New technologies = New chances? The Internet as survival tool for Zimbabwean pro-democracy organizations
Monika Hufnagel
January 26, 2009

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1. Introduction

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.

Still, they 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.

Such protest 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.

Section three 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.

The findings 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 paper.

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