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Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles
Jukwa, social media and Zimbabwe's future
If there is
one thing that is different to the 2008
Zimbabwean elections, it is that the 2013 election has a new
‘candidate’. His name is Baba Jukwa. The anonymous social
media icon and commentator, portrayed as a cartoon of an old man
and coined ‘the Julian Assange of Zimbabwe’, has attracted
the world’s attention.
Jukwa Facebook page currently has 300 000 plus followers, and
regularly leaks details on the activities of the Zimbabwean government
(with contact numbers of officials!). The character is commonly
cited as an insider of the ruling ZANU-PF, who describes himself
as a “concerned father, fighting nepotism and directly linking
community with their Leaders, Government, MPs and Ministers”.
It can be said
that the character’s online presence has become an extension
of public opinion – whether users agree with him or not -
his page is flooded with commentary and opinions after each posting.
These come not only from those in Zimbabwe but from the diaspora
who are eager for information on what is happening in their home
country. Social media has been a vital link between Zimbabwean locals
and the widely spread diaspora as it has provided instant dissemination
of opinions and information.
Baba Jukwa is
just one manifestation of a silent revolution that is taking place.
It is thanks in large part to the rising African middle class who
are increasingly looking to integrate their lives with communications
technology and in particular, affordable mobile devices. For example,
survey conducted by the Mass
Public Opinion Institute (MPOI) noted that 9 out of 10 Zimbabwean
youths already have access to mobile phones. Social media has the
ability to surpass the physical barriers of traditional communications
infrastructure, such as telephone lines.
The social media,
as a space for political deliberation, is most acute in places where
few other spaces for open debate exist. During the Arab Spring,
the social media became a vital tool to breaking psychological barriers,
as users shared information and at times organised real protests
in a short space of time. Similarly Zimbabweans (including the diaspora)
have utilised the Baba Jukwa Facebook page for information and updates,
to retrieve links to check their voter registration status and to
write comments that encourage each other to vote. Many are expected
to follow the elections today in Zimbabwe via Baba Jukwa.
reality is that even if Zimbabweans have become motivated to vote
and advocate for change, they cannot actually vote for Baba Jukwa.
While he is a channel to direct mass discontent, he remains a fictional
character that rarely engages the users beyond broadcasting information.
A recent piece on The Guardian website aptly said, the technologically
savvy youth are already the demographic who count themselves as
opposition to the status quo. Thus a real alternative to the current
candidates is still missing. However what the Baba Jukwa phenomenon
has done is increase public awareness of the kind of leaders Zimbabweans
do not want.
changes on the continent will hold serious political implications
for Zimbabwe in future. During an interview with Forbes magazine,
Mo Ibrahim stated that the average African leader is 63 while the
average citizen is 19. The CIA World Factbook similarly notes the
average Zimbabwean age as 19.5 years. It is important to note that
the rising use of communication technologies is part and parcel
of a unique demographic window.
At a SAIIA event
in May 2013, Ibrahim Mayaki, President of the New Partnership for
Africa's Development - NEPAD, noted the sobering fact that in the
next 20 years many of Africa’s aging leadership will be replaced
by young leaders. Yet little has been done to mend the gaps in perceptions
between the previous generations of leaders and the youth, whose
demands will increasingly require technocratic skills over political
the real impact of social media in Zimbabwe will need to be explored
after the election. Is it an effective platform? Clearly, its future
rests in the hands of its users.
of expression is and will remain important in Zimbabwe’s political
process, it needs to be channelled into changes in reality. The
Nigerian political scientist Claude Ake said “freedom of speech
and freedom of the press do not mean much for a largely illiterate
rural community” who are absorbed by the struggle to survive.
The challenge is to convince the rest of the estimated 1 to 3 million
Zimbabwean diaspora (most of who are not followers of the Baba Jukwa
saga) that criticism can in fact achieve results.
This is not
to say social media is irrelevant to development in Africa. The
opposite is true. Social media has the potential to speak to change.
Take for example the Obama administration’s smartphone app
- used during the 2012 US Presidential elections - which among other
things helped identify the homes of Democrat supporters in a suburb
(thereby simplifying the dissemination of party related information).
Imagine the possibilities if governments and development agencies
could pin-point the homes that have yet to receive running water
or medical care. The mobile potential is already being explored
in Kenya where the mobile micro-financing service, M-Pesa, allows
users who cannot afford bank accounts or reach physical branches
to make transactions. There is clearly space for social media integration
into everyday life.
So looking beyond
the election horizon there are already signs that the Zimbabwean
landscape will never be the same again. A media culture is developing
through an increasingly transnational population (via migration,
outlook and the very nature of the media’s ability to reach
across borders). This comes together with a diaspora and youthful
population who have aspirations that cannot be contained. In fact
the first privately-owned satellite television station, 1ST TV,
launched to challenge the dominance of the government-owned
Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC).
What the Baba
Jukwa case and the new television channel reveal are the rising
demand for independent and alternative voices. As the spaces for
independent thinking grow, the only feasible way to remove the credibility
of such spaces is to eliminate the barriers to robust political
Wu is researcher with SAIIA’s Global Powers and Africa Programme.
Her research latest paper examines the soft power approach of China
in Africa and is entitled The Role of Public Sentiment and Social
Media in the Evolving China-Africa Relationship (January 2013).
Catherine Grant Makokera is head of SAIIA’s Economic Diplomacy
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