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Zimbabweans urged to use social networks
MISA-Zimbabwe
February 29, 2012

Zimbabwe's major opposition party, the Morgan Tsvangirai-led Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has urged Zimbabweans to use social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as platforms to express themselves in a country that has failed to satisfactorily diversify its media.

The call for social media use, made by MDC Secretary-General Tendai Biti, comes at a time when speculation is rife that Zimbabwe will go to the polls this year. President Robert Mugabe, who recently celebrated his 88th birthday, has called for elections to be held this year. Mugabe¹s party, ZANU-PF, has strongly opposed proposed media reforms in the country even though regional institutions such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have encouraged such reforms as a precondition for the holding of free, transparent and credible elections.

Biti is quoted by website, IT Web, as saying: "The issue of ICT is fundamental [as] battles are no longer fought with guns but on Twitter and Facebook and YouTube. We really have to enter the Internet age. New media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are credited for significantly helping in mobilizing the masses in the Arab world, leading to the fall of dictators such as Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali (Tunisia) and Hosni Mubarak (Egypt)" and Biti, who is also the country¹s Finance Minister did not shy away from making this reference according to IT Web.

However, reference to the Arab Spring is treated with deep suspicion in Zimbabwe. Six activists, including a former lawmaker, Munyaradzi Gwisai, are currently on trial, charged with conspiracy to commit public violence, after they were arrested while watching video footage of the Egyptian uprising, allegedly with the intention of mobilizing the people of Zimbabwe to revolt against government and demand the resignation of President Mugabe. They all deny the charge.

Biti¹s call also comes in the wake of a Freedom House OE Freedom On the Net report, which notes that while [Mugabe's] regime has committed rampant human rights abuses and exercised strict control over the traditional media, the internet is nominally free from government interference. Yet, the existence of an Interception of Communications Act (2007) poses significant threats to Freedom of Expression in Cyberspace in Zimbabwe.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa continues to urge the government of Zimbabwe to implement substantive media reforms before any election is held. Through our Zimbabwe chapter (MISA-Zimbabwe), we have also previously welcomed the inclusion of media freedom and access to information in the first draft Constitution, published early February 2012. We strongly feel that Chapter 4 of the said draft captures the requisite ingredients necessary for the flourishing of independent, diverse and pluralistic media and must, therefore, be included in the final draft.

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