Texts put Africa on alert - Press Gazette

Texts put Africa on alert

With the media restricted, Zimbabweans are using new technologies for political campaigning and communication.

Blogs, Flickr, Facebook, SMS, YouTube and mash-ups have been used in a number of ways, from providing up-to-date news to passing on political jokes.

Ndesanjo Macha, a Tanzanian blogger, journalist and lawyer who is based in the US, writes on the Global Voices online blog that: ‘If you are in Zimbabwe and your phone rings, you might be receiving a news headline from SW Radio, an election update from Kubatana.net or a political joke about Robert Mugabe.”

With mobile phone access in Africa reasonably widespread, SMS is being used by activists. The London-based SW Radio has been using SMS to send news headlines to mobile phones in Zimbabwe. It also includes text messages on the site.

One says: ‘I stay in mbare i was beaten with logs fist kicks and i was evicted al this hapend at mbare 7 district ofice until nw i am outside i do nt no wat 2 do.’

Another says: ‘They r going around ordering ev’one 2go &vote sayin we should report 2base &go 2 vote cell by cell or face violence thats in mbare & highfield.’

A third says: ‘People are still being dragged to torture bases in the middle of the night and they are being threatened that the exercise will continue even if ZANU wins. What can people do to protect themselves?”

Extra programmes

SW Radio, the only independent radio station that can be heard in Zimbabwe, broadcasted hour-long news updates on Friday, Saturday and Sunday last week in addition to its daily three-hour news programme.

An online community of Zimbabwean activists called Kubatana is also using SMS to send election news and facilitate debate. It sends out notifications of public events, quotations, and selected comments from current and past articles.

Some of the website’s content is sent out in 160 character messages. Subscribers are also encouraged to send in their own messages to www.sokwanele.com/thisiszimbabwe/archives/1063.

Sokwanele, the civic action support group, has produced an online map showing violence in the country based on first-hand testimony from victims that so far shows 1,000 incidents.

The site also uses animation to show different groups responsible for the violence in the capital, Harare.

Icons on the map open up to provide information about each case, including which constituency and province it occurred in and what happened as well as giving a summary of results from the 29 March elections.

The website stresses that the map can only provide a ‘sample’of the cases of violence: ‘The experiences here represent those people who have found a way out of the areas where they were being persecuted to find assistance, or it reflects those who have managed to find someone that they have been able to report their experience to.

‘Their stories, on this map, come from a variety of sources who have carefully recorded their testimony,’ the website says.