ZIMBABWE'S MDC USES THE WEB TO FIGHT THE GOVERNMENT

During the June 2000 elections in Zimbabwe, MDC campaigners and other citizens took advantage of the internet and email to promote and disseminate the aims and objectives of the Movement for Democratic Change. This strategy ran alongside the traditional campaigning of talks, meetings, rallies and word of mouth. Whilst the ruling party used a variety of campaign strategies from old-fashioned intimidation to exploiting their control of the print and broadcast media, the MDC had no option but to look creatively at other ways of campaigning.

Whilst it is true that access to computers and internet technology remains a privilege of the middle and upper classes in Zimbabwe, the MDC effectively used their on-line campaign to reach both rural and urban voters through the motivation of those with this access. Without the determination of Zimbabweans locally, regionally and abroad to participate in information sharing, all the technological savvy in the world would have made little difference on the ground.

In the beginning the MDCs web site showcased not much more than the partys manifesto. However, as the MDCs election campaign gathered momentum, so did the web site. The web site allowed accurate and timely coverage of the partys activities, bypassing the misrepresentation and censorship of the local state controlled media. It provided a wealth of information to foreign news services, human rights organisations, citizens and friends abroad, regional and international governments in an electronic form. The web site continues to be an archive of information on the party and the situation in Zimbabwe since March/April 2000.

Locally, the web site and email initiatives helped disseminate selected campaign materials to both rural and urban constituents. The MDC launched an initiative called hande kumusha (lets go home) which encouraged urban workers to return home to their rural areas during Easter 2000, taking the MDC election message home with them. The MDC had an array of campaign materials on their web site (and as attachments to email) available for downloading and printing. Using a combined email and internet strategy, the MDC sent out group emails asking their supporters to access the MDC web site, print off campaign materials and disseminate them to their workers for their journey to the rural areas.

In a similar way, the MDC promoted an initiative called "postal power" which combined traditional communication methods with email and internet technology. The postal power initiative show many Zimbabweans downloading MDC campaign materials from the web site and mailing this information to a variety of establishments (clinics, hospitals, schools) throughout the country.

The MDCs use of these strategies was largely unique to Africa and consequently caught the eye of the internet focused "Political Resources on the Net" http://www.politicalresources.net . Valuable attention was attracted when this organisation named the MDC web site as its "Political site of the week" for the week ended June 06, 2000. The BBC and Financial Times also drew attention to the site helping to build a steady increase in regular users of the web site. Many of the on-line news services included the MDCs web address as a link from their web pages.

During the election weekend, the MDC web site kept Zimbabwe and the world briefed with the latest results as they became available. Thousands of hits were recorded over this time. At the end of November 2000, the web site had recorded approximately 53000 unique visitors. From its humble beginnings the MDC web site has grown enormously and includes: Press statements Press clippings Profiles of MDC parliamentarians Policy papers Parliamentary updates Links to organisations monitoring media coverage, violence and intimidation Added to this, the web site also endeavors to entertain and be thought provoking. Visitors can access the music of Zimbabwean musician Thomas Mapfumo. His anti-Mugabe songs "Disaster" and "Mamvemve" have been banned by the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation but are available in MP3 format from the Anonym Records site which is a link on the MDC web site.

The MDCs email campaign took advantage of the thousands of Zimbabweans of all ages who have embraced this new communication tool. Email has given civil society and political and social activists an effective means of communicating their views and strategies.

The MDC compiled a substantial email address list with the help of an offshore list management facility, ListBot www.listbot.com. Participants can subscribe and unsubscribe from the list by email or via the web site as they wish. Regular updates using email kept people informed and involved. The government quickly realised that email was breaching their traditional control of communications and media. They pushed legislation through the Zanu-PF controlled parliament which allowed government agents to force local ISPs to allow them access to email passing through their servers. This caused concern only briefly in Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans quickly realised that the government was incapable of scrutinising the huge volumes of email generated daily.

Email and the web site allowed the MDC to source critical assistance in a matter of hours. This again underlines that technology together with motivated individuals can make an enormous difference. The immediacy of these media helped people to participate in an individual way, helped them feel useful, informed and connected. The MDCs considerable success in the June 2000 elections is a testament to the power of technology and the spirit of Zimbabweans committed to democratic change.

Source : Excerpt from NEWS UPDATE 39 <http://www.balanagingact-africa.com