By Charles Nhamo Rupare – An interesting mêlée happened in Zimbabwe eight months ago. A Bulawayo resident, Vikas Mavhudzi was arrested on charges of using a Facebook posting to urge Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to topple President Robert Mugabe – Arab spring style or as the government called it – “subverting a constitutional government”. Eight months down the line Vikas walked free. It was alleged that Comrade Vikas sent a message to fellow comrade Tsvangirai’s wall which read: “ I’m overwhelmed; don’t know what to say, Mr. PM. What happened in Egypt is sending shockwaves to all dictators around the world. No weapon but unity of purpose. Worth emulating hey”. The presiding magistrate Rose Dube dismissed the case after police failed to produce evidence of the Facebook comment in court. The prosecutor, Detective Inspector B. Samakande of Bulawayo central police said, “assistance was sought from experts in the information technology section without success. It would appear the message was deleted from the network”. Funny thing is; Vikas’ post is still on his page which he posted on the 13th of February and he sadly still has 97 friends. This occurrence sparked a tumulus debate in my mind. Is Sub-Sahara Afrika ready for a social network revolution? From comrade Vika’s case it appears the state and the general populace are yet to grasp the full power of Twitter, Facebook or communication in general as revolutionary weapons.
We were all held captive by how activists in Egypt, Tunisia, Iran, and Libya used social networks to mobilise and organise. The Arab spring as it was aptly named inspired the world to critically examine their leaders with courage and purpose. I remember the courageous images that were posted on Twitter and how they depicted a collective spirit for freedom. Sub-Sahara Afrikans whispered in hushed tones that this courageous stance against oppression should be emulated in our own countries. It’s interesting how we could not speak with loud voices about this giant leap. Are we scared and immobolised by political rhetoric from our leaders? I say we are.
For those who are on Twitter or Facebook the inter-connectedness of social networking has dominated our lives. There are many social tools to use such as web blogs, micro blogging, collaborative projects i.e. Wikipedia, Podcasts, content communities i.e. You Tube, photography, video, email and instant messaging. This social idea of cyber utopianism or Internet democracy has not fully been realised by Afrikans.
The power of an interactive dialogue has come to define the way we communicate. A new language has been born from these networks and with it a new mindset. The positive outcome of the Arab spring should be viewed with a veil of caution by the rest of us in Sub – Sahara Afrika. Social network can be a curse to the masses and can easily be used by oppressors to monitor and prosecute inciters of revolutionary thought. We have all read about Yahoo’s Chinese webmail that was used to identify and jail activists. Blogger and writer Michael Anti’s use of Facebook to incite Internet freedom in China and the subsequent deletion of his account by Facebook has now become the stuff of Internet folklore. The use of social networks as tools for change is the future but not all spheres of the world are ready to harness this power.
The optimists will say I’m anti revolutionary but before you banish me to the same dark Dictators’ Island as Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Muhammad Hosni Sayyid Mubarak or Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi allow me to state my case. There are 17 million Facebook users in Afrika and most of these are in urban centres. The rural areas where most dictators have strongholds have not progressed beyond mobile communication and State owned television. Afrikan countries with large social network users are South Afrika, Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana. Countries that matter do not have a large base although cellphone penetration is large but somewhat limited. Unlike the Arab world, Sub Sahara does not have a collective dialogue platform to spread messages on political issues through the use of the Internet. We also do not have a Pan Afrikan media powerhouse such as Al-Jazeera or CNN to carry our collective voice. This leads to out of context representation and lack of exposure. Unlike North Afrika people are bound by culture and a loyalty to “founding fathers” that liberated them. Social or economic issues and not repression largely dominate the political landscape of Sub – Sahara Afrika.
Sub-Sahara’s population is young. The median age is 15 which means most of these youngsters are still respectful of their elders and as such, the courage to use their social network voices is yet to be realised. The youth have three things on their minds – education, jobs and economic freedom. The desire to emulate the Egyptian youth is evident but the self-actualised will is yet to be realised. The North Afrika revolts were a uniformed experience – an interpretation of suffering common to all. We do not have the sophisticated networks to pull it off. Our colonial past created a fragmented Afrika where we do not share a common language to voice our collective thoughts. Suffering differs per region – The sufferings of Nigerians are different from those of Ethiopians. Sadly political independence has become an opium and religion a tranquliser for the masses. These two tools of oppression are deep rooted in our culture and social lifestyles. Until we shake these subliminal prisons off our consciousness we will not realize our true potential as a people. The lack of credible political opposition that wants real change remains a hindrance to courageous self – expression.
There is however light at the end of the tunnel. If we examine revolutions in Afrika we come to the realisation that political will exists in all sections of our society. Kofi Annan said we have the means and the capacity to deal with our problems, if only we can find the political will. We have learnt that where there is suppression or oppression people react the same way. What holds us back from utilising tools at our disposal to topple dictators is the loyalty that state organs have to political leaders. With the support of defence forces and the police we can stage a credible revolution. This was evident in North Afrika.
The current state of our countries calls for revolts and not revolutions – but only for now. Sub – Saharan nations hold recurring elections which are largely dominated by entrenched dictatorships with a smattering of emerging and reluctant coalitions of the unwilling. We have witnessed this in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Cote D’Ivoire. These elections do not propel real change and as such, become a muddled affair of corruption and political undermining. The stage for real change has to be set in the rural areas where the majority of Afrikans reside. Revolutions occur not because of the Afrikan community, which remains intact but the Afrikan state, which remains unbalanced and unreflective of Afrikans’ innate democratic feelings.
We need to organize ourselves not just on social networks but also within our own communities. There are many groups on Twitter and Facebook that address issues that face the youth, women and social integration. The magic lies in find a common thread to connect our shared experiences and mobilising our viewpoints as a collective. These efforts can further be strengthened by technological advancements in rural communities as well as backing from the diaspora network. Until then, the era of old school revolutionaries standing on armoured cars, sloganeering, waving AK 47’s and blasting out the Afrikan dictatorship will continue but these days are numbered. We are in an era of Social network mobilisation. The inspiration from the Arab spring will manifest in a glorious summer of Afrikan freedom.
About Charles Nhamo Rupare:
Charles Nhamo Rupare is of Shona origin and lives life through the creative eye. Charles Nhamo dreams of Afrika regaining her dignity and her sons and daughters developing the necessary mental freedom to love peace and communal co-existence. He is an award-winning Afrikan-centred brand specialist, percussionist, writer and a Pan-Afrikan thinker. He is chief editor of www.kush.co.za, a co-founder of Kush Kollective and a Partner of TEDx Soweto. He is a consultant to various organisations on Afrikan music, art, brand building and social development. He can be reached at email@example.com.