As the citizens of Zimbabwe head for the polls at the end of July in the country’s 2013 General Election, the internet and social networking in particular look set to play an increasingly relevant role. Given the growth of the country’s ICT sector, the notion that this role will only increase is not far-fetched.
An article posted on The Independent online stated that the number of internet subscribers has more than doubled between 2011 and 2012. The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) puts the number at 4,5 million at the end of 2012.The number of mobile internet subscribers is said to have reached 3.2 million in the second quarter of 2012.
The article states that the growth is attributed to the rollout of internet-enabled devices and access to online via mobile services via 3G and 4G.
According to statistics, based on estimated figures, published online by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) the percentage of individuals using the internet in 2012 stood at 17.09%. The number of mobile-cellular subscriptions in 2012 is said to be 12 613 935.
The ITU also states that in Africa, mobile-cellular subscriptions in Africa in 2013 stood at 545 million or 63.5 per 100 inhabitants. Additionally, the number of active mobile-broadband subscriptions in Africa is said to be estimated at 93 million or 10,9 per 100 inhabitants.
Growth of the sector
In August of 2012, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Information Communications and Technology (ICT), and the MDC-T’s National Organising Secretary Nelson Chamisa, confirmed that the process of stabilising Zimbabwe’s political and economic landscape was in place and progressing.
At the time he said that the country was in a period of rebuilding and the timing for investment could not be better,” he said.
The objective suggested by Minister Chamisa was to push the country’s ICT sector to the next level by 2015, orchestrated through the Zimbabwe National ICT Policy Framework, first launched in 2007 and adapted to keep up with industry developments.
Minister Chamisa also reiterated the country’s official position on the Indigenisation and empowerment legislation that compels foreign owned companies to surrender 51% of their stakes or equity, saying that a policy framework was in place to ensure that there would be no application of the 51% threshold to new investors.
“The climate is conducive to investment. We are focusing on connectivity, on establishing a legislative environment that encourages growth and investment, there are more opportunities. We also have powerful HR, with wonderful people,” said the Minister. “We are creating a óne-stop-shop’ scenario for those entering the country to do business and we have structures in place to deal with any problems.”
However, since August 2012 the legislation has been the subject of ongoing debate. Research shows that opinion is divided as to the approach to the legislation, with concern expressed by Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s Governor Gideon Gono over what he describeds as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.
According to the UN Development Programme World Investment Report 2012, Zimbabwe’s FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) inflows in 2011 more than doubled to US$ 387 million.
It is hoped that this will allay fears amongst those eager to tap into the emerging markets within the country’s broader economy, most notably the ICT sector.
A Household Download Index report conducted by- and featured on Speedtest.net, which compares and ranks consumer download speeds* internationally, ranks Zimbabwe amongst the top five African countries with an average speed of 5.13Mbps.
* (The value is the rolling mean throughput in Mbps where the mean distance between the client and the server is less than 300 miles.)
The Artful Blogger
If there is an example of the extent to which technology has now become interwoven into the fabric of Zimbabwe – (especially at this pinnacle stage of its socio-political development), it is perhaps the degree to which social networks are being used to convey information about the election process to date.
And, information simply relayed across the World Wide Web, it would seem, can be something of a ‘hot potatoe’ in politics.
For example, there have been numerous reports in the media about a blogger, known only under the probable pseudonym ‘Baba Jukwa’ and self-proclaimed senior member of the Zanu-PF party, whose posts refer to a number of allegations against the Party. The blogger is using the online channel to draw global awareness to these allegations.
The ruling party has been quick to dismiss the claims, describing the writings of Baba Jukwa as “a complete waste of time” and “completely idiotic”.
Online allegations against the ruling party aside (including media focus on statements made by politicians in response to allegations of vote rigging in previous elections), the run up to Zimbabwe’s General Elections 2013 has never been too far from increasing levels of controversy. News and information has flooded social networks like Twitter.
Recently, Zimbabwe’s close ally South Africa has been drawn into debates. South African President Jacob Zuma, the chief regional mediator on Zimbabwe, recently rebuked his officials for statements made about Zimbabwe’s lack of readiness to hold elections.
South Africa’s relationship with its Northern neighbour formed part of political rallying by Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe this week.
Mugabe was reported to have addressed a rally in Mutare, Manicaland Province, and was quoted across numerous media channels as saying, “We feel ashamed of the influx of Zimbabweans in South Africa. If you go to their hotels, there are Zimbabweans all over. The same applies to other businesses. Zimbabweans are literally running the South African economy. South Africans end up attacking Zimbabweans because there are just too many in that country.”
Analysts suggest biometrics
In an article written by Samuel Chindaro posted on SW Radio Africa online, the author puts the case forward for the consideration of integrating biometric technology (that which is used to identifiy people automatically based on physical characteristics including fingerprint and facial) into the electoral process.
Chindaro writes, “Concerns have been raised in past elections about ‘zombie’ (deceased voters apparently ‘voting’ from the grave), individuals engaging in double or multiple voting and inflated voting figures. It is important that allegations and the incidence of fraud, double or multiple voting, etc raised in the last presidential and parliamentary elections are not repeated in the next crucial elections.
A growing number of countries such as Ghana, Zambia, South Africa, Nigeria, Namibia, and Mozambique among others have either started using biometrics in the election process or are preparing to do so in the near future. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, the body charged with the constitutional role of conducting and supervising elections in Zimbabwe, should seriously consider investing in biometrics technology, particularly when it takes charge of voter registration and maintenance of the voters’ rolls.”
Bread and butter issues
On an in-depth feature broadcast on the TV Channel Al Jezeera, political and social analysts both within and outside of Zimbabwe contributed to a discussion on issues ahead of the elections next week.
One interviewee said there was little discussion of what he called “bread and butter issues”, including education and job creation. He questioned the lack of focus on these issues and he wanted to know what was going to be done to fix schools and infrastructure.
Irrespective of where voters in this year’s poll will place their mark, this election is a watershed moment in Zimbabwe’s journey and will be remembered in time, not only for controversy, but also for the role played by technology in influencing the outcome.
Chris Tredger, Online Editor