Getting hooked to the new buzz in town

HARARE - Hooking up has never been that easy and Zimbabwean youths are reaping the benefits of today’s instant connectivity.

Back in the day, it was all about the scented writing pad for young lovers trying to get in touch in the absence of mobile phones and high tech communication tools.

It has all changed now and love is on the doorstep.

In an instant, WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter are connecting youths like never before. Love messages, trending songs and jokes are passed around in no time.

But youths are taking the love affair to another level.

With elections certain to be held next year, Zimbabwean youths have found a way to break the barriers often imposed by state apparatus. Reaching out to potential voters using special media is the new buzz in town.

Under the Youth Agenda Trust, young people have resolved to come up with parallel communication lines during the coming elections to make sure young people participate fully in deciding the fate of their country with minimum state interference.

It is a serious initiative gathering momentum.

From November 9 to 13, young people gathered for the Zimbabwe Youth First Time Voters Training camp at Sanganayi Creek in Banket, Mashonaland West Province.

Initiative spokesperson Lawrence Mashungu said: “We made resolutions to resist machinations by the state to subvert the will of the youths and state-sponsored technical and political frustration of young people to register as eligible voters.”

The camp drew youth leaders from six provinces of Zimbabwe and civil society leaders who work in the fields of youth and elections.

Mashungu said the youths resolved to set up parallel political information programmes to counter state propaganda.

“The state media remains partisan, unprofessional and irrelevant in disseminating crucial information to young people on the voting process. It was noted the state media continues to be the epicentre of hate speech, indoctrination, intolerance and the instigation of political violence amongst young Zimbabweans,” said Mashungu.

“The youths resolved to set up a parallel political information programme that will flood the social media, mobile networks, print media, electronic media and community information centres that will act as the hub of informing and educating young Zimbabweans on the electoral process and peaceful conduct during and after elections.”

The camp was held on the backdrop of low participation of youths in election related issues.

 “The youths are also fully cognisant of the violent, corrupt and undemocratic history of elections in Zimbabwe. These factors have been proven in various studies that they tend to stifle the quantitative and qualitative participation of young Zimbabweans,” said Mashungu.

“A declaration was made that with immediate effect youths will go back to their provinces and forthwith engage in a mass identification, recruitment and mobilisation of young voters in endeavours to chat a democratic dispensation for the country,” he said.

The camp resolved that young people will participate in the forthcoming elections as candidates, election observers, to monitor the tabulation and transmission of election results and to mobilise Zimbabweans to a peaceful action programme that rejects any outcome subverting the will of the people.

Recent elections in the United States of America where Democrats candidate president Barack Obama beat Republican Mitt Romney clearly showed the impact of the use of social media.  

According to Wikipedia, Obama’s official website barackobama.com, was run by Chris Hughes, one of the three co-founders of Facebook, and has been described as a “sort of social network”.

Steve Spinner, a member of Obama’s National Finance Committee, says that while previous campaigns have used the Internet, none had yet taken full advantage of social networking features.

The website included online tools that allowed members to identify neighbours that the Obama campaign thought might be potential backers and then report back on any resulting conversations.

Members (my.barackobama.com) could also create blogs, post photos, and form groups through the website, but each member had to publish limited biographical profile and no more than one photo. According to Hughes, during the 2008 campaign, over two million accounts were created for the website to “organise their local communities on behalf of Obama”.

He estimates that more than 200 000 events were organised through the website. Moreover, 400 000 articles were written in blogs. 400 000 videos that supported Obama were posted on YouTube via the official website and 35 000 volunteer groups were created.

Thirty million was spent by 70 000 people into their own fundraising web pages.

In the final four days of the 2008 US elections campaign, three million phone calls were made through the website’s Internet virtual phone.

In Zambia recently, citizens through social media, were able to report offences and irregularities during and before the general elections.

An initiative called Bantu Watch was launched in the country by civil society to ensure the southern African nation had a higher level of citizen participation in monitoring the elections.

It is a simple system. People could text anonymous reports to a local number, 3018, using their mobile phones or they could log onto the website (www.bantuwatch.org) to report incidents online.

Formal election observers based in the areas where the reports originated would first verify electoral irregularities that required action from either electoral staff or police.

The system worked in citizen participation and involvement in the elections. - Margaret Chinowaita, Community Affairs Editor

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