Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 16:18 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 16:18 | SYDNEY

Online activism in Zimbabwe


Fergus Hanson


20 October 2011 10:00

I got to meet this week with Zvikomborero Zimunya, one of the impressive activists behind PupuraFakazaZim, a new crowd-sourcing platform that has just launched in Zimbabwe. The idea is simple enough: people can text in reports of service delivery failures (eg. electricity outages, uncollected garbage), and the incidents are uploaded onto a Google map with a view to identifying which areas are suffering most. People can also receive feedback on what has been done by city officials in solving service delivery complaints.

The campaign seeks to collect reports which will be used in evidence-based advocacy targeting local government officials, with the broader aim of encouraging citizen participation in development processes.

The pilot campaign is targeting the capital, Harare, which over the years has faced challenges with water supply, garbage collection, sewer management and the like. Due to low internet penetration, the campaign is supported by traditional advertising through radio, press and other advocacy material. Radio ads have been running for a few days now and have produced a good initial response (although there have been some delays uploading text messages, owing to a moderation function). 

While PupuraFakazaZim has relatively modest ambitions, it is not hard to envision how this type of platform might be used for other purposes. It is also a reminder of how useful new digital platforms are becoming in difficult environments, and that mobile phone technology has become instrumental in promoting citizen journalism, especially in developing communities with limited access to the internet.

PupuraFakazaZim uses the Ushahidi platform first used in Kenya (Pupura Fakaza is a local translation of 'Ushahidi'). It has since been used in a number of other instances, including during the Haiti earthquake (although not everyone loved it), the Sudan elections and in Libya. Other Ushahidi platforms such as SwiftRiver, which 'enables the filtering and verification of real-time data from channels like Twitter, SMS, Email and RSS feeds', also hold a lot of promise and are being looked at by the US State Department's Office of eDiplomacy as another tool to add to their digital toolkit.

While we're on the topic of Zimbabwe, another interesting example in the online space is US Ambassador Charles A Ray's Facebook page, which he uses to circumvent restrictions on press freedom to maintain a dialogue with Zimbabweans. His photo also suggests you don't have to be under 30 to get ediplomacy.  

Closer to home, it is not hard to imagine how useful Ushahidi platforms could be in Australia's own neighbourhood — for example, for monitoring corruption or violence in PNG. It may be something for AusAID or DFAT's Office of eDiplomacy, when it is established.   

Photo by Flickr user whiteafrican.