On March 23, 1990, Zimbabweans had their first taste experience of voting for their
parliament's newly created  position of the executive president as some 4.8 million registered
voters (1990 figure) showed up and voted in Zimbabwe's first direct presidential election.
The voter turnout was 53.9% and Robert Mugabe, who had served as Prime Minister since
1980 and was elected president by the parliament in 1987, was re-elected, directly this time,
with an 83.05% of the popular vote. Notwithstanding various criticisms, including but not
limited to condemnations toward poor handling of the election process, shutting down of poll
stations, chaos and confusion during election and related violence , low turnout rates (32.3%
in the 1996 election in particular) or even allegations concerning an imperfect election
system , the incumbent president has never been unseated and has managed to win all
subsequent elections that took place in 1996, 2002 and 2008. But what was disgusting in the
2008 election was not only that it could have been manipulated, but there was also, for the
first time, the use of new media (mainly by the opposition) in the first round, in which the
incumbent president lost, followed by a dramatic second round , in which Mugabe won with
an overwhelming 85.5% of the popular vote after banning [6a][6b] the opposition from all forms of
social media as well as the traditional propaganda – something that instantly grabbed not just
the eyeballs of many who were following the news, but also third-party observers and
election monitors like Human Rights Watch, who said that the election was likely to be
seriously flawed . In fact, with a rather steady population of around 12.5 million  (as of
2008) and a registered voter base of about 5.9 million (2008 figure) in which over 42%
(42.8% for the first round and 42.4% for the second round) turned out to vote in 2008, it is
reasonable for anyone to query on how social media made itself useful as a new means of
political communications during the 2008 election, especially when it is also reported that
there are, among the 1.4 million of the Zimbabwean Internet users  (or the equivalent of
11.5% of the entire Zimbabwean population), an astonishing total of 900,000 Facebook
users  (which means over 60% of all the Internet-literate Zimbabweans, or 7.2% of the
Zimbabwe population, have a Facebook account of their own). While these figures seem to
have provided us with a clear clue as to why the Internet-hostile  Zimbabwean authorities has
recently started to harshly clamp down  on Facebook and Twitter users within the country as
the next 2013 general election approaches, they also conveniently supported the belief of
some local Zimbabweans that social media is simply not widespread enough  to change the
country (see Figure 1). But even if the opposition were not banned from the various social
media and propaganda platforms in 2008, would they have been able to unseat Mugabe and
won straight away in a landslide, just as the incumbent president did in the possibly rigged second round
with a "popular vote" of 85.5% after he decided to suppress the media, both offline (i.e. the
mainstream) and online (social)? Would providing additional and free resources and opportunities of online
interactions among a larger percentage of the Zimbabweans change the situation in any way?
Figure 1. Internet Penetration in Africa, 2012 Q2.
Before we jump hastily to conclusions or come up with simple generalizations, let us
look at another African country not so far away – Ghana.
Note 1: We have chosen FREE.af as the website name of this project because unlike Asia (dot-asia) or Europe (dot-eu),
Africa does not yet have its own regional domain name. The dot-af extension was originally
a country-code level domain for Afghanistan but since it resembles the AF in Africa,
just as the country-code dot-ch (for Switzerland) was once used for China (which should be dot-cn)
when Internet in China was picking up in the late 1990s,
we have thus chosen FREE.af to represent our project – one that we believe is not only
short and brief enough but also easier to remember.
Note 2: The Zimbabwean parliament created the position of the executive president in 1987. The position of
the President of Zimbabwe, since 1990, has been directly elected by popular vote for a 6-year term under a tworound
(run-off) electoral system.
Note 5: In the first round vote of the 2008 election, Mugabe lost by 4.7%, 47.9% to 43.2%, to Morgan
Tsvangirai, who was challenging him a second time since the 2002 election; whereas in the second round,
Mugabe won with an overwhelming vote of 85.5% to 9.3%.
Note 6a: The ban was best described in the following statement, "while the state press allowed the MDC (the
opposition) no voice, (they were) refusing even to take paid advertisements, and covered the goings on as if it
was the opposition that posed a threat to public order" (Alexander & Tendi, 2008). See also Politique Africaine, 111, 2008.
Note 6b: Alexander, J. & Tendi, B.M. (2008). A tale of two wlections: Zimbabwe at the polls in 2008. Concerned Africa Scholars Bulletin #80.
Note 8: According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Zimbabwean population has not change
significantly over the years and has remained quite steadily around 12 million since 1996.
Note 9: The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) estimated that there are some 1,445,717 Internet users in
Zimbabwe, as of December 31, 2011.
Note 10: Among the 900,000 Zimbabwe Facebook users, some 500,000 of them are mobile users, i.e. they use
their cell phones to connect to Facebook instead of a desktop computer. For details, see the article, "There are
900,000 users of Facebook in Zimbabwe", dated October 6, 2011, accessible online at http://www.3-mob.com/?p=1927
Note 11: Herbert Muchemwa Murerwa, a Zimbabwean politician who served as the Minister of Finance in the
Government of Zimbabwe from 1996 to 2000 and from August 2002 to February 2004 and again from April 26,
2004 to February 6, 2007, commented on social media as follows, "The Internet and things like Twitter,
Facebook are being used to destroy... We from the older generation do not know anything about Facebook or
Twitter. It's (social media) being used for regime change and to make our youths revolt against their leaders".
For details, see the NewsDay Zimbabwe article, "Murerwa blames Twitter for African revolts", dated May 26,
2011, accessible online at http://www.newsday.co.zw/2011/05/26/2011-05-26-murerwa-blames-twitter-forafrican-revolts/
Note 12: A Zimbabwean named Vikas Mavhudzi was arrested after he posted this comment on Morgan
Tsvangirai's Facebook page: "I am overwhelmed; I don't know what to say Mr. PM. What happened in Egypt is
sending shockwaves to dictators around the world. No weapon but unity of purpose worth emulating, hey." For
details, see the Daily Nation article, "Facebook post lands man in Zimbabwe court", dated December 14, 2012,
accessible online at http://www.nation.co.ke/News/africa/-/1066/1168462/-/12lgdx2/-/
Digital platform powered by Wyith Limited, Wyith Institute.
Wyith Limited and Wyith Institute are associated businesses operated by the Office of Dr Raymond Cheng • Dr Raymond Cheng & Partners Ltd and The Commentary Ltd.
Photo credits for top title bar, from left to right: Iza H (Work),
Lukasz Gumowski (Blue balls),
Marcin Bania (Smiling and naked),
Lautaro Gonda (Milan station),
Jan Abt (Girl taking a picture),
Daniel Tang (Hot switch),
Barbara Henry (Moriah reading),
Ralf Herrmann (Checkmate II),
Marko Roeper (Led #4),
Ian Russell (Girl in downtown LA).
Note: Animated GIF graphics and clipart obtained from
amazing-animations.com, gifs.net, findicons.com, clker.com and sevenoaksart.co.uk.
Sketches, cartoons and other handdrawings courtesy of Alice-the-Artist.
This is not the American Jewish Committee's Commentary Magazine
nor are we in any way affiliated with them. To visit AJC's magazine,
please go to commentarymagazine.com instead, thank you for your attention.
This site is best viewed with
Microsoft® Internet Explorer 6.0 or above,
minimum 1024x768 16M color-depth resolution.
The Commentary Group
and its personnel do not endorse external sites and are not
responsible for the content of these websites. All external sites
will open in a new browser window.
For those you who don't have time
to read all our news excerpts about the Asian island
disputes (links above), you may find the following video,
"The economic impact of a war between Japan and China",
"This trial is another example of the Kremlin's attempts to discourage and delegitimize dissent. It is likely to backfire."
John Dalhuisen, Director of Amnesty International's Europe and Central Asia Programme
I am proud to announce that
the Commentary.com website is now carrying the technology updates
from Usman Khurshid's Technize.net.
Usman is a network consultant and works in a mixed environment
of Windows and Linux platforms.
He likes to study about the
latest advancements in computer technology and shares his views on his blog.
Oh, please do not get me wrong.
This new section is not about computers, electronics or
any engineering stuff, but rather I am currently constructing
a new corpus based on Spectrum, the monthly publication
from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers USA,
from July 2007 to date. Having been a member for
over 20 years since 1992, I am always fascinated by
some of the terms scientists use when they talk about or
envision their new inventions or methodologies. How many of
them eventually come into practice? Could there be
some insights we could possibly derive, from
the linguistics perspective?
IMPORTANT NOTICE AND DISCLAIMER
This website is published and designed by Raymond Cheng, PhD DPA
and reflects only his personal views and opinions in his
individual capacity. It does not represent the views and opinions
of his firm, employer(s), students, etc., and is not in
any way sponsored or endorsed by any other thrid parties.
Click here to read my full disclaimer