Zimbabwean Bloggers React to Chaos

The Zimbabwean blogosphere has been responding to national crisis for over a year now. Hyper-inflation, food shortages, and the anti-democratic tactics of the Mugabe administration have been closely tracked on the net by a small group of native Zimbabweans inside the country, expatriates outside of its borders, and foreign embassy representatives living in the capital, Harare. In recent weeks, however, it appears that their activity has kicked into high gear, as bloggers attempt to make sense of the chaos around them.

News sources from around the world have been reporting the escalation of political violence since the announcement of a June 27th run-off election between incumbent President Robert Mugabe of the Zanu-PF and his opponent Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Much of the Zimbabwean blogosphere has indeed verified that the country has turned into a near militarized police state.

Pro-democracy advocates in Zimbabwe have made use of blogs and other online platforms in a variety of ways. Zokwanele is a democratic civic action movement whose blog has served as newspaper, organizer, and advocate. The blog reports stories and displays images of government-sponsored torture, posts the press statements of Morgan Tsvangirai and other MDC officials, and monitors what internal human rights groups are saying about these events. In addition, Zokwanele and other blogs have set up action alerts and encouraged readers to contact United Nations and Embassy officials about the violence. Some blogs simply post stories about Zimbabwe’s political turmoil from various news sources across Africa and around the world. One site, which organizes NGO workers and other online activists, has even kept a photo index of post-election violence across the country. Indeed, Zimbabwean bloggers have become a key source of information and commentary on the situation there, according to Global Voices.

Many would argue that the online community in Zimbabwe is probably too small and too disconnected from the majority of the populace to have much of an impact on daily outcomes in the country. Only 8.4 percent of Zimbabweans have access to the internet, so one assumes that reports and appeals from bloggers are likely only reaching a small number of citizens. However, as Kenyan blogger Daudi Were who blogs at mentalacrobatics has observed in his country, radio reaches nearly 90% of the population and blogs serve as a major source of information for radio journalists in Kenya. Blogs are thus reaching nearly the entire country once their stories get picked up by radio. If Zimbabwe’s media ecosystem is anything like Kenya’s, bloggers may have a much larger voice than you might expect. Of course, blogs also serve as a window into Zimbabwe’s mayhem for an international community that has grown dangerously complacent.

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