The Politics of #ThisFlag

 

zim-ren-3
The year 2016 has seen an explosion of online activism and hashtag movements in Zimbabwe, with #This Flag and #Tajamuka/Sesjikile being arguably the most prominent social media hashtags in the country.

 

Generally speaking, Zimbabwean online activism in 2016 has been characterized by impulsivity and emotionality, mostly in reaction to the thorny socio-economic circumstances currently experienced by many people within the country.

 

By Definition, social media activism, or hashtag activism means “supporting a cause through social media like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other networking websites.”

 

In addition, hashtag activism “is the kind of activism that does not require any action from the person other than sharing or “liking” a post or “retweeting” tweets.”

 

It must be observed that online or hashtag activism is different from political activism, which often takes the form of street protests and picketing.

 

In this regard, it should be noted that the popular Zimbabwean-born hashtag: #this flag, is an example of online activism, while the #Tajamuka/Sesjikile Campaign is actually a political movement.

 

In this article, I will explain why the #Tajamuka/Sesjikile Campaign is an organized political group designed to achieve political outcomes.

 

I will also explain why the #Tajamuka/Sesjikile Campaign should be differentiated from other spontaneous online movements like #ThisFlag.

 

Hashtag Movements and Online Activism

Protesting and picketing on the street has been the common method of raising consciousness and awareness around political and social issues for many years.

 

Even today, civic and political groups still organize pickets and demonstrations to raise consciousness.

 

However, owing to the advent of smart phones and the global proliferation of the internet, consciousness can now be raised online using hashtags, live video posts, like buttons and memes instead of loudspeakers and picket placards.

 

Some of the most popular online hashtag movements that I have come across in the last few years are listed below.

 

#Black Lives Matter

 

In 2014 police brutality in Ferguson USA and other parts of America led to an outcry on social media.

 

The deaths of Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, and Laquan McDonald (African Americans who were killed by white American Police Officers) inspired the #BlackLivesMatter movement’s momentum throughout 2015.

 

As a result #BlackLivesMatter was tweeted over 9 million times, and now in 2016 the hashtag movement that started on social media, has become a social movement aimed at achieving social justice and racial equality across the USA.

 

#Pray For Paris

 

After terrorist attacks claimed the lives of 129 people in Paris in November 2015, over 70 million people from 200 countries took to social media where they expressed their prayers and support for France. The number one trending social media hashtag was #PrayForParis.

 

#I Stand With Ahmed

 

This became a popular social media hashtag in America when 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested in September 2015 by Texas police for taking a homemade clock to school.

 

The police assumed the clock was some kind of bomb.

 

#I Stand With Ahmed became a symbol for the issue of American islamophobia and racism.

 

#Oscars So White

 

This hashtag was created to protest the under-representation of black people at the annual Academy Award nominations.

 

The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was meant as a response to the lack of racial diversity in the 2015/2016 Oscar nominations, and what started as a small comment on social media became an American social media awareness campaign.

 

Eventually, Mainstream American media picked up the hashtag, and some celebrities announced they would boycott the Oscars in protest of the under-representation of black people.

 
#This Flag

 

#ThisFlag is a Zimbabwean hashtag movement that rose to prominence in mid 2016 when Pastor Evan Mawarire spontaneously started posting videos online, lamenting Zimbabwe’s socioeconomic circumstances.

 

Consequently, he managed to organize a national stay way in July that was perceived as successful. He did this all online.

 

Today,  #ThisFlag has about sixty thousand online followers.

 

#This Flag versus #Tajamuka/Sesjikile

Now, here are some things that have been particularly interesting to me.

 

Around the time when #ThisFlag rose to prominence in mid 2016, we started to hear more and more from a group called #Tajamuka/Sesjikile.

 

In fact. not many people knew about #Tajamuka/Sesjikile before Pastor Evan Mawarire came to prominence.

 

However, the more Pastor Evan Mawarire and #This Flag gained mainstream popularity, the more it seemed the #Tajamuka/Sesjikile Campaign tried to associate itself with #ThisFlag.

 

I found this quite curious because the two are quite conflicting creatures.

 

While #ThisFlag is an online movement led by a shepherd, on the other hand, #Tajamuka/Sesjikile is perhaps a political pressure group of wolves in sheep’s’ clothing.

 

In fact, earlier this year, members of the #Tajamuka/Sesjikile Campaign told a South African Media house that “President Mugabe should quit immediately…[that] they would do anything to make sure this happened.”

 

Furthermore, when asked his opinion about Pastor Evan Mawarire and #This Flag, the #Tajamuka/Sesjikile spokesperson responded by saying: “The objectives are obviously the same… but at the same time, we believe that Tajamuka brings in the value of real leadership on the ground.”

 

He also stated that the #Tajamuka/Sesjikile Campaign comprised of 14 political parties including MDC-N and MDC-T.

 

Now here is the thing. As I mentioned earlier, a hashtag movement has specific characteristics.

 

Firstly, a Hashtag Movement is born online, it is spontaneous, and it combines diverse groups irrespective of race, political persuasion, gender, ethnicity, or nationality.

 

Furthermore, the purpose of a hashtag movement is to raise awareness around a specific issue.

 

While #This Flag fits the definition of an online/hashtag movement, #Tajamuka/Sesjikile is the opposite.

 

#Tajamuka/Sesjikile is in fact, politically organized, and comprises of political activists that seek to achieve political goals.

 

Unlike #ThisFlag that constantly speaks of non-violence, and non-partisanship, the #Tajamuka/Sesjikile is confrontational, abrasive, partisan and has demonstrated its willingness to participate in violent protests.

 

I supposed that is what the #Tajamuka/Sesjikile leader meant when he said, “Tajamuka brings in the value of real leadership on the ground.”

 

Also, ironically, when Pastor Evan Mawarire decided to seek refuge in the USA, it appeared as though most of the people disappointed by his departure felt hard-done-by, because they assumed that the plight of #ThisFlag was synonymous with the plight of the #Tajamuka/Sesjikile Campaign.

 

In other words, most of the people who criticize Pastor Mawarire for skipping the country are people who identify with the narrow interests of the political outfits comprising #Tajamuka/Sesjikile.

 

Perhaps they thought that in the pastor, they had found an unsuspecting sacrificial lamb that could be slain on the altar of political expediency.

 

Yet from where I stand, Pastor Evan did well by leaving the country.

 

At the end of the day, I suggest that #ThisFlag dissociates itself not only from #Tajamuka/Sesjikile, but also from politics in general.

 

As Pastor Evan Mawarire said in an online post recently, #ThisFlag seeks to accommodate supporters from across the political spectrum.

 

#ThisFlag should therefore detach itself from the narrow political interests of radical groups, and rather focus on constitutionalism and providing key social services.

 

It is in that light that calls by #ThisFlag to mobilize resources for hospitals without medicine are welcome.

 

Ultimately, a citizen’s movement should seek to serve all citizens. If  #Thisflag is a citizen’s movement, it should therefore be cautious not to be lured into the arena of narrow political interests.

 

Tau Tawengwa

 

Executive Director

 

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Politics and Religion

zim-ren-3Religion is the opium of the people. At least that is what Karl Marx would like us to believe. Nonetheless, opium has a global market value that runs into hundreds of billions of dollars, and according to certain theories, it has triggered international wars such as the invasion of Afghanistan.

Yet, while western societies are generally secularizing, research reveals that here in Africa, religious practice is escalating; especially in form of Pentecostalism. This growing religiosity of Africans can arguably be attributed to the growing population and an intensifying competition for economic opportunities coupled with crisis ridden national economies. These factors collectively create contexts of social tension that are arguably alleviated by religiosity.

Social scientists contend that religion contributes positively to society in the following ways:

●religion maintains and supports the societal social order (i.e.: social norms, values, culture etc)

●religion shapes the social actions of men and women in their encounter with their social environments

●religion provides social and physical spaces that bring men and women together to participate in common activities that are understood by and are meaningful to them

●religion institutionalizes a network of social relationships

●religion is the ultimate source of cohesion and integration in society.

In fact, religion has been attributed for fuelling the work ethic and industry of the developed world.

In a classic work entitled the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, the German economist Max Weber postulates that “the magical and religious forces, and the ethical ideas based upon them, have in the past always been among the most important formative influences on the conduct of life.”

He goes further, arguing that capitalism (described as the rational pursuit of profit through rational economic enterprise) was an unintended consequence of religious (particularly protestant) doctrine which stressed ‘a calling’, that is, a special way to live and function ordained by God. This ‘calling’ referred to a lifestyle that would see people working and enterprising in such a way that led to material success. The proliferation of this doctrine, according to Weber, fuelled modern Capitalism and the industrialisation of the Western world.

Simply put, Max Weber suggests that religious values are channelled into people by means of the pulpit, where they are enveloped as religious doctrine, and consequently, these values shape the social and economic behaviour of their adherents.

Now in the Zimbabwean context, recent media reports of rape and psychological manipulation under the pretext of religion are perturbing.

Remembering that the social and economic behaviours of religious adherents are influenced by religious doctrines transmitted from various pulpits, it is worrisome to consider that certain religious leaders, be they Christian preachers, traditional religious practitioners, or Vapostori are often respondents to charges of psychological manipulation, rape, child abuse and other offences of that nature.

I mean, if such a cleric has been preaching for decades, and therefore has been extensively channelling his or her profane doctrine into a congregation, then one cannot expect constructive social or economic behaviour from that group’s members.

Here is an example: If a religious leader preaches that, he or she has the power to cure HIV/AIDS and therefore, his or her adherents who suffer from this condition should abandon all conventional medication; that will become the behaviour of those adherents. Alternatively, if a religious leader or ‘prophet’ prophecies that a man’s wife is trying to poison him, then do not be surprised when that church member stops eating at home.

Furthermore, recent media reports have exposed that some eccentric ‘Christian’ pastors can even influence their church members to eat grass.

church member eats grass
Pastor Lesego Daniel, who is based in Garankuwa, north of Pretoria, told dozens of followers to eat grass because “it will bring them closer to God”.

The point is that there is a fine line between faith and fanaticism, and while calls for the monitoring of churches and their varying doctrines are welcome in the context of protecting the public from predatory pulpit pundits, the question arises: how does the government intend to monitor religious activity? Furthermore, how will the government ensure that a monitoring exercise of religious activity will not result in the covert politicisation of religion in the country?

While the constitution states that no person can be hindered from the enjoyment of his or her freedom of religion, it also states that in the interests of defense, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health the law in can limit the freedom of religion.

However, the danger of enacting a general law which allows for the infringement of religious freedom is that such a law could be used as a political tool, even to the detriment of sincere and law abiding believers as is the case currently in tumultuous Egypt.

In this light, in order to avoid the politicization of religious activity in the country, and to maintain the rift between the church and the state, the only reasonable way of monitoring religion would be through a statutory religious ombudsman consisting of respectable and impartial citizens and mandated with the twofold functions of protecting the public from pulpit predators, and keeping politics and state separate from issues of faith.

Tau Tawengwa

Executive Director

Zimbabwe 2013/2014 Budget: Taking lessons from Latin America.

ZIMRAYS

Economic development broadly defined is the process of creating wealth by mobilizing human, financial, physical, natural, and capital resources to generate marketable goods and services.

Economic growth, as defined in standard economics textbooks is an increase in the production and consumption of goods and services which consequently results in an increase in real gross domestic product (GDP).

However, it must be noted that economic growth does not necessarily translate into economic development, and economic development does not necessarily translate into social development.

For instance, during the four-year tenure of Zimbabwe’s inclusive government, the country’s positive economic growth was not matched by adequate socio-economic development, although some development was registered.

Socio-economic development is commonly measured by the Human Development Index (HDI) which is based on these four criteria: Life expectancy at birth, mean years of schooling, expected years of schooling and gross national income per capita.

Now, as Zimbabweans anxiously await the national treasury’s 2014 budget presentation, the question at hand is: how will the government create economic growth that is matched by socio-economic development? Simply put, will treasury translate government’s economic policy paper (Zim-Asset) into a reality?

While the increasingly pious Tendai Biti predicts economic Armageddon for the nation, the more sanguine among us wonder whether there are international examples that treasury officials could learn from as they deliberate the nation’s economic direction for the coming fiscal year.

After all, in the words of Cicero, history is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquity.

Now let’s look at Costa Rica.

Zimbabwe and Costa Rica (a country in Central America bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the southeast) have interesting commonalities.

Firstly Costa Rica and Zimbabwe both have national literacy rates of over 90%. This is of critical importance because education raises people’s productivity and creativity and promotes entrepreneurship and technological advances.

Secondly Costa Rica, like Zimbabwe, has experienced significant economic disorder in the past.

For instance in 1980 Costa Rica was mired in an economic crisis characterized by epidemic inflation, currency devaluation, soaring oil bills, sinking coffee, banana, and sugar prices (the country’s major exports at the time) and the disruptions to trade caused by the Nicaraguan war. When hefty international loans became due, Costa Rica found itself burdened overnight with one of its region’s greatest per-capita debts. As of 1986, Costa Rica owed international lenders USD$4-billion.

Finally, Costa Rica’s ongoing discourse with respect to agrarian reform is arguably comparable with Zimbabwe’s.

Now, what’s interesting is that in 2013 Costa Rica ranks 47th in the world in terms of its Human Development Index; this is ahead of Brazil (63rd), China (85th) India (128th) and Zimbabwe (146th). South Africa is ranked 121st, Zambia is ranked 167th, and Mozambique is ranked 169th.

Furthermore Costa Rica has the highest standard of living in its region with an unemployment rate of less than 10%. The question then arises: how did they achieve this in 30 years?

Research reveals that “Costa Rica has experienced steady economic expansion over the past 25 or so years. The post-1980s economic growth is the product of a strategy of outward-oriented, export-led growth; openness to foreign investment; and gradual trade liberalization.”

Nevertheless an extraordinary aspect of the Costa Rican economy is that 30% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) comes from its informal sector. Now remember that 30% of a GDP of USD$45 billion is a cool USD$13.5billion.

This brings me to the core of my argument.

In its attempt to ensure that the government achieves its goals as laid out in Zim-Asset, surely the Finance Minister’s team has acknowledged the need for austerity and Foreign Direct Investment in Zimbabwe.

Surely they have acknowledged the need to curb corruption which costs the country some USD$400 million per annum.

But I wonder if they are seriously considering the informal sector.

A close look at Zimbabwe’s informal sector reveals that most of the goods sold on our streets are imports. Furthermore, a single day at Beitbridge border post will expose that most of the goods entering the country are smuggled. I say smuggled because most informal sector traders would rather bribe immigration officials to allow their contraband into Zimbabwe than pay the state its due in the form of import duty.

Doesn’t it therefore make sense for the treasury to directly tax the informal sector? One might ask how we can go about this. Here are some suggestions:

∙ Everyone in the country who is not formally employed but is economically productive should register with the government. This group of people would include domestic workers, touts, hairdressers, barbers, makorokoza (illegal miners) etc.

∙ The government should then compel everyone in the informal sector to purchase an operating permit from ZIMRA. This will liberate some of these businesspeople from the regular bribes they pay to council officials and police.

∙ This permit should be renewed on a monthly basis and the money should be paid directly to ZIMRA.

∙ A lesser fee should be charged to vendors who trade in local products, for instance fruits and vegetables.

∙ Illegal gold (and other mineral) panners should purchase operating licenses from ZIMRA which they renew every month.

Of course, such measures should be applied alongside sound policy and good governance, and the revenue accrued should actually translate into tangible social services which improve the country’s human developmental ranking.

While I acknowledge that more methodical research needs to be conducted in order to reveal the true value of our informal sector, I am also of the opinion that as long as a developing economy like Costa Rica can extract so much revenue from its informal base and transform itself within 30 years, we can do the same.

As the African Development Bank correctly postulates: “organizing the informal sector and recognizing its role as a profitable activity may contribute to economic development. This can also improve the capacity of informal workers to meet their basic needs by increasing their incomes and strengthening their legal status. This could be achieved by raising government awareness, allowing better access to financing, and fostering the availability of information on the sector.”

Tau Tawengwa

Executive Director