Doomsday theories and grim forecasts aside, the upcoming Zimbabwean election could prove to be a harbinger to political change for the rest of Africa, but not for the reasons you may think. Many pundits, including independent advocacy group Africa Focus and various major news outlets, agree that the upcoming Zimbabwean elections will be tainted. Dewa Mavhinga, Senior Researcher of the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch spoke of the “slim chances” of a fair elections.
“As things stand currently, the chances of having free, fair and credible elections are slim, particularly given the shortcomings of security sector reforms and reforms in other sectors,” she said in a testimony given before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
So why continue the façade? Well, though some experts believe the election results may be skewed and the process corrupted by President Robert Mugabe’s regime, it is likely that the polls will pass the most basic credibility test.
However as Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Mugabe continue their long-winded political tussle of many years, a new “challenger” could emerge as the theoretical victor of this election. Except this is someone who isn’t even running.
To some the pseudonym “Baba Jukwa” may be more akin to a folk character of sorts, but to Mugabe and other leaders around the region his proposed threat is very real. This unknown individual has emerged as a key figure in the upcoming elections by taking a page from the book of renowned whistle-blowers like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, exposing the secrets of the Mugabe campaign – and he’s going viral.
At this point Baba Jukwa has more Facebook followers than both candidates combined and his day-to-day posts are finally bringing about the kinds of conversations that many say were much needed in the Zimbabwean political stratosphere. He’s already predicted a stressful and confusing election day for Zimbabweans, as referenced in one of his latest posts:
In an attempt to silence the whistleblower Mugabe has offered a $300,000 reward for anyone who can identify him, but the anonymity of the internet has been Jukwa’s veil. It seems the nuances of the worldwide web may be lost on the 89-year-old, Mugabe. Not only is identifying Jukwa an arduous task at best, but he has evolved into more than an individual, he represents a movement.
Theoretically, Baba Jukwa’s impact could be huge, not just in Zimbabwe but also for the continent. Whereas citizens of the Northern African countries have utilized the internet heavily in revolutions and more specifically social media to their advantage, the rest of Africa is only now beginning to catch on. Imagine having the secrets of a corrupt African administration leaked via Twitter or Wikileaks? Apart from the simple fact that it exposes the truth, because this information cannot be stymied governments, leadership is likely to become more transparent as a result. But therein lies the rub. While internet usage in Zimbabwe is increasing, it is still drastically low, especially if one wants to start a revolution – a 2011 report stated that only 15% of Zimbabweans have access to the internet, though that number is rising daily.
Furthermore, most of Baba Jukwa’s Facebook supporters were already part of the opposition movement. In essence, as much as his revelations have brought greater light to the situation instead of broadening the horizons of knowledge for the majority of Zimbabwe, it’s mostly serving to rile up the factions who were already dissatisfied. To truly light a spark, a revolution needs to reach beyond the scope of its initial believers, and right now that could be an impossible task with the election only two days away.
However, what is revolutionary is the role no matter how small that the social landscape of Zimbabwe and other African countries is being affected by the nascent rise of social media. What could this mean for the future? Sanctions, outside agencies and even local attempts to subvert the dangerous deception that usually riddles African politics haven’t worked to this point, and if they have, their impact has been miniscule. Social media finally gives a voice to the layman.
Even traditional media is catching on. After being subjected to a government monopoly on the media for the majority of their 33 years since independence, Zimbabweans can finally receive unbiased television news from a third party source run by Zimbabweans. Operating out of South Africa and the United Kingdom 1st Tv is being run by exiled Zimbabwean journalists. And they are unwavering in their mission. Temba Hove a spokeswoman for the station recently told The African Report, “Thirty-three years after independence it is high time that the people get what they demand and deserve in respect to their right to information.”
So what should we expect Wednesday as Zimbabwe heads to vote? For most commentators the outcome could go either way, recent poll results suggest that Tsvangirai is now better poised to take over, but no one would ever count out Mugabe, especially when he has managed to win so many times before. Regardless of the outcome, hopefully this election can work as a platform for future politics, not only in Zimbabwe but the region as well. It is time for Africa’s voices to be heard.