Send Mugabe to the Farm - Text Messaging and Ringtones in the Zimbabwe Election

Posted by KatrinVerclas on Mar 27, 2008

Zimbabwe is going to the polls on Saturday and candidates there have made extensive use of mobile phones to get their message out. In what is likely going to be a fraught election with poll irregularities and violence feared, the three main candidates are nonetheless using mobiles to engage their supporters and get them to the polls.

Zimbabweans, faced with a state-controlled media with few independent outlets, are also using text message jokes to express their opinions, as we have reported previously here at According to the Voice of America, "One of the most popular messages, at the moment, among Mutare residents is one that reads "President Robert Mugabe should be sent to farm, while Morgan Tsvangirai of the opposition movement For Democratic Change should be sent to school... And [former ruling party finance minister] Simba Makoni must be allowed to rule."

The message is believed to the brain child of Makoni's backers."

The joke refers to Mugabi's controversial land reform, and candidate Twvangirai's limited formal education.

Another message reads "There is no power is Zimbabwe: water has no power. The currency has no power. Everything in Zimbabwe has no power, so vote for someone with power... Vote Simba (Makoni)."

This joke references the limited power supplies that have disrupted the economy for some time now, and that have, according to the VOA, affected mobile phone transmissions such as text messaging as well.

Other text messages read "Weather forecast on April 1, partly MDC, partly Zanu-PF, by midday a total eclipse will engulf Zanu-PF and there will be a thunderstorm … a tsunami wave will follow!” and
“Further outlook: cyclone Zanu-PF will persist for five years causing major disruptions in cities and untold suffering and further isolation!”

The four main candidates are Simba Makoni, an independent candidate who broke ranks with the ruling ZANU-PF party in February by declaring his presidential bid, Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the main group of the splintered Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), President Mugabe and independent Langton Towungana. Makoni and Tsvangirai are Robert Mugabe's main opponents.

Zimbabwean voters on March 29 are choosing a president, parliamentary and local government representatives.

Both Makoni and Tsvangirai have been making ample use of mobile technology with Makoni supporters asking "Vote for Simba" and Tsvangirai's texting, "Have you not suffered enough? Morgan is the solution."

According to IRIN, picture messages with Mugabe cartoons are a huge draw as is an "anti-Mugabe ringtone based on a local song, which asks in Shona: "How long will you vote for ZANU-PF?"

IRIN reports that "the ringtone has become a hit, according to Alfred Sibanda, who runs a small electronic services café in Bulawayo.

"Alongside my main business, I burn music ... [write music to CDs] and we get at least 15 people per day who want the ringtone uploaded to their phones," he said.

However, the article notes, that this "may not always be wise." "Some people have returned to us, requesting that we remove it after clashing with government sympathisers," Sibanda commented.

As far as MobileActive could ascertain, there are no plans under way to conduct any formal election monitoring with only a few sympathetic observers allowed in the country, according to a recent article in the New York Times.

Unlike recent elections such as in Sierra Leone, for example, where citizen groups and trained and organized volunteers systematically monitored polling stations and texted back detailed information about any irregularities to be broadcast throughout election day, there will not be any widespread election monitoring.

Similarly, unlike recently in Kenya where an interesting project, Ushahidi, crowdsourced incidences of violence that citizens emailed and texted in, a site in Zimbabwe, Sokwnanele (Enough is Enough) is mapping election irregularities but only based on media reports without any abiilty for citizen reporting via SMS or MMS. Media, largely controlled by the current Mugabe regime has been restricted from accessing anti-Mugabe areas and hampered by fuel shortages, and thus, the site notes that the data available may be limited and "that urban areas have a greater representation on the map." The site notes that "blank areas on the map do not indicate 'uneventful' areas; they are more likely to represent stories we are unable to tell and incidents that have not been reported."

On a personal note, we wish our colleagues in Zimbabwe all the best in the next few days and on election day; and a safe and fair election to the extent that is possible. We are with you in the MobileActive community.

election violence map

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