By Kingstone Jambawo.
Relations and nature of interaction among the ruling oligarchy, opposition elements, the general citizenry, and civil society groups in Zimbabwe have been dominated by the long and pervasive Zanu PF rule, which currently is in its 37th year.
The Zimbabwean Republic Police (ZRP) has repressed with weapons of high lethality which can cause deaths and further alienation of the population, however the memories are everlasting. After the wave of protests throughout Zimbabwe in 2016, the Diaspora are also actively advocating for democracy, human rights, and voting rights through protests, marches and petitions from their host nations.
Decades of repressive ZANU PF rule, economic mismanagement combined with severe economic crisis and poverty has significantly shifted the power in favour of the regime and to the detriment of the opposition and civil society. The opposition lack resources needed to win a general election. Thus the 2018 elections are just a formality. The continuing economic crisis has long manifested itself into intimidation, corruption and abuse of power.
The government has recently issued a decree which facilitates its particularly heavy handed approach. This law that gives itself the power to extradite, detain and imprison on often trumped up charges has been announced by ICT minister, Supa Mandiwanzira.
Public Order and Security Act (POSA) which was enacted in 2002 is another of these draconian laws.
These kind of laws can partly explain why the opposition has never been able to mobilise dissent in the rural and why they do not have close links with this population. ZANU PF has always capitalised on this urban versus rural divisions which has further inhibited the creation of a strong and broad based social movements in these areas.
Some have questioned why people express dissent and protest against their government from the Diaspora. This method of extreme non-co-operation in which the diaspora who have migrated from Zimbabwe to protest against human rights abuses, injustices or general repression attributed to the state government is not knew. Pro-democracy movements from many countries with repressive governments have thrived in diaspora.
Those who protest publicly on the streets of Zimbabwe do so knowing that they can be made to disappear at any time by the despotic ZANU PF regime. It is therefore very important to emphasise that there are very real risks and costs of taking collective action as many have done. Most people who are critical of this violent regime are now doing so from exile.
At least the Diaspora can be strategic in their protest activities although they are nonetheless ostracised by the regime because they are deemed to “western puppets” representing western views. Ironically this rhetoric comes from the very same politicians who once campaigned for sanctions against the Smith regime.
There is a disagreement among analysts regarding the success and long term impact of voices from exile. Yet the power of this strategy is evidenced by the fact that they become models for dozens of other activists groups.
Many Diasporas, in groups or as individuals, have become activists replicating the crashed down activism at home. It is these diaspora groups and individuals that have prompted the government to extend the Computer Crime and Cybercrime Bill, which was introduced last year by government to curb cybercrime and has been criticised as an infringement on human rights and democracy.
The Diaspora use social media as a non-elective means of political participation to keep the public knowledge of their existence alive. These mostly forceful, critics, activists, and demonstrators are growing in confidence and numbers demanding that the regime be replaced.
The amount of political information disseminated through social media, encouraging political participation, has been increasing. Due to freedom of speech and assembly that exist in western countries, the Diaspora are finding that they have more room to manoeuvre on the circulation of political information through social media.
It shows that when our government feels particularly threatened, they will employ repression to minimise the threat whilst increasing their own political strength. And in the presence of widespread repression, people can be mobilised to participate in active protests against the regime only when certain conditions are in place.
There is a direct relationship between ZANU PF government’s authoritarianism and the extent of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. There is also an inverse relationship between this authoritarianism and the ability of local activists to voice concerns through protests and various media, with the increasing repression resulting in fewer outlets for dissent. These local restrictions under this traditionally authoritarian regime has increased the importance of developing transnational networks and coalitions to undertake transnational campaigns by the Diaspora.
The ZANU PF regime is therefore likely to stimulate the creation of more activist diasporas comprised of refugees and expatriates (immigrants) who engage in activism transnationally from outside Zimbabwe. These Activists have left their local authoritarian environment for transnational settings, creating transnational networks of exiled activists. Zimbabweans who have escaped authoritarianism under ZANU PF are distributed throughout the world but particularly active in South Africa, and liberal democracies, UK, USA, Canada, and Australia. Although these liberal democracies pursue policies of assimilation and integration, they however, recognise the fact that many refugees and expatriates (immigrants) remain emotionally and politically dedicated to the life and wellbeing of their kin communities at home and in other parts of the world and retain lasting ties to ancestral homelands.
The opposition has always turned to international media and NGOS in order to build up international pressure on our government. The internet has revolutionised social movements developments as well as tactics and strategies that they employ. Although the diaspora activists face numerous difficulties, activism from the diaspora also offers opportunities.
The diaspora enjoy benefits that can encourage them to be politically active.
These benefits include:
The rise of social media which has allowed the diaspora to have an impact on politics at home (Websites, blogs and radio transmissions exist in countries where Zimbabweans populate).
The media in cosmopolitan environments also creates opportunities for developing activists strategies and tactics.
Increased English proficiency which allows for communication of messages to a wider international audience (most Zimbabwean Diaspora reside in English speaking countries).
Access to training that may not be available in local settings.
Improved accessibility to other activists residing in different countries.
Lobbying and raising human rights abuse awareness within their host nations
Fundraising for the opposition as well as for on the ground activists (misappropriation of these funds is the main obstacle to Zimbabweans diasporic activism)
Openly questioning the legitimacy of the ZANU PF government due to contested election outcomes
Increased access to financial resources (remittances of the much needed cash)
Improved access to international media and civil society
Affords the opposition the luxury of making inflammatory allegations without the requirement of accompanying substantiating evidence
They are free of the burden of the governing and the restraints of domestic politics.
The digital communication provides the Diaspora better opportunities to pursue activism from their host nations.
Channelling political strategies via social network thereby bypassing assembly (rallies)
Builds leverage against authoritarian politics of control and repression.
The diaspora can help to spread information and publicise demands.
Most importantly these protests are also aimed at influencing international businesses, governments and the public to support their cause.
Whilst the social network can be used for activism and media alternatives, high internet penetration in a society does not necessarily reflect greater activism or social awareness. For example the older rural population may not be comfortable with English and due to economic restrictions, internet bundles are used sorely for communication with loved ones. Thus our government has found it necessary to upgrade internet control and censorship. These controls have a potential of separating the diaspora and infringing of people’s liberties.
Authoritarian regimes have been known to monitor and respond to activities of political exiles rapidly and on a large scale.
The Repression has silenced and immobilised organised social movements and has successfully intimidated the rural population. Due to this severe cohesion the diaspora can only concentrate mostly on defensive protests against human rights violations instead of seeking confrontation with the despotic regime. The limited and isolated dissent activities are facilitated by the protection from the host countries.
The secessionist theories and the prevailing economic crisis has divided ZANU PF. This crisis has a potential of improving the fate of the opposition who have spent most the year mooting coalition. A combination of a weakened government and a united and broad opposition has a potential of success in mass protests.
Protests and repression often can fuel and accelerate each other, however they cannot spiral upwards indefinitely. Something has to curve in. Some social movements have been forced to adapt to semi-underground existence and some have ceased to function. This period of despair, of forced political inactivity has a sobering effect on leading activists, a void that is being filled by the diaspora.
By Kingstone Jambawo.