The Zimbabwe Election Result


Is it just me? Why is it that when there is a perversion of democracy in some countries, the US and other nations march in and take over to protect the people, for example Iraq, and in other cases such as Zimbabwe, nothing is going to happen until it is a total disaster. In my blog last month, I was largely focussing on the technology angle, where people were using technology such as SMS to get information out of the country. The exercise raised my awareness of the problems over there and this morning a story in the NZ Herald told of a South African Jounalist who was arrested and spent 3 days in jail for being in Zimbabwe without accreditation.

I was pleased to see that Condoleezza Rice came out on Friday criticising South Africa for not taking a more positive stand and it is fair that they should start looking there. Could it be that ZA is taking a soft position because the black people have thrown the white people out? I did see on TV recently that there were many black refugees who had crossed the border and were biding their time in South Africa hoping that eventually the tide would turn and it would once again be safe to return to their homes, or what is left of them.

Of course my bent is on technology and oe of the things I love about the modern Internet environment is that it makes it very difficult to totally censor information. There are countless ways to get information out of a country despite political interference. In the old days journalists had to smuggle film and other documents over the border at great personal risk. Today there are mobile phones, satellite phones and many other ways of getting information out.

There are also great ways to use technology to show information and one of these is the Google Mash Up. The Zimbabwe Civic Action Support Group have devised a web site which shows information spatially information about ‘election conditions’ where you can see the sites of incidents and through pop up windows read information about them. Even for someone who has never been there, this gives a much more real perspective of what is happening over there.

There are also countless blogs coming out of the country, giving details from organisations as well as heart wrenching diaries from individuals.

SMS continues to play a major part and a recent article in CIO Magazine shows an innovative way that an SMS Hib has been used to not only help share information with the people through subscription phone lists, but also to help promote democracy and political participation by encouraging people to say what they would like the country to be like after the election.

Something that also stands out in the human psyche of oppressed people is their ability to laugh and joke about their position. I think this performs a number of functions, one it is a passive form of protest, but it is also a coping mechanism. It appears that SMS is frequently used in Zimbabwe to share these jokes. An example is a text message passed from one person to the next like:

“We would like to apologise to the nation for the late release of the presidential results. This is due to the rigging process, which is proving to be more difficult that we had anticipated.”

This interesting concept is explored by Mobile Active a global network focussed on the use of mobile technology for positive purposes.

The mobile phone continues to have an amazing impact on society that was never envisaged when it was first developed as a business tool. They are enabling knowledge sharing in ways that are providing freedom of expression and information sharing and making the world a much smaller place. There was a time that people could enforce their wishes on minorities in less developed countries with impunity and noone would be any the wiser. Today it is all but impossible to censor people and something uttered from a hidden room in Harare can be heard all over the world microseconds later. If only we could get the powers who profess to support democracy and freedom for all people, regardless of race, creed or gender, to act before any more innocent people are injured and killed and people’s lives and livelihoods are destroyed forever.

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Zimbabwe election SMS and other TXT Messages


This weekend President Mugabe is doing everything he can to ensure that he is once again re-elected and it seems that while he is giving cars and houses to doctors along with other good will gestures, the radio stations are being heavily censored. For example, according to Zimbabwe Independant Weekly, last night, all ZBC radio and TV stations stopped normal programming to provide live coverage of Zanu PF’s election manifesto launch that lasted for four hours. Of course the others got no coverage.

Radio stations like SW Radio Africa tried to break through and provide independant coverage by Short Wav Radio and apparently this technology is also being jammed (purportedly and ironically by Chinese technology) so they and other stations are now using SMS technology to bring news headlines to those who want to balance the information flow.

SMS was conceived in the 1980’s primarily as a means to advise people that they had a voice message or had missed a call. The first deployments were in 1993 in Los Angeles, Norway and UK and by 1995 the average usage per GSM subscriber was 0.4 per month!

Today SMS is a way of life and used in so many different ways. Just for me in recent times I have used SMS to comunicate with business clients to confirm appointments and to communicate with coleagues. I have paid for car parking via SMS and this morning sent a woke up message to my daughter in Australia.

I have donated to many charities via SMS, voted for performers on TV and entered competitions by sending an instruction to a Short Code.

On TXT Tunes you can pay to buy and download my songs using SMS.

SMS has had a phenomenal impact on the written language as teenagers created shortcuts in an effort to fit more information into the 160 character messages. Sum adults cn find dis hard to read, but u r not r u? In business I have found this difficult finding young staff who can write a business letter and have found some CV’s on my desk with wrting that automatically precludes potentially very intelligent people from working with me.

In recent times I have been working with projects that allow people to send a SMS request to a GPS locating device, which in turn sends an SMS with spatial co-ordinates to our reverse geocoder that then facilitates sending the nearest street address to the originator again as an SMS message. A next step to this is emergency locator technology for elderly or sick people, where they can send an SMS with the calculated nearest street address to an authority or service if they are in trouble. Car navigation systems will soon be able to do the same when a car has an accident. In New Zealand it is not uncommon for someone to drive down a bank on a winters night and not be able to tell people on their phone where they are. Imagine a system where of airbags are deployed in a car, the bluetooth connection to the driver’s mobile phone automatically sends an SMS with their exact location to the breakdown service.

Watch this space!