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.
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.”
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.