Investment partners are likely to see better returns on their efforts if they shift from government-to-government partnerships and focus on engaging at the local level, supporting entrepreneurs, local businesses, independent media houses and civil society.
On February 26, 2018, Zimbabwe’s Election Commission chair announced that elections would be held between July and August 2018. At least 5.3 million out of the 7 million eligible voters have registered to vote. Among those registered, the majority, some 65%, are youth.
There is no indication that the new government will put in place substantial electoral reforms to even out the playing field but that does not mean that the country is not ready for elections. In the last 18 years Zimbabwean politics has been very tumultuous. And yet, the opposition has made significant strides even winning the 2008 election.
Factors that will have a major impact on the elections include access to free media, youth bulge, and violence.
State media is heavily controlled by the ruling party but there are new opportunities for independent coverage via social media. Zimbabwe has one television channel that is state run. The main newspaper, the Herald, is also state-run and provides partisan coverage. Democracy cannot thrive when the media is stifled.
There are also a number of independent media house in circulation including the daily news but they have limited resources. While the environment is certainly challenging, entrepreneurial youth have taken advantage of the growing access to social media to provide citizens with alternative sources for news.
One example is the #openparly platform founded Youth African Leaders Initiative (YALI) alumni their social media platforms reach at least 200 000 citizens daily. Another independent media source is BusStopTV, a political satire group that has a reach of over half a million on their popular segments. The United States Embassy has already begun efforts to provide funding for these informal news outlets and should continue to do so.
Voice of America remains an important media platform. In the most recent survey conducted in 2015, VOA’s past-week reach in Zimbabwe stood at 5.8%, an impressive figure in a market which limits access to international broadcasters.
In a more recent qualitative study conducted in 2017, Zimbabweans reported that VOA delivers unique content because it broadcasts information that they are unable to get elsewhere. In addition, VOA’s coverage of political news is not biased or censored like the local news.
As long as censorship continues in Zimbabwe, panelists feel that VOA’s Studio 7 will remain a valuable source of information. VOA’s audience reach is steadily increasing because of their efforts to use social media platforms. I regularly engage with listeners as a panelist of VOA shows and I am happy to report that we receive calls from very diverse and often remote areas of Zimbabwe. I would recommend that the United States continue providing funding for VOA.
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