Let me preface my submission by posing some questions on the role of the media in fostering peaceful electoral processes.
In posing these questions, the submission will not necessarily seek to respond to the interrogations scientifically or systematically, but rather just as teasers that will seek to influence dialogues on how to strengthen the role of the media and journalism towards building sustainable peace during the electoral period and beyond.
The first question, which may seem mundane on the surface yet complex in interrogation being whether the media has a role in the conduct of a free, fair, peaceful and credible election? If at the end of the day, the electoral outcome comes down to whoever would have outnumbered political competitors — itself a basic arithmetic process, at what point can we really track the influence and impact of the media on the conduct of the voter or citizen?
Another question worth pondering on is around the nature of preparedness for the media in contributing to peaceful elections?
In other words, what conditions are necessary for the media to effectively contribute to peaceful electoral processes acceptable to key actors and stakeholders?
While responses to the questions posed in this submission are subject to various interpretations and viewpoints, what cannot be contested, more so in this digital age is how the impact of what citizens consume in news and information has been greatly enhanced.
What makes it even more compelling for media and electoral stakeholders to interrogate is the shrinking space of traditional media outlets, whose currency is the ability to expertly verify, balance and package news and information, while minimizing harm and mitigating information that could be sensitive.
The digital age, though it has brought with it immense benefits in the realm of communication and expanding free expression and access to information, has brought about its fair share of challenges around invasion of privacy, digital security and disinformation.
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Disinformation in particular has made the role of the media in fostering a peaceful election even more complex.
The argument is less complex with mainstream media, where if these platforms serve electoral stakeholders, particularly covering political competitors fairly and giving equal prominence to contestants then the likelihood of reducing conflict will be higher.
The target is easily identifiable.
You can engage with owners, executives, editors and gatekeepers and the journalists.
These structures that exist within news media organisations are often made public for engagement and for holding the media accountable.
Not that the existence of these identifiable structures make the mainstream media a positive agent for peace and minimizing the effects of conflict.
The political economy of the media and commercial interests have often driven the agenda of traditional media to the extent that these competing interests often eclipse the legal and professional obligations.
Instead of the media interpreting the national question during the electoral period, there has often been embedded journalism that even fuels conflict.
In these instances, the mainstream media may choose to be sensational and to give prominence to that which plays contesting parties against each other with little attention given to facts and preserving the sanctity of truth.
However, in these instances there would be codes of conduct, peer review mechanisms and enforceable legal instruments to ensure compliance and adherence.
To this end, there have been nonviolent mechanisms to hold media accountable and persuasive mechanisms to ensure that the media becomes a critical cog in fostering peace during the electoral processes.
There has been the introduction of mid-career training programs around conflict-sensitive journalism that is anchored on reducing sensationalism and ensuring appropriate language is used in media circles.
Media professional associations have also been playing a critical role in supporting peaceful electoral processes.
The case of Lesotho, which held elections in 2022 provides some useful lessons on a multi-stakeholder approach towards promoting peace, beginning with the safety of the messenger, the journalists and to mainstream the peace within the message that is disseminated.
The media bodies were able to get key electoral sectors, among them the police, political parties and the elections management body into signing an electoral pledge that they monitored and reviewed periodically.
It was notable that as a result of that intervention, there was reduction in cases of violence against the media and there was acknowledgement of how conflict-sensitive reportage was instrumental in fostering a generally peaceful environment during the electoral period.
Zimbabwean media stakeholders are modelling similar interventions albeit in a contextualised manner, wherein the respective actors and stakeholders are being engaged separately but with the same objective.
The key outcome in facilitating such processes is to ensure that the mainstream media serves as a platform for all contesting parties in line with their professional and legal obligations and that there is a peaceful operating environment for the media.
More however needs to be invested in ensuring that such interventions are strengthened and expanded to the online space, where the generated content is predominately unmitigated.
The challenge also being striking a balance between expanding the space for citizens to enjoy their rights to express themselves yet preserving the peace and integrity within those spaces.
The solution will not happen as an event but rather a sustained and engaging process.
And this process has to be anchored on trust.
The narrative that is already building on social media within the Zimbabwean publics is reflective of the polarization that is deeply entrenched within our societies – manifesting and playing out within the media.
By its nature polarization is toxic and could translate into violent confrontations or hateful engagement.
Yet, there is opportunity for key agents to be leading lights in pushing back against polarised and doctored information and promoting peaceful engagements in the media space.
The mainstream media is such an agent.
Strengthening mainstream media as a credible source of verified and accountable information and to ensure that such news and information has a lion’s share on social media platforms is a step towards peace building.
There ought to be a multi-stakeholder approach that will also include religious leaders occupying strategic spaces in media such that the peace messages are mainstreamed.
Media literacy campaigns against disinformation should be up scaled while giving prominence to agents and platforms that fact check public interest information.
A discerning and informed citizenry is more inclined to peaceful engagements notwithstanding the propensity of the differences in opinions.
- *Nigel Nyamutumbu is a media development practitioner currently serving as the Coordinator of a network of nine media professional associations and media freedom advocacy organizations, the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe. He made this submission at a dialogue and exchange programme facilitated by the American Friends Service Committee and its partners in Capetown, South Africa between May 30 and 2 June 2023. He can be contacted on +263 772 501 557 or [email protected]
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) welcomes the proclamation of the 2023 harmonised elections.
Under Statutory Instrument 85 of 2023 President Emmerson Mnangangwa, fixed August 23, 2023 as polling day and June 21 as the date on which the nomination courts would sit countrywide to accept applications by political parties and their candidates to take part in the polls.
The network commends government for implementing some electoral reforms which include the ratification of the African Charter on Democracy, Governance and Elections (ACDEG); the amendment of the Census and Statistics Act to push forward the population census to pave way for the delimitation of electoral boundaries, the amendment of the constitution which saw the introduction of the youth quota in the National Assembly and the extension of the women’s quota by a further 10 years in the National Assembly.
Zesn is cognisant of section 157 (5) of the constitution, which provides that after an election has been proclaimed no change to the electoral law or any other law on elections will apply for that election.
This means that 2023 elections are being held with no legal reforms given the fact that the constitution requires election of everyone to be in accordance with the Electoral Law; which is the Electoral Act.
Zesn notes that the failure of the Electoral Amendment Bill to sail through before the proclamation was passed means the constitutional provisions on youth quota and proportional representation cannot be applied or implemented.
The result is that the youth quota and the PR provisions fall away for now.
They await implementation in 2028.
The network also commends the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) for implementing the following administrative issues: Zec now informs registrations who would have been removed from the voter’s roll by publishing names in the government gazette.
Another positive change noted is that the Zec is now cleaning the voter’s roll continuously and voters roll inspection is now being done both physically and electronically as recommended by the observer missions.
The electoral management body now reviews and updates voter education manual before elections, and the posting of voters roll outside each polling station is now a reality in Zimbabwean elections.
However, there are some of the outstanding reforms which Zesn had anticipated to have been addressed ahead of the 2023 polls and these are: the need to create a conducive electoral environment that will see the effective participation of citizens without fear; availing of the voter’s roll; the need for tactile ballot papers to ensure secrecy of the vote; a review of the accreditation fees and opening up the space to allow long term observation by domestic observers; the need to ensure there are punitive measures are put in place to address the violence that affects women's participation in politics and elections as well as implementation of the equality 50 / 50 constitutional provision.
In view of the foregoing, the network implores government through the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to consider provisions for the incorporation of the youth quota in the National Assembly and the women’s quota in local authorities which are both products of the constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 2) Act as part of efforts to increase their representation and participation in electoral processes.
Furthermore, Zesn urges the government to comply with the matrix they developed on arrears clearance and debt resolution in particular on electoral reforms to ensure peaceful and transparent elections.
Under electoral reforms the strategy seeks to implement the following essential and accepted electoral reforms from reports of 2018 election observer missions, Zec and Political Actors Dialogue and to strengthen and capacitate electoral institutions to deliver on their mandate.
The matrix’s targets and outcomes are; enhanced freedom of assembly and association; enhanced political pluralism; democratic elections conducted regularly and civil society activities promoted. - ZesnONLINE FEEDBACK
According to Mining Zimbabwe, it is estimated that Zimbabwe produces approximately 150 000 tonnes of black granite annually with Mutoko contributing about 75% of that output. If these figures are anything to go by then the infrastructural deficit in the district are not commensurate to the amount of black granite mined from the district.
What could one expect when it has been reported that Mutoko Rural District Council has for all these years been getting a paltry US$1 for every tone of black granite mined as tax yet.
On another note, this was unavoidable since for years, the black granite slabs were exported in their raw state for cutting and polishing by developed nations at the detriment of local development and environmental sustainability.
The export of raw black granite meant exportation of jobs and diminishing the prospects of locals benefiting meaningfully through job creation.
Many thanks to the government of Zimbabwe which, through Statutory Instrument 127 of 2022 S.I. 126 of 2022, the Mines and Minerals (Prohibition Order of Exportations of Unprocessed Granite) Notice, 2022 banned the exportation of unprocessed granite.
If implemented in letter and spirit, the ban has the potential to create jobs and stimulate local development.
The setting up of a granite processing plant in Mutoko is also a commendable move towards community beneficiation.
However, to tap into this potential, there is need for strong and deterrent mechanisms to plug leakages in form of the exportation of unprocessed granite by unscrupulous and unaccountable mining companies and individuals.
The government must also monitor to see to it that those with preexisting valid contracts for the export of unprocessed granite start processing the rock as soon as their contracts expire.
There is also need for the government to ensure that there is genuine dialogue between communities and mining companies towards sustainable community beneficiation.