Cabinet ministers and some government bureaucrats seem to be now divided. But this time it is not on outstanding issues of the global political agreement the pact that formed the government currently running Zimbabwe.
Instead new media platforms developing at breakneck pace have separated President Robert Mugabe’s mixed bag of ministers –– those with technological savvy and the techno-phobes.
For some cabinet ministers clicking is more synonymous with humming along to Motown tunes than using a mouse. With the same click, others are browsing music of days gone by on YouTube.
An observation by the Zimbabwe Independent this week shows that most senior cabinet ministers seem reluctant to be part of new social media, which could be critical in interaction with their various constituencies.
Ironically, this development emerges at a time when the Office of the President and Cabinet presented an e-Learning package as a birthday gift to Mugabe who turned 86 last Sunday.
The gift, according to the office, was in recognition of Mugabe’s efforts to equip rural schools with computers while some of his lieutenants still dread using the seemingly alien machines.
Thanks to the “oath of secrecy” taken by civil servants we could not compile the list of ministers who still write speeches in longhand. A cursory view of how government officials often make presentations at seminars paints a picture of computer usage in central government.
The use of e-mail is still limited in cabinet despite its numerous advantages. Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, Education minister David Coltart, Finance minister Tendai Biti, Tourism minister Walter Mzembi, Industry and Commerce minister Welshman Ncube and Information Communication Technology minister Nelson Chamisa are among some of the ministers using social media like Facebook.
On the other hand, ministers that are either “secretive” or yet to catch up with the new trend include Media, Information and Publicity minister Webster Shamu, Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo, National Housing and Social Amenities minister Fidelis Mhashu, Lands minister Herbert Murerwa, Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and Indigenisation minister Saviour Kasukuwere. Economic Planning minister Elton Mangoma and Small and Medium Enterprises minister Sithembiso Nyoni both have e-mail addresses but have not become part of social media like Linkedin or Facebook.
Typical of this new media, some cabinet ministers also have “imposters” on the Web.
A Facebook search of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa profiles different personalities not linked to the two. Perhaps this justifies why some ministers are sceptical in using the interactive media.
Mzembi says he is an avid user of social media. For him social networking through twitter, Xing, flickr and StudiVZ can achieve both his government and political goals.
“I have 1 000 fans offering me advice on tourism plans,” Mzembi said. “I’m enjoying it (Facebook). I no longer gather people under a tree every week. We can network through dot.com.”
On fears of the new media, the Zanu PF Masvingo South MP said: “I’m told they have a downside but I’m yet to see them.”
Chamisa this week launched a four-year ICT strategic plan. He confirmed that ICT literacy continues to be a challenge both within and outside government.
He said his ministry would however transform society to “digital citizens”. Government, Chamisa said, would this year contribute to ICT proficiency by assisting government ministries and departments “upgrade their capacities and skills by 20% annually”.
On electronic governance (e-governance) which entails the use of new media in running government business, the ICT minister said government would “develop and implement functional websites with communication portals for each ministry by June 2010”.
Websites for some government departments and parastatals were last updated more than four years ago.
“The ICT revolution is the only revolution that is being led by young people,” Chamisa said. “All the others like the agrarian were led by the old. But this one is being led by the young ones.”
These are his words for those not on social media: “If you are not on Facebook, Twitter, an email address and YouTube, then you don’t exist.”
With 50% of Zimbabwe’s fixed lines in Harare alone and 3G technology operating only in urban centres, it could take a while before internet density spreads to the rural areas.
Government, according to the policy document, aims to develop broad-band fibre optic links to all major cities and towns by December 2014.
The ICT ministry has also set a target of 10% growth in teledensity each year.
Zimbabwe Open University professor Gabriel Kabanda contends that economic growth is linked to ICT world. He cited the economic growth of India as being driven by new technologies.