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Zimbabwe Campaigns Use New Technologies to Reach Voters


Zimbabwean political parties are using innovative methods of attracting prospective voters for the March 29 presidential elections. For example, they provide the undecided with text messages about their platforms, or use slogans and jingles to assault their opponents. From Mutare, reporter Loirdham Moyo says some of texts amuse and infuriate members of the public, but sometimes fail to convince them.

The three main candidates are using technology to their advantage, by text messaging the most important aspects of their campaign to supporters.

At the same time, ordinary Zimbabweans are forwarding humor about the presidential hopefuls to one another.

One of the most popular messages, at the moment, among Mutare residents is one that reads "President Robert Mugabe should be sent to farm, while Morgan Tsvangirai of the opposition movement For Democratic Change should be sent to school... And [former ruling party finance minister] Simba Makoni must be allowed to rule."

The message is believed to the brain child of Makoni's backers.

Their play on words reminds members of the public of president Mugabe's controversial land reform program, while making fun of Tsvangirai's educational background. Of course, being Makoni supporters, it's clear they believe the former finance minister's charisma speaks for itself.

While sending text messages is a relatively cheap - and direct -- campaign tool, the three major cell phone providers have acknowledged many messages have not been delivered because system crashes. A Telecel official, who requested anonymity, says many customers who complain they're not able to make calls can however send messages.

Another of makoni's campaign messages doing the rounds tackles the failing power supplies (also called "simba" in the vernacular).

The "sms", or text message, reads "There is no power is Zimbabwe: water has no power. The currency has no power. Everything in Zimbabwe has no power, so vote for someone with power... Vote Simba (Makoni)."

Considering the mounting challenges faced by Zimbabweans, some say at least the text messages bring a smile to their face.

Some of the MDC's songs have been turned into ring tones by the party faithful. Some songs available on compact disks ask "have you not suffered enough, why continue voting for [the ruling party] ZANU PF ?"

ZANU PF's ring tones and screen savers (for cell phones) are more conventional. Many feature efforts to mechanize farming, including images of tractors and harvesters. Ring tones have the following messages "give land to the people", "Vote President Mugabe", "President Mugabe the revolutionary and visionary leader" and "Zimbabwe will never be a colony again".

Kudakwashe Maposhere of Mutare says the messages are influencing opinion.

He say, "The messages and ringtones on cellphones have an impact depending on who is sending them. They play a major role in trying to sway people's behaviour in an election."

But another resident, Pedzisai Marange, disagrees.

The 35-year-old says the hype surrounding text messages won't have any impact on voting behaviour...

"I do not know much about these messages," he says, "and in any case these will not make any impact on us. We will not be swayed as we already know where we are going to vote for. What is important is to ensure there is change of government."

His view is shared by the Center for Research and Development's Farai Maguwu. He says many are already convinced of which party they're going to vote for. Maguwu says modern technology only helps in terms of creating light-hearted moments at a time when there's very little for Zimbabweans to laugh about.

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