Why Africa taking on the West over Mugabe is a Bad Idea

Writing in the South African newspaper Business Day, Thami Mazwai, says that Africans must back up their demands for the West to drop their sanctions against Zimbabwe by detailing what action SADC and the African Union will do if sanctions are not dropped. Mazwai compares the West’s refusal to accept the results to Hamas’ win in Palestine and says that African leaders should unify in the same way they have ‘stood their ground’ on the matter of Omar al-Bashir’s arrest warrant from the ICC.

Fortunately, this view isn’t shared by others at Business Day (above), but it does continue a pan-African narrative that dates to the liberation era which has been co-opted into a pro-dictator narrative in recents times. It builds upon the idea that Africans must unite as a whole in order to fulfill their liberation mission of removing the hold that slavery and colonialism has on the economy and society of the continent. This was an effective communicative technique in the 20th century – Africa was the underdog both before and after colonialism. The need to rally as a cohesive and stronger whole, thus forming a larger bloc of actors at the UN, as part of the Non-Aligned Movement. It also worked in defeating Apartheid South Africa.

But the issues that faced newly liberated African states in the middle of the 20th Century were much simpler than today – climate change, free trade, political development, technological innovation, and health crises don’t have moral imperatives likes slavery and colonialism. These issues are not black and white (the ones that are, such as freedom of expression challenge the domestic govt’s power so those are left to the side).

Mazwai doesn’t recognize this fact in his call to back Mugabe. Africa is not a homogenous nation – while their are theoretical linkages in the societies between similar colonial experiences, a black South African is just as likely to have more in common with a someone from Britain than from Senegal.  Thus, calling for a unified bloc is hard enough but to back a tyrannical leader against punititive sanctions surely would only damage the reputation of African organizations and states further. We must not forget that repercussions still exist from Dictators’ Club of the old OAU and its refusal to condemn auhuman rights abuses.

However,  the narrative in calling for unity behind a fellow African leader resonates for some. This only makes issues worse for Africans on the global stage because of the idea that African states will stand behind each other no matter their transgressions. This damages the moral standing and rhetorical arguments made by African leaders on other issues. If other countries view the African bloc as a unified group that will never condemn one another, Africa’s ability to negotiate and stand firm will be damaged. Similarities abound to how white colonists or slave owners stood together to prevent the end of the system that benefited them.

This is not to say Sub-Sahara Africa countries should not work together – they should. But the issues upon which to form a continental bloc are specific – not the default stance taken by African leaders. To do so would not strengthen Africa’s power in the world, it could set it back even further.


Building a Mobile-based Public Opinion Survey in Africa

Mobile Phone SurveyIn my most recent post over at the Democracy in Africa blog, I argued that using mobile phones for political opinion polls would be an effective way of identifying voter fraud as well as providing feedback for political parties. My argument sought to use the ubiquity of mobile phones in Zimbabwe to overcome the lack of landlines needed to ‘traditional’ polling and the challenges of conducting in-person surveys in rural communities. Even though we know that not everyone owns or has access to a mobile phone, with penetration almost 100%, this medium made the most sense in order to capture the most complete sample of the prospective Zimbabwean voter. Still, understanding how those who own mobile phones are different from those that don’t will be important for the generalizability of the survey. Additionally, those that respond to an SMS based poll versus citizens that do not will likely need to be explored for the purposes of generalizing the results of the survey. With these questions in mind, I’ve expanded on the the model I described at DIA to a version that would incorporate more of these variables. Below are some additional factors to include in the survey:

Sample frame:

The target of the survey would be the 13 million mobile phone subscribers in Zimbabwe. With a population just around 13 million, it can be reasonable to assume that the majority of citizens have an active mobile phone. To draw a random sample of this group in order to conduct the survey, two methods could be undertaken:

Random digit dialing: After inputing the correct prefixes for cell numbers in Zimbabwe (71, 73, and 77) a machine can dial random phone numbers. This makes it easy to replace any disconnected or unused numbers with the next random phone number.

Sample frame from the Telecoms: After partnering with the three major providers in Zimbabwe (Econet, Telecel, and Net*One), a list can be compiled of the numbers that have been active in the past 30 days from which to randomly sample. However, with many users changing SIM cards as they travel, or to take advantage of better rates, the list of active lines may include some that belong to the same person.

Weighting the Sample:

To compensate for a survey that does not perfectly represent the entire country of Zimbabwe, weights can be added to response groups in order to match the proportions known in the population. As an example, oversampling Sindebele speakers (who are only around 15%) or urban residents (5 million of the 13 million in the country) could be reproportioned to compenstate. This would not help if the sample itself is unrepresentative, but for the purposes of this project, the sample of mobile users is assumed to be the best representative sample that can be achieved.


To make sure that the survey was successful it would need at least one round of testing (a pilot program) to flesh out the right wording of the questions and the right incentive for response. Usually this is done by running the survey twice with only one difference in the implementation. One group could be asked about their ethnicity or language, and the other would not, in order to see if the overall response rate dropped because people were put off by the question. Other pilots could test the level of incentive needed to ensure a high response rate. Does 25c of airtime make it worth someone’s time?

Finally, what information people are told about the survey before they participate will be crucial to gauge. While Americans are used to pollsters calling for their opinion and assume that their anonymity will be protected, this can not be said around the world. Does Billboard in Mozambiquea public campaign need to be undertaken? Can a SMS with a url link to a website do the trick? Understanding what information is needed by those surveyed to have enough trust in order to respond will be one of the most crucial steps taken.


With these factors in mind, the formation of a mobile-based public opinion survey in Zimbabwe could be begun. Generalizability will be a crucial component for this survey as it’s likely to be one of the most critiqued factors. Those that respond to the survey could be   less fearful that their answers might offend the security regime, and thus more likely to be ZANU-PF supporters. Conversely, those that do not own mobile phones are more likely to be poor and rural citizens, and are a group that ZANU-PF has consistently targeted for electoral support. These plus other factors need to be overcome by the structure of the final form of the survey in order to produce a non-response rate of less than 30%. Any more and there’s no chance of generalizing about the voting habits of the Zimbabwean populace. Despite fine tuning the sample frame, correctly weighting the demographics, or identifying the right incentive, Zimbabweans may still be resistant to mobile polling. If the risks perceived by a voter in revealing their political preference cannot be assuaged by those conducting the survey, then high measurement error will likely result.

Despite the challenges and difficulties in achieving a proper survey, there is a clear social benefit provided to the Zimbabwean people. Polling allows a population to give instant feedback to political parties and candidates during elections. While the United States has become obsessed with polling to the point of superfluousness, citizens are able to indicate their preferences at various times, rather than just through a one-off election. Additionally, election monitors can use the trends of polling to provide a more accurate assessment of whether elections have been rigged or manipulated. If monitors know that Province A had been trending support of 60% for candidate A but in the election candidate B receives 70% of the vote, a red flag can be triggered and thus alert monitors to further investigate the results. Without knowing pre-election opinions, no one can be certain if the populace truly voted the way they did.

Democracy is at a standstill in Africa despite recent headlines. Technology will not be a democratizing agent on its own. However, if used in certain circumstances to improve accountability, transparency, or connectivity, we should embrace the chance help consolidate existing republics as well as bringing forth more democratic regimes in Africa.

Flag Map of Zimbabwe

This article is an addendum to an article posted on Democracy in Africa

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A Post-Mugabe Zimbabwe – Strategic Communication Overview

Project Overview

To anticipate the eventual change of leadership in Zimbabwe this document has been created for communicators and foreign policy analysts as a predictive tool for how the different external stakeholders will go about using strategic communication to complement Cover Page Zim Projecttheir diplomatic missions in Zimbabwe. A document based on prognostication means there are certainly gaps in understanding and predicting how humans will drive interactions. However, using a theoretical framework from the discipline of International Relations will provide guidance on constructing this forecast. Of course, not every actor is welded to a particular theory of IR, and thus below is a starting point for analysis, not the end.

The document has been divided in three different possible scenarios that could see Robert Mugabe leave office: an election, a military coup, and his death. Each scenario is broken into the actions taken by each external actor engaged with Zimbabwe: the African Union, China, the European Union, South Africa, and the United States. For each scenario the goals, strategies, and tactics for each country are outlined, leading to where each country would target their message. Some focus on the people of Zimbabwe, the military, or the other countries in the region. For each target, the message is determined by the set of objectives each country is trying to achieve in the post-Mugabe Zimbabwe. While some covert or diplomatic action is specified, the aim of this document is to predict the public diplomacy or overt strategic communication each actor takes towards its targets. The last piece of each country’s communication plan is the way the actor will engage or react to the actions of the other 5 international entities. This is to account for the fact that no communication plan exists in a vacuum and that the best laid plans will need revising based on the actions and counter-actions of the other players on the scene.

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The Case for Sanctions in Syria – Lessons from Africa

Sanctions are a hard form of economic power that Joseph Nye discusses in chapter three of his new book, The Future of Power, and a topic that is discussed widely today in relation to Syria. Many policy makers are pondering whether sanctions will be useful in convincing President al-Assad to stop killing his people. No doubt some in the camp that support sanctions would point to the smart sanctions that Rose Gottemoeller discusses in her article, The Evolution of Sanctions. She claims this progress has taken place after the world noted the failure of the blanket use of the measure against the Iraq regime that lead to suffering by the target population as a whole, and the corruption it bred. Gottemoeller suggests that smart sanctions “have been honed through the ‘war on terror’, and sanctions are hitting their targets among corrupt elites more often” (109). Many argue that sanctions are better than doing nothing, and a step below military engagement. This enables countries with public opinions that do not support the sacrifice of blood and treasure to still make their preference known in a forceful way. However, despite the near constant stream of sanctions and their intellectually enhanced offspring in the past decade, where do we see successes? Nye explains where economic power can be seen in the world today, but doesn’t place it fully into a country’s diplomatic toolkit. For example, many of the United States’ links with China are symbiotic and the circular relationship requires both sides to make policy changes in order to move forward. Certainly sanctions, as a piece of the arsenal of power could not solve this problem. Thus sanctions as a mode of influence have a fairly limited scope of use, even the ‘smart’ kind.

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