Facebook Politics in Zimbabwe

Since 2013 the popular 'Baba Jukwa' Facebook page has posted allegations of state and ruling party scandals and correctly predicted political developments

Downtown Harare. Image by Damien Farrell via Flickr CC

Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, is buzzing with the arrest of Edmund Kudzayi, editor-in-chief at the Zimbabwean Sunday Mail. Together with his brother Phillip Kudzayi, the editor stood accused of administrating the faceless online personality known as “Baba Jukwa.” Since early 2013 the popular Baba Jukwa Facebook page has been posting allegations of scandals and corruption, mainly against politicians and state officials, but also predictions of what was going to happen within the political landscape, many of which turned out to be true. For this reason one could suspect Baba Jukwa to be (or be connected to) a mole within Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party.

On Sunday of the same week the police released a list of ten more people they intended to arrest in connection with the case:

At least 10 people, including journalist Wilf Mbanga and his wife Trish, are being sought by the police in connection with the shadowy Facebook character Baba Jukwa, who posted subversive articles aimed at inciting people to engage in acts of insurgency and banditry (The Herald print version, 28.6.2014).

Edmund Kudzayi faced charges of terrorism, sabotage and undermining the authority of the President, as well as an accusation of holding illegal ammunition.  Kudzayi was later released on bail.  One Romeo Musemburi (a student at the University of Zimbabwe) and one Mxolisi Ncube (a South-African-based journalist) have also been charged in relation to the case (Newsday print version, 1.7.2014).

In April of this year I got ahold of Baba Jukwa on Facebook, and asked him what he was up to:

I stand for truth, transparency, and the preparation of a renewed Zimbabwe, and a new Africa. This page is the people’s hope for freedom.

Said he. Or she. Or them.

Baba Jukwa has over 400,000 “Likes” on Facebook (409,071 earlier today to be exact), a significant number considering that only around 130,000 people “Like” Robert Mugabe’s Facebook page. “In a daily blizzard of posts, Baba Jukwa has waged a furious information war against Zanu-PF,” wrote BBC correspondent Andrew Harding in 2013:

The stories–some of them more salacious gossip than whistleblowing– include allegations of rape, murder and corruption by senior Zanu-PF officials, and are often accompanied by the mobile phone numbers of those accused, with calls for the public to bombard them with questions.

Now, however, it seems the Zimbabwean authorities are stepping up their game. Editor Kudzayi (who impressively managed to speak far and wide with the press from inside prison walls) claimed he had in fact been working with the government in their efforts to find the ever-elusive Baba Jukwa. In fact, Kudzayi claims to have been working with both the Ministry of Defense and the Police in trying to hack into the gmail account off, and expose, the “real” Baba Jukwa.

These allegations are not only laughable but a clear abuse of the criminal justice system by those in the corridors of power who are afraid that I can use my technological expertise to expose those who actually supplied the real Baba Jukwa…The State has missed the ball and is now majoring in minor and trivial things, yet the real Baba Jukwa is laughing off after the State has arrested an innocent man who has no connection to the Baba Jukwa page” Edmund Kudzayi to The Zimbabwean Herald (Print version, 26.6.2014).

There have been suspicions that the arrests of the journalists are in fact part of a larger, and much more complex, political game. As President Mugabe enjoys his 90th year upon this earth, the question of succession grows ever more pressing. With the end of the coalition government in 2013, ruling party Zanu-PF gained a stronghold, but this time it is a stronghold marred by the vacuum left by the death of the opposition (the Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC-T). Or, if not the death, the rasping gasps and signing of wills.

Anyway, the point is, Zanu-PF have been systematically targeting MDC-T for so long. And yet it turns out that the MDC-T’s downfall has made Zanu turn its fangs inwards, upon its own members. A shadowy Facebook character is just an easy way of vilifying whomever you find to be Enemy Number One, whether outside or inside your own party. Others think it is more than that; the Baba Jukwa case is a (more traditional) attempt to distract the population from more pressing matters like, for instance, the dire economic situation.

In all this, Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services Professor Jonathan Moyo is a bit of a wild card. As he came to office in 2013 he appointed a range of new people in the state-owned press, including as it happens, Edmund Kudzayi as editor-in-chief of The Sunday Mail. In the weeks before Kudzayi´s arrest, President Mugabe had a very public and well-publicized rant concerning Moyo, calling him “the devil incarnate.” Mugabe accused Moyo of appointing editors that were disloyal to the party, though some see this as Moyo´s attempting to open up for a little more press freedom.

Harare is (and has been for a while) a city of endless rumors, gossip and speculations.  In the absence of unbiased commentary, a city of speculators is what you get.

The Baba Jukwa case embodies this aura of speculation. What is interesting is that Baba Jukwa has continued to post on his Facebook page, even after Kudzayi was arrested. What is even more interesting is that, on June 13th, Baba Jukwa predicted that Kudzayi and two others would be arrested.

Great Zimbabweans the chief chipfukuto has decided to sacrifice his blue-eyed zvipfukuto, Edmund kudzayi (Sunday mail), Mduduzi mathuthu (chronicle) and Caesar zvayi (herald) who all came to zimpapers on nepotism lines without proper channels followed to push his 2018 agenda.
He is such a coward serving his own position and leaving his agents without jobs. I feel pity for obscure journo mathuthu and fake IT specialist kudzai who thought they were above everyone.
Information coming in after chief Chipfukuto apologized to his excellency. More to follow…
Baba jukwa (Baba Jukwa Facebook post, 13.6.2014)

Curiouser and curiouser as this becomes, what is certain is that the Zimbabwean press is having a field-day with the Baba Jukwa case.

Baba Jukwa is a strong symbol, and even if the ‘real’ administrators are caught, Baba Jukwa will remain a representative figure, capable of frustrating the State and challenging the powers that be.

The Baba Jukwa case shows us that social media offers an opening, even in a relatively closed situation. My concern is that before it is over, this nation-wide witch-hunt is going to lead to further arrests of media practitioners and further restrictions on information, freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

On July 17th, Baba Jukwa wrote on his/her/their Facebook page: “The mighty ‘Baba Jukwa’ will post until Jesus comes back.”


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