Earlier this year, Small World News was privileged to participate in an innovative and exciting project to bring stories out of Zimbabwe, a country where citizens are sidelined by a repressive government and a lack of press freedom. A rigged election in July 2013 maintained the rule of Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party, further pushing back reform efforts and disheartening a large and progressive opposition among Zimbabwe's very young and restless population. Online outlets have become a rare means of expression. Baba Jukwa, a commentator who used Facebook as exclusive publishing tool, had the fastest growing page in the country as people flocked to hear his opinions. The traditional media, meanwhile, is more or less a laughingstock, shilling for the party in power or publishing stories that are irrelevant to the concerns of citizens:
In Zimbabwe's current atmosphere, developing means for independent voices to express their point of view is a vital goal. The story about the country heard from outside has remained highly negative-- mostly concerned with the tense political situation, economic difficulties, and the conflict over white-owned farms-- and for the most part, we lack images and stories of the shape and texture of daily life.
Mobile Community Zimbabwe (MCZ) is a project that gives ambitious young Zimbabweans a voice and a platform to share and exchange information through mobile phones, video and social media. Using the StoryMaker app on Android-enabled smart phones, the MCZ project equips young Zimbabweans from across the country with skills to use their devices to tell compelling stories about themselves and their communities.
Starting in May 2013, Small World News assisted Free Press Unlimited in building MCZ with the hypothesis that mobile production is one of the new avenues of expression that have the potential to bring fresh stories to the surface. After leading nearly 50 Zimbabweans— young professionals, civil society workers, freelancers, bloggers, and budding media producers— through a week-long visual storytelling course, SWN mentored trainees for several months while they produced over 200 video reports published on the MCZ website and Youtube.
The training course was held in Lusaka, Zambia, which provided participants with the opportunity to learn in a relaxed environment away from sources of stress at home. Many trainees had never visited their neighboring country before and made connections with Zambian peers in the media and civil society fields.
The videos were stories of local and international relevance. Trainees covered water shortages, youth unemployment, environmental problems, and municipal negligence unflinchingly, with Android smart phones as their only production tool. Local customs, dance, shopping trends, and scenes from daily life rarely highlighted by the traditional media were shown to the world and accessible internationally—a big step towards creating a new generation of media makers to tell the real story of Zimbabwe today.
MCZ is still finding its audience and has the potential to become an influential source of news and features in an environment where independent viewpoints are rarely heard. We are very proud to have participated in the creation of this new platform, and we can't wait to see what it will turn into.