A few days ago Nick Mangwana who we all just knew from Twitter was appointed the new Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services. He then quickly announced that he was unblocking some people he had blocked on Twitter since he was now a public servant and he had to engage with everyone.
More importantly, on that same day the ministry created a Twitter account and they announced that they would be using it to update on government programmes and also to hear from the population although they may not always be quick to respond since they have to enquire with line ministries.
This is quite good and makes it easier to engage with the government through a single channel which is the ministry of information. Judging by yesterday, they are indeed using Twitter to inform. They shared the resignation of some chief civil servants and the appointment of the new permanent secretary for the ministry of education right there on Twitter among other announcements.
A departure from a few weeks ago
The former permanent secretary in the information ministry George Charamba always insisted that government does not make announcements on social media but it does through ‘official channels.’ Effectively that meant that the government does not announce anything to the citizenry because the citizens are on social media more than anywhere else.
Charamba himself had a very short fling with Twitter and he quit it immediately citing abuse. He later disowned the Twitter account and said it was not his. That sounds exactly like the government and its officials as we have always known them.
Remember Robert Mugabe appointed Patrick Chinamasa as Minister of Cyubersecurity and all we had from Chinamasa was how social media was evil and needed to tamed. We held our breaths fearing that we would see taxes introduced for social media as is happening elsewhere in Africa. If Chinamasa and Charamba had their way we could have seen that day.
Their boss is on social
President Mnangagwa has been officially on social media for almost as long as he has been president. Sometimes I don’t think it’s him who posts directly but he has done stuff like Facebook Live. All the ministers, permanent secretaries and other public servants have no excuse, their boss is using the channels to inform of what’s going on and they should do it even more.
Priscilla Chigumba’s lawsuit should be considered embarrassing
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Chairperson, Justice Priscilla Chigumba reported someone for retweeting what a parody account with her name had tweeted. Surprisingly, the guy was arrested and he is in court right now! This is ridiculous. I expect the courts to throw this case out but still I am infuriated that resources are being wasted on this.
Don’t accept public office if you don’t want to be in public
The fact of the matter is that public officials must learn to grow a thick skin. Ridicule and such are part of the job. They just can’t want the praise, the titles and the privilege of giving long boring speeches and then reject the other side of the coin. Social media is no longer just a thing for ‘the youth’ as it is always framed, it is the reality of our world and so let it be used for governance.
I agree with the United States court that ruled that President Donald Trump does not have the right to block someone on Twitter for opposing his views. Maybe here the parliament should pass a law that obligates office bearers to be accessible on social.
Public servants and the government ministries particularly the ministry of information should of course do more than just Twitter. Twitter is not the most user friendly of social media platforms and is used by a distinct demographic. This is hardly the most inclusive of platforms.
It’s no secret that Zimbabwe’s internet is WhatsApp. I encourage government to make itself accessible on this platform. Facebook too is a broad platform. No, I am not going to suggest that the president be on SnapChat.
The changing role of the ministry of information is welcome
Ever since Jonathan Moyo’s stint as head of this ministry, we have always known the ministry of information as the ministry that solely exists to control and restrict information. The announcement by President Mnangagwa that the minister would hold a press conference after every cabinet meeting to share what was discussed is a welcome departure from the previous role.
There is a strong correlation between smooth information flow and economic development. This is why the technology that is changing the world drastically is information and communication technology.