Zimbabwe is one of the poorest countries in the world, where unemployment is high and freedom of speech is suppressed. When Munya Dodo came into contact with the Sida-funded Magamba, his plan was to make the young people's voices heard through digital storytelling. Today he runs a social TV platform and educates young people in using social media to engage civil leaders and drive positive changes in society.
Munyaradzi Dodo, or Munya as he likes to be called, talks intensely to his team in the shade of Magamba's futuristic building made from recycled containers in central Harare, a natural meeting place for the country's activists, artists and media profiles. The Magamba network has launched a number of initiatives which combine modes of expression within culture and new media. They annually arrange the Shoko festival, the country's biggest urban culture festival and platform for freedom of expression and artistic development among young Zimbabweans.
It was there that Munya won the Hub Unconference prize for his idea “I am Zimbo”, an online platform where young Zimbabweans can talk about problems that they see in society and confront those in power, something which has previously been impossible in Zimbabwe.
– “People are scared to speak their mind on social media. They associate new media with being more open to criticising government. But new media and citizen journalism are about expressing yourself and finding solutions to social problems. Alternative voices being heard without the risk of polarisation, discrimination or censorship,” says Munya.
Citizen journalism is part of the solution
Most of the media landscape of Zimbabwe is owned or controlled by the Government. While there are newspapers that are critical of the Government, radio and TV are firmly under state control.
– “My dream is for young Zimbabweans to be allowed to tell their own stories, on their own terms. That their voices are heard – because their stories need to be heard.”
In 2013, Munya started TV Yangu, which translates as “My TV” in Shona (one of three official languages in Zimbabwe). It is a social television platform that, unlike traditional news production, allows viewers to control and contribute content by sending in questions. In this way, Munya and his team of content producers and web developers help ensure that some of Africa's most important stories regarding problems such as sexual violence, unemployment and a lack of equality are highlighted.
In a short time period, the channel has grown and currently has around 20,000 paid views per month through its website. He attributes his success to Magamba's courses in business and capacity development.
– “I learned how to develop my idea into a business model, not just as a social initiative, but as social entrepreneurship. We took the idea to the next level, creating something sustainable.”
This opened many doors, and Munya received an award for best use of social media by a start-up with I am Zimbo, and was selected for the prestigious Mandela Washington Fellowship in the USA in 2015.
Teaches young people to use social media
Today he spends a lot of his time educating other local filmmakers and sharing his experiences of spreading new stories in digital media. He is also a facilitator at Magamba and travels around the country educating young Zimbabweans in citizen journalism and how to use social media to drive social change.
– “We hold courses in cities, university campuses and upper secondary schools where we challenge young people to find solutions to local problems. When we finish a course we have 20-30 innovative initiatives which address major problems such as rape, violence against women, discrimination, albinism or unemployment,” Munya explains.
Despite many of the country's poor living in rural areas, where internet access is underdeveloped, most have a mobile phone and some sort of online connection. With a young population (60 % are under 24 years old) that is increasingly aware of social issues, it is possible to create greater social commitment and hold those in power accountable. It is a matter of using the tools already available to engage with the young people, Munya says.
– “We are trying to find solutions that suit the local context, like using text messages instead of starting a blog. More and more people have internet access and new ways of communicating. This is what Zimbabweans and Africans need right now,” says Munya.