The Revolution Will Be Hashtagged

#ThisFlag Protest Movement: Social Media as Activism in Zimbabwe

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  1. Zimbabwe is in the midst of the largest protest movement in almost a decade, and it happened almost accidentally.
  2. On May 4th, 2016, Zimbabweans woke up to the announcent that the Government was considering re-introducing the unpopular "bond note" currency - an invention unknown to mainstream economics - to address the cash shortage in the country. Social media, especially watsapp, spread the news before the government could release a statement.
  3. In the weeks following the announcement, emboldened Zimbabweans took to social media to express their disapproval of the proposed policy and the former Minister of Finance, Gideon Gono, who had voiced his support for the Policy.
  4. Public hearings with the head of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) created room for arguments against the policy to be heard by the citizenry, the business community as well as the legal community.
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  6. A few weeks earlier,on April 21st, a frustrated Zimbabwean pastor, contemplating taking his children out of school because he was struggling to afford it, propped up his phone on his desk, put on some background music, draped himself with a Zimbabwean flag and spoke about what it meant to him. He called the video #ThisFlag
  7. With the release of the Video, he invited Zimbabweans, at home and around the world, to wear their flags for 7 days as a symbolic protest and call to political leaders to address the major social and economic crises affecting the country. The protest was to be between May 1 - May 7. On May 4, in the middle of the symbolic protest, the government announced the bond note policy, turning the protest into a movement. The relatively anonymous pastor was instantly pushed into the national and international spotlight as the leader of the largest protest movement the country has seen in almost a decade.
  8. Zimbabweans all across the world embraced the call, expressing their support of the movement on social media platforms.
  9. The #ThisFlag campaign was extended, from a 7 day protest to 25 days, strategically scheduled to end on May 25, Africa Day. Thousands of Zimbabweans joined the cause around the world. The protest spread online, emboldening and uniting Zimbabweans around a non-violent movement unlike any they had ever seen.
  10. Government officials, who initially ignored the protest, began to notice and oppose it. On Africa Day, the ruling party Zanu-PF, headed by 92 year-old President Mugabe, organized a "Million Man March" to show broad support for his regime, and provide a counternarrative to the popularity of the protest movement.
  11. The march was widely seen as a failure. Thousands marched, but the number fell short of the million that was expected.
  12. On Twitter, @ProfJNMoyo, Minister for Higher & Tertiary Education, Science & Technology Development, but known as Zanu-PF's "spin doctor" for his previous role as Minister of Information between 2000 - 2005, condemned (and dismissed) the movement.
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