7 Apr 2011

"Doublehanded" new politics? Observing @JMakamba and @ZittoKabwe

The hot topic of Tanzanian blogosphere at the moment seems to be use of social media by young politicians. January Makamba and Zitto Kabwe in particular have got the analysts thinking, documenting the use of social media by these two intriguing characters and trying to reach a conclusion on how significant this really is.

I won't go through all the points raised, but posts on The Mikocheni Report (and earlier), VijanaFMAfterAfrica (and an earlier oneand another), Ani Jozen in the Guardian are all worth reading, as is this broader analysis from the Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung that includes a brief section on Tanzania. The recent Tanzania Media Fund event on media and accountability helped the debate along, and of course it has raged on Twitter too. The tweets below were all posted in response to AfterAfrica's recent post, change comes with the youthful?

Change comes with the youthful? Click to enlarge

And it's to Twitter that I now turn to document and share some of the evidence of this "new politics". After all, though both Makamba and Kabwe are active on Facebook and have blogs, it's Twitter where it has unfolded most dramatically. At times the frankness and quality of discussions between and involving @JMakamba and @ZittoKabwe has been gripping to watch.

So for those who didn't catch this live, here's a chance to get a taste. To keep things (relatively) brief, let's stick to conversations on a single issue: power generation and transmission. But this kind of thing is going on pretty much everyday and there are many other such conversations to choose from - on genetically modified organisms in agriculture, mining royalties, or most recently on the Constitutional Review Act. As a bit of context, you should be aware that January Makamba is currently chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Energy and Minerals and Zitto Kabwe chairs the Public Organisations Accounts Committee.
@JMakamba and @ZittoKabwe on power issues. Click to enlarge.
The goal here is not to assess whether these are workable solutions to the challenges of Tanzania's power sector, but rather to illustrate the kind of conversations that are taking place. For these two politicians, from opposing parties, to be having this conversation in such a public and transparent space as Twitter is surely positive.

But a degree of healthy scepticism may be useful, particularly in two areas touched on above. First, and as The Mikocheni Report reminds us, politicians are politicians and tend not to do anything without thinking about how it will be perceived. It's become part of January Makamba and Zitto Kabwe's personal "brands" that they are tech savvy, modern, social media players - a way of marking themselves as different from the rest of Tanzania's political community. And second, politics has a way of denting youthful dynamism, particularly as the politicians are given more responsibilities - a kind of middle-age spread, where new approaches are killed off by the cut and thrust of politics ("the art of the possible"). Can Makamba and Kabwe survive and progress in Tanzanian politics without playing the same political games that older and more senior politicians play?

It's important not to forget such concerns, but nor should we allow scepticism to become cynicism. These guys should be applauded for doing something different: their use of social media, their willingness to cooperate across party lines and to make themselves so accessible. After all, the Tanzanian Twitterverse, small though it may be, currently has a wonderful opportunity to observe and engage directly with two politicians who look certain to play major roles over the coming years. Let's use that opportunity wisely.

And the final word should go again to Twitter:

Click to enlarge

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In case you were wondering, I've used a website called Snap Bird to dig up all these past tweets. Their search tool seems much more powerful and user-friendly than Twitter's.