Election season is in full swing in Zimbabwe. The country’s first election without its ‘political godfather’, Mr Robert Mugabe, is due in two months’ time. What makes this election different from previous plebiscites, is the freedom with which Zimbabweans have been able to air their views without inhibition or fear of reprisal, especially on social media.
By Ennocent Nemuramba
In real time, social media has created space for the convergence of divergent views. The suitability of prospective candidates is being put under scrutiny, intra-party intrigue ‘analysed’ in full measure, views bordering on the arcane aired and voices steeped in irrationality allowed to weigh in.
It is a fine mess, but one which bodes well for the entrenchment of a culture of the active and engaged citizenry. This evolving culture, however, has exposed a cog that could threaten the efficacy of a healthy contestation of ideas on social media – manufactured outrage.
Manufactured outrage is a loose term which refers to the righteous outrage that enables its proponent to claim a feigned moral high ground in order to draw attention to a perceived act or event of injustice. It is an unthinking way of creating consternation for the sake of it and is often irrational.
The Jessie Majome fallout on social media is one such example of manufactured outrage.
Jessie Majome is an MDC-T Member of Parliament (MP) for the Harare West constituency. After holding the seat for the past 10 years, Majome has once more thrown her name in the hat to be considered as a candidate for the seat, this time under the umbrella of the MDC Alliance.
The only hurdle is, just like any other aspiring candidate, she has to subject herself to the minor inconvenience of primary elections with fellow party members who are also eyeing the seat.
Late on Friday afternoon, Twitter was awash with reports that Majome has withdrawn from the primary election contest because ‘rules have been disregarded and processes manipulated’.
The announcement sent the twitter crowd into a meltdown.
In part, the anger was justified as twitterati could not understand why an MP with such an impeccable record was being tossed away by the wayside, but on the main, the outrage was unnecessarily outlandish.
Granted, Majome is one of the few MPs that is attentive to the needs of her constituents and goes out of her way to ensure that their voices are heard. Her parliamentary activism, reflected on the various committees on which she is a member, has cemented her reputation as an illustrious public servant.
But this stellar record should not blind anyone into thinking that she is entitled to the seat she currently holds nor does it absolve her from scrutiny.
Jessie Majome’s withdrawal from the Harare West primary election and purported resignation deserves to be interrogated rationally and understood within the context of publicly available evidence of why she resigned.
To be morally outraged based solely on her assertion that she is being ostracized and unfairly treated, is a lazy attempt that betrays the low standards by which we hold our public representatives to.
In a video widely circulated on Twitter, Majome tells an interviewer that she has decided to withdraw from the primary election process because the party was not following its rules on internal electoral conduct.
Based on her conscience, she added, she could not partake in such a flawed process. These sentiments and the letter she reportedly sent to party headquarters announcing her withdrawal seem to be the only sources of information used by the aggrieved on twitter to vent their anger on the unfair treatment of Majome.
No one is privy to the contents of the letter she sent to the party withdrawing her candidature, and therefore we cannot speculate on its contents. Suffice to say that Majome, in the published video, failed to articulate which of the party’s electoral rules have been violated and how.
Majome used the veil of public sympathy, which she has rightfully earned over the years, to paint a picture of victimhood while failing to provide a coherent picture of the circumstances that have rendered the Harare West primary election unfair and irregular.
This missing part of the equation exposes the insidious nature of the twitter mob which, without pausing to consider whether Majome’s withdrawal was based on sound reasons of disenchantment, took up the mantle of manufactured outrage to express its displeasure.
What makes Zimbabwe’s own version of manufactured outrage more intriguing is that it is often led by public figures and social media influencers. Fadzayi Mahere, an aspiring candidate for the Mt Pleasant constituency, and an active Twitter user had this to say about Majome’s withdrawal:
“Is there space for women in the MDC Alliance? A competent woman like @JessieFMajome is pushed out. I am disgusted”.
No one denies Majome’s competency but she wasn’t pushed out, as intimated by Mahere, she withdrew from the primary election contest. As things stand, there is no evidence-based account from Majome to support the reasons behind her withdrawal. What is clear is that Majome felt the process was unfair to her and she had to withdraw, immediately.
Besides, for Mahere to take a decision made by Majome as evidence that there was no space for women in the MDC alliance is a disservice to the legitimate fight for gender parity in decision making structures. If Majome was being targeted for exclusion because she is a woman, what does this say of Joanna Mamombe, a woman who is one of the candidates contesting in the primary elections for the Harare West seat?
Is her participation of lesser value to that of Majome?
A major consequence of manufactured outrage, besides being irrational, is that it dumbs down informed debate and replaces it with righteous indignation.
Often, those who dabble in this vice, hide behind a veneer of what appears as a legitimate cause to drive a narrative that is devoid of reason but is designed primarily to fuel public outrage.
It is a trap that will relegate reason and rationality on social media spaces to the fringe while elevating politically correct platitudes that add no value to healthy public discourse.
The onus is on public figures and social media influencers to push back against this unintellectual encroachment on informed discourse on social media by refraining from feeding false narratives on imagined injustice.