Campaigning together, but on their own


In Zimbabwe, a woman is getting ready to take part in a protest. But she is not attending a mass demonstration. Instead, she takes a selfie. She is careful not to include anything in the shot that would allow people to tell where she is, and to hold her placard so that it covers her face. Anonymity is crucial — if her identity is revealed, she could face state intimidation, harassment and arrest. The placard reads #ZimbabweanLivesMatter

She sends the picture to people she knows are engaged in the struggle against the Zanu-PF government. They share it on Twitter, and an individual act of faceless protest has become another brick in the wall of opposition to President Emmerson Mnangagwa. What was a personal statement has been transformed into a very public call for change.

The woman is not unique. Across Zimbabwe, many others have also taken pictures, some showing their face, others disguising themselves. 

Earlier in the year, youths in neighbouring Zambia took to the bush on the outskirts of the capital, Lusaka, to e-protest against the worsening erosion of civil liberties and rising levels of corruption in the government. In this way, repressed people can protest together, alone. 

Bush protests and anonymous resistance is not so much a tool of choice, but the only option left to those facing brutal, authoritarian regimes. But how effective are these protests? And can they ever hold leaders to account?