At the time of writing it appears as though calls to join a Million Citizen March in Harare on Tuesday have gone unheeded - for now.
People I’ve spoken to in the Zimbabwean capital describe calm and relative normality. Relative, because they also describe a heavy security build-up since Saturday, including armoured troop carriers on the streets, water cannon, riot police patrols, roadblocks, and an informal curfew on Monday night in which people were allegedly told by police to go home early.
It was described to me as a show of force by the regime aimed at instilling fear in anyone considering coming out to protest. By all accounts it worked. Zimbabweans are indeed very afraid.
There’s another theory behind the failure of the protest to materialise.
Over the past few days, in neighbouring South Africa where I’m currently based, I prepared a report that went to air on Tuesday morning. In it I described the concerns of Zimbabweans I’ve spoken to here and by phone in Harare that the email campaign calling for Tuesday’s march may have been phoney – a ploy by Zimbabwe’s intelligence service to lure activists onto the streets so they can be arrested. Activist groups said they didn’t know who was behind the email campaign or the proposed march. Was it an individual or an organisation? No one would put such tactics past the much-feared internal security apparatus.
If it was the work of central intelligence, and the aim was to expose Zimbabwe’s network of activists, then it didn’t work.
Watch my report: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pu4vYLs28K0
I also mentioned that the Facebook site for the Million Citizen March had only 230-odd members – a poor omen and a far cry from the hundreds of thousands who joined similar social networking efforts in Egypt and Tunisia. It seemed unfortunate testament to the fact that only around 12 per cent of Zimbabweans have access to the internet, even fewer when you account for frequent power outages.
If this was an example of online activism in its infancy then it seemed to have a long way to go.
Well, here’s an update: the Facebook page in question now has 1,273 members, all sharing in some pretty lively debate. As far as I can tell the number is growing by the handful every few minutes. Perhaps something is catching on.
Take a look at it: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_141114552618441
The seismic events taking place in north Africa provide plenty to wonder about in the Zimbabwe context. Clearly Zimbabwe is a possible candidate for people-led change of that sort. But there are obvious problems: a splintered and ineffectual opposition, a diaspora overflowing with the educated middle classes and aspirant youth, a history of state-sponsored violence and intimidation.
Tuesday’s Million Citizen March might have been a pivotal moment. It clearly hasn’t been. It might also have been a cynical ruse. And looking at the Facebook numbers ticking upwards, and the heated commentary online, it might yet provide the basis for something. Quite what though, no one knows.
(For your interest I’ve included the original Million Citizen March email invitation below)
Zimbabweans Protest to Demand The End of The 31-year  Rule By the Iron-Fisted and Corrupt Dictator Robert Mugabe
On 1 March, 2011, Zimbabweans will hold mass protests in Harare to demand the end of the 31-year rule of the iron-fisted and corrupt
dictator Robert Mugabe.
WHAT: Mass Protest – Zimbabwe Million Citizen March
WHEN: Tuesday, March 1st, 11:00 AM.
WHERE: Harare Gardens, Harare, Zimbabwe
The protest is intended to demand the immediate cessation and an end to the dictatorial regime misruling Zimbabwe. In addition, the
mass demonstrations countrywide will convey anger and concern about the suffering of Zimbabweans from brutal economic, military, political
and social repression under the regime of Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980.
Inspired by the revolution for democracy by the people of Tunisia and Egypt, Zimbabweans urge the pro democracy and freedom loving
people across the globe to stand together and demand the immediate removal of Dictator Robert Mugabe and his cronies.
Zimbabweans will demand:
1) Robert Mugabe’s resignation, regime change
2) An end to political violence and all repressive policies
2) Recognition and respect of the rights of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association and the press
3) Recognition and respect of the legitimate role of Zimbabwe human rights defenders and civil society activists and organizations
4) Freedom, Justice, Fair Elections, Progress and Development
Invitation Letter to Join Mass Protests in Zimbabwe
“Egypt style protests spread…….from Tunisia to Zimbabwe"
ZIMBABWE MILLION CITIZEN MARCH
“Power in numbers to remove dictatorship”
Events  :     MASS PROTESTS
Date:-         Tuesday, 1 March, 2011
(no work, no school, no college…only protests)
Central Event  - HARARE GARDENS, HARARE
Time: -       11.00am ~ until Mugabe’s Resignation
Participants: -    Everyone
*Bring everyone, text your friends, call your family*
**ORGANIZATIONS & GROUPS TO SELF ORGANIZE AND COME OUT IN LARGE NUMBERS**
email : firstname.lastname@example.org
facebook:  Seth Menoi or
ZIMBABWE MILLION CITIZEN MARCH