The project below was interviewed during the first phase of our research, in early 2010. We have since determined that it fits more within the categories of general citizen engagement and/or activism in areas outside of transparency and accountability, rather than within the specific criteria we have defined for the purposes of our research.

Quick Look

Kubatana.net aggregates and disseminates information from a network of over 200 organizations in Zimbabwe to encourage advocacy.

Beginning Date: 
March 3, 2001
Project Scale: 
Types of Tools: 
Specific Tools: 


Kubatana.net was established in 2001 in Zimbabwe to aggregate and publish material coming from civil society to be shared widely. It was intended to be a one-stop shop for information about social change. The founders Bev Clark and Brenda Burell believed that electronic communication was the ideal mechanism to fill the information gaps within civil society and activism in Zimbabwe.

The website archives over 15,800 documents about Zimbabwean civil society. It has an electronic network of over 250 NGOs and civil society organisations (CSOs). Each Kubatana partner has what they call a “fact sheet” in the online directory. The project has given many NGOs an Internet presence without them having to spend resources on a fully-fledged web site. Being involved lessens one’s feeling of despair while helping Kubatana to stay inspired.


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Date of Audio: 
February 18, 2010


What are the biggest obstacles to your success?: 

Amanda: From an external environment, the economic situation has been a big challenge. Issues of infrastructure, connectivity, and electricity. Poverty is high. So purchasing information is a problem for people. Unemployment is at 90 percent in Zimbabwe.

From our internal perspective, funding has not been easy for media and consumption as most of the funding has shifted from media towards humanitarian aid, health, HIV and AIDS, vulnerable children, etc. We have consistently argued with the donor community that information plays a key part in democracy and in the emancipation and in the core program areas of all the NGOs working in whatever sector. So I think we have a range of challenges. The brain drain has also been a challenge.

How do you plan on overcoming those obstacles?: 

Amanda: It is a question of fundraising, administrative and the management of it. Being a bit more creative. It is a challenge as we have high unemployment around. Coming up with innovative strategies even while facing obstacles.

What problem is your project aiming to overcome?: 

Bev: Lack of access to information locked up in the NGOs and CSOs in Zimbabwe. Within the NGO community there was not much energetic uptake of online material in Zimbabwe so that project was conceived to share the information widely.

Lack of access to information and the censorship of materials in Zimbabwe coming from a repressive regime.

What are the roots of that problem?: 

The repressive environment over the last 8 years made Kubatana develop online activism to regularly encourage Zimbabweans to use the information communication technologies (ICTs) that they have access to and advocate, mobilize and lobby.

Why did you personally become involved in this project?: 

Bev: I consider myself to be an information activist. I was particularly concerned by the censorship and about the lack of access to information in Zimbabwe and wanted to enhance circulation of information to the ordinary people in order to enhance their ability to participate so that they are more socially and politically aware. So this comes from some motivation of personal activism.

Are you providing unofficial channels of information that should be provided by the government?: 

Amanda: It is yes and no. The information we aggregate and share is useful and certainly unofficial being an informal channel, but government would either agree or disagree with us. There is a separation between government and the civil society and we wouldn't be doing government's job. It is not necessarily unofficial as the government could have done the same. Government should have been providing more basic information on human rights, etc.

Bev: We also share information on critical issues including cabinet meetings, elections, active participation of the elections, informing people about parliament meetings, local councils operations, etc.

How does the information published on your website turn into offline change?: 

Our online NGO directory is updated regularly, keeping the contacts accurate and over the years people all over the world have managed to get in touch to work with the NGOs in Zimbabwe. The directory has helped get access to direct funding or support from a variety of places because our aggregation and our information has acted as a connector of NGOs to other organisations.

What is an example of how information on your website has led to a concrete change?: 

Bev: Let me give you a concrete example. Here in Zimbabwe, just recently the government has set up toll gates on major roads and for many years Zimbabweans were kept in the dark about how public funds are used. And many millions of US Dollars have been generated from these toll gates. We put up an activist message in one of our newsletters and asked where the money is going. The conditions of the roads in Bulawayo, Mutare, and Harare are very poor. We put this note in the newsletter to get people to think about and we asked the people to write Transparency International Zimbabwe to do something about it. Our membership rallied, mobilised and Transparency International Zimbabwe investigated and did something about it.

Kubatana has had the courage to ask questions in a country where debate has often been stifled.
For example where did President Mugabe get his money if his Members of Parliament are being asked to identify and campaign with their business opportunities yet he imports all his food?

So we use our membership structure to take the information and the motivation we send and use their voices to bring pressure on political organisations, demanding them to be held accountable and transparent because this citizenry has been abused far too long.

How many people work on your project?: 
How many hours a week do you personally spend on the project?: 

Bev: Most of the day goes into the project even using our overtime. Most of the time we have three people. This project takes up a lot of effort. The compilation, dissemination, and building of that information into activism requires a lot of thought and care.

What are the most time consuming tasks?: 

Amanda: Collecting and distributing that information is really the core of what we do. Converting an article into something for us and putting into our website. Management of the subscription and content system. We have over 9,000 sms subscribers and over 1,800 emails every month is quite demanding. Conceptualising information for the campaign is also demanding.

How do you extract value from large amounts of data? How do you build engagement around it?: 

Amanda: I think a lot of work goes into getting the information in a repressed environment and passing it on the people that need it. So for us getting the information that was repressed and passing it on to the people that need it gives us a lot of value.

How do you attract new participants?: 

Bev: Since we started publishing as Kubatana, we believe in the power of good solid relationships. In order to do good work we need to build a good constituency so we do lot of partnership building by using a variety of interventions including: printed flyers, sending promotional emails, placing advertisements. Even the government press has stated our website address and also has published our press releases, etc. A consistent use of PR is crucial to ensure participation of subscribers in the project. We plan to be consistent as people are always wanting to be informed in a new and exciting way.

What has been the most effective method of spreading awareness about your project?: 

Bev: We have also found that word-of-mouth has been a tremendous amplifier for our work. We have also quite often used as a little by-line: "you add, we multiply," which has helped communicate what we do.

What are the incentives to participate in your project?: 

Bev: You might be interested in the campaign that we have just started called Say Who You Are. Because of the repressive background, through this we are encouraging Zimbabweans to overcome the fear to identify themselves with the information that can help save them.

Even our membership has been encouraged to answer six questions like who and where they are in Zimbabwe. We put out questions to our members and intend to take a photo of them, interview and bring them into our advertising campaign in 2010. We get their opinion and feedback and that way create a solid sense of belonging to the project and this way we will be encouraging Zimbabweans to overcome their fear of association with a project that might seem dangerous to belong to when it really shouldn't.

Bev: People find a sense of a community in belonging to the Kubatana network. They speak positively of being part of it as they get info that is not biased, not sensational. They feel that being part of Kubatana, they are part of positive movement. There has been a lot of paranoia and negativity about Zimbabwe. Right from its conception, Kubatana has been a project that is more about encouraging positive growth. And we have encouraged people to speak to become part of a positive change and have helped people from all walks of life to be part of a life. We embrace people from all walks of life to share their experience together, to share information that build people up rather than pulling them down.

What skills and expertise would be of assistance to your project?: 

Amanda: Business Development skills to help develop the work. Administrative interests too need more attention.

How do you plan on financially sustaining your project? : 

Bev: We have been dependent on donor funding which is generally insecure and you cannot bank on that to sustain the project. And our challenge in Zimbabwe given the economic environment all over the world is that few appreciate the value of electronic communication and media information projects wondering how to make such financially sustainable. We wish to see our members and subscribers to realise the value of the information we publish so that they will be able to pay for it.

What other organizations are you working with?: 

Bev: We work with many other organisations like the very strong like Women of Zimbabwe, constitutional groups, groups working on vulnerable children and sexual rights.

Amanda: What has happened over the years is that a variety of regional and international organisations like International Bar Association, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, have also seen Kubatana as a consistent source and reference for human rights violations and have quite often used our website to download important information that are produced by human rights groups in Zimbabwe. We have links with OneWorld, Radio Netherlands, Deutsche Welle Radio. So our reach is very wide, encompassing both local and international networking.

Have you thought about developing your own tools?: 

Amanda: Yes we do. We actually developed our own website. My colleague Brenda Burrell who is technical director was really active in developing the back-end of it. More recently we have developed our own tool called Freedom Fone which is a web-based service to enable organisations to easily run their own small audio service, which people can easily phone into and access recorded menus of information - for example on cholera, a constitutional service or engagement by the state and issues under debate, etc.

We have also been active in using Frontline SMS. We were actually among the very first users and helped the developers decide what kind of capacities this had for use in the civil society organisations.

Has there been any communication between your project and government officials?: 

Amanda: It is a challenging question to answer as we are seen different depending on who as some people with more controlling mindsets tend to want repression while some respect what we do.

Bev: The challenge is that most governments underestimate the impact of electronic media. Kubatana.net has a large network as we can email our subscribers reaching about 18 thousand people and this is a significant number of people to reach. I think that the government has very little appreciation of the far-reaching impact of new media. Recently we have seen in the press that the government of Zimbabwe has been talking about Twitter and about mobile phone messaging like in Iran and I wonder whether in the next elections in 2010 in Zimbabwe, we won't see more of crackdown on NGOs using new media to encourage participation of the public.

Are there any legal obstacles to your work? Any laws that should be changed?: 

Amanda: Yes, because part of the problem Kubatana is trying to address is the repressive media environment in the country as a whole that limits free access to information and freedom of expression. There is a wide range of layers of repression like lack of liberalisation of airwaves, public order, Security Act, Media Commission, ICT policy, etc

Have there been any attempts to replicate your work elsewhere?: 

Bev: I don’t think so though what comes to mind is Oneworld.net. Otherwise Kubatana.net is extremely proudly Zimbabwean. We use Internet, Email, Blogging, SMS, Freedom Fone and print to reach different constituencies in Zimbabwe. Our information is wholly local because that is our focus as we are interested in Zimbabweans to learn about other Zimbabweans and share Zimbabwean experiences.

We have 230 NGOs in our directory and whenever docs are published and shared on Kubatana we archive that material on their factsheet on Kubatana.net, meaning that our archive is 15,000 documents strong. You won't find such a thing elsewhere.

If someone gave you $10,000 how would you use the money?: 

Bev: That would be completely wonderful. We could use the money primarily for engaging and retaining staff that makes such a project successful. At the moment in Zimbabwe has a government of national unity, and there is talk of the need for a new national constitution, so we would use the money on an educational outreach campaign for true democratic change and we would be using our experience and capacity in the new media aspect in an outreach campaign of that nature.

What are your plans for 2010 and 2011?: 

Amanda: We look forward to the World Cup 2010. The issue of the constitution is quite exciting. Then when the elections will be. The issues with a government of national unity. I think that a project like Kubatana and the civil society will work with a critical mind to make a difference in the country.



1. CLAIMS: Much work had gone into this project looking at the volume of data and information available in the directory of civil engagement activities and institutions, archives and the website as a whole.

From the model of this project it is most intended to create a platform for other civil society organizations to project their activities and making research finding and other valuable data from such institutions available to the public and other oversight organizations and pressure groups that need them in their activism.

To a large extent this has been achieved. However it is one thing to get the information available and another to use this information to influence policy, behavior, and governance process as a whole.

There has been claims that some of the project activities such as alerts about accountability problems relating to road toll collection in Zimbabwe led to investigations by Transparency International, Zimbabwe but the outcomes derived from the investigations were not so explicit.

Secondly the project mentioned how the platform created the needed connections for NGOs to get funding from donors but did not give examples or clear cases where it was well manifest.

2. IMPROVEMENT: The project can strengthen its tracking and feedback mechanism to measure how various activists and pressure groups are succeeding in use of data and other valuable resource obtained from the project.

The project can also create a strong link with the local Media Associations and other International Media groupings for regular releases of summaries of critical issues can be sent out and pressure brought to bear on those involved.

The project site also would need further promotion since the greater number of hits and traffic makes it better.They can do this by exchanging links with related sites.

3. DOING WELL: I think the flagship of this project is its aggregation of civil engagement activities and one of the tools I find so impressive is Freedom Fone which was implemented on a pilot basis and I hope it would become a mainstay. It highlighted one crucial aspect of New Media as an effective tool in civil activism against the backdrop that most communities who need to be reached and encouraged to participate do not have access to computers and internet.

It is there so crucial if not incumbent on developers to adopt technologies that reach a wider segment of the people such as the mobile phone technologies for outreach and feedback. The freedom phone is a free software tool that enables one to deliver and receive audio messages on a server platform.

This is not developed by Kubatana but its usage as audio magazine in the context of civil engagement is very innovative as far as Kubatana project is concerned and needs commendation. Kubatana launched Inzwa , a weekly audio magazine, using freedom fone as a pilot service to run for 3 months from July 2009.(Inzwa means listen)

4. GROUPS RECOMMENDED: It would be great if the project can work more closely with Media conglomerates since the political environment in Zimbabwe is such that much of the influence can only come from “talking pressure” that basically informs the powers that be both at the local and the International arena.

In all the project is very impressive and commendable in civic engagement.

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