Arrival in Harare

As we disembarked from the RwandAir plane in Harare, the question on my mind was, “What do they know of Shoko that only Shoko knows?” To paraphrase the great CLR James, this is the query that arises when you’re aware of Shoko but have never been.

Our journey through customs was briefly delayed by curious immigration officers. They wondered why a media worker from Uganda was among a group of Ugandans arriving in Harare. “What brings you to Zimbabwe? Are you here for a conference? What are you up to? Why are you all being hosted by Nyasha Mukapiko?” These questions made me hesitant to mention Shoko, unsure if it might be a sensitive topic in the post-election climate. As far as they were concerned, we were just tourists. They finally allowed us through but not without a warning against practicing media work during our stay.

The scenic drive from the airport to Moto Republik, Shoko’s home and hosted by the Magamba Network, was an eye-opener. We quickly realized that the traffic was unlike what we were used to in Uganda. The chaotic “Mshiga shiga” with vehicles running red lights and packed with commuters and combi drivers making sudden U-turns into oncoming traffic had us clutching our seats.

MashUp Night: The Shoko Experience Begins

Shoko 2023 had already begun that morning, and I was buzzing with anticipation as we arrived at Moto Republik on 3 Alan Wilson Avenue, Belgravia, lined with beautiful Jacaranda trees. This place stood as a liberated haven within a captured environment, defying multiple threats to remain a sanctuary for artists, poets, journalists, agitators, innovators, and a young generation of African activists unafraid to speak truth to power.

My first true experience of Shoko was at the MashUp Night. It was a vibrant celebration of music, spoken word, and performance art. The highlight was the performance by Slam World Champion Xabiso, whose artistry had to be seen to be believed.

I had a brief but enlightening conversation with Xabiso, where he shared how Augusto Boal’s participatory theater method had inspired his work with mining communities in South Africa to address violence and trauma. He emphasized the importance of using spoken word and drama as tools for communities to heal and transform collectively. This insight and wisdom were freely shared, reflecting the spirit of Shoko.

One of the friends I made along the way was Flexxo Mushawarukwa, who translated Shona lyrics during the event. It seemed like everyone at Shoko had a story to tell, making Shoko’s essence clear. Flexxo told me how he found his calling as a hip-hop emcee at Shoko. He recalled his journey, including the challenges of traveling from his hometown of Mutare, 266 kilometers away, with almost no money. He took the leap of faith, performed at the open mic, and saw his dream take flight.

Shoko is not just about individuals; it’s also about the Magamba team, led by Sam Farai Monro, known as Comrade Fatso, a visionary, organizer, and tireless community builder. My conversation with Sam in Kampala in 2018 opened doors to collaboration and learning, leading to my participation on a panel at the Open Data Summit during Shoko 2023.

Munya Bloggo, Sam’s right-hand person, is a disruptor and a catalyst for positive change. Nyasha Mukapiko, whose name raised suspicions at immigration, is likely on their watchlist of dissidents. On the panel, I spoke about the work of Wizarts Foundation, Magamba, and CEPA in supporting youth engagement in governance through the Open Parly Ug platform, aimed at combating post-election apathy among Uganda’s urban youth, inspired by the People Power movement.

Similarities with Uganda

I noticed striking similarities between Zimbabwe and Uganda in terms of their polarized political contexts, with former liberators becoming autocrats and young people striving to reclaim power. In such spaces, the disillusionment of rigged elections and entrenched authoritarianism gives way to resilience, exemplified by Farai, a journalist who founded Kukurigo, a digital newspaper distributed through WhatsApp.

Role of Media in Development

Shoko is a community of disruptors, a tributary of publications like The Continent, one of the fastest-growing digital newspapers distributed via WhatsApp. Kiri, part of The Continent’s editorial team, generously shared her expertise, nurturing the seeds of multiple media startups.

Fiona Mpofu from Rural Citizen Media, which serves rural communities in Matebele Land, highlighted ways to reimagine the role of new and traditional media in development. Her approach to responsive media work aligns with the needs and aspirations of communities, echoing challenges we’ve encountered in Uganda.

Later, Shoko unveiled another side when I attended the roast of Kuda Musasiwa, a hip-hop pioneer and entrepreneur in Zimbabwe. Even though many jokes were in Shona, I was grateful to Gracious from Magamba, who translated the punchlines. Laughter reveals a lot about people and their mindset. I learned that in Harare, the phrase “How Far” serves as both a greeting and a code related to relationship dynamics. “Wangu” can be a noun, a verb, and a pronoun, often all at once.

Humor can bridge communities, especially in times of polarization, both online and offline, even after elections. Reflecting on this, I recalled a conversation with Gracious as we waited for the show to begin. We discussed the role of philanthropy in fostering creative spaces in post-colonial contexts, considering the challenge of accessing capital in a changing landscape.

Peace in The Hood

“Peace in The Hood” is the concluding tradition of Shoko, featuring a concert in Chitungwiza, a low-income suburb in Harare. Shoko 2023 continued this tradition with an energetic crowd, primarily consisting of young people. This demographic reality should keep policymakers and change agents’ awake, seeking solutions to harness the so-called demographic dividend.

The Magamba team that hosted Shoko serves as a shining example of the power of storytelling and community-building. As the Jacarandas bloom in late September, dropping their purple petals on all of us at Moto Republik, we are reminded that good fortune is expected when a Jacaranda lands on you. It is now our responsibility to carry the torch of Shoko across continental Africa.

The Author:

The author serves as Content Manager at Wizarts Foundation, a Ugandan NGO that specializes in communication for development and partners with radio stations across Uganda to reach 3 million people with civic education programmes in local languages.


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