And What Color For Zimbabwe?


There’s a website called, and with a single click, you can put a lovely green patina over your Twitter avatar, to show your support the election dissenters in Iran.

After seeing a bunch of newly green avatars today, I tweeted this:

Um, why weren’t people changing the color of their avatars after the Zimbabwe election? Tsvangirai really coulda used it. /hateration

Which sounded really salty, I know. What can I say? I get salty sometimes.

I know there are many, many reasons why the mess in Iran has gotten more attention than the bigger mess in Zimbabwe. For one, Iranians surely have more access to social media, and citizens can tell their own stories. Second, our relationship with Iran is a bit more complex than our relationship with Zimbabwe, presently.

But, perhaps, some of it has to do with expectations. I was talking to Jamelle about it, and he suggested that no one expected the level of dissent we’re seeing in Iran, but that we always expect terrible things to happen in Africa (yes, the continent).


16 thoughts on “And What Color For Zimbabwe?

  1. Thembi June 19, 2009 at 7:52 am Reply

    I decided not to change my avatar because the one-click change doesnt have any plans for changing it back…that and I’m just selfish and no-good. But youre right about Zimbabwe and I think that one knee-jerk reaction to the mess in Iran is “oh no, what about US?” Wouldnt Iran be less scary if the guy who openly dislikes Americans and refuses to come up off that nuclear program weren’t in power? Wont we inevitably intervene and get all tangled up over there like we always do? Let’s nip this in the bud now! Zimbabwe has almost nothing to offer the US, and it seems like our foreign policy has gone from policing the world to protecting our interests. Theres nothing less interesting to us right now than some typicak African turmoil…its sad but the politics of ‘oh the hell well’ prevails even among us.

  2. Ron June 19, 2009 at 8:00 pm Reply

    I think the situations are apples to oranges. Though I’ve been saying for years that the US should’ve intervened in Zimbabwe, if South Africa can’t be bothered to do much about it, then we can’t really expect much action.

  3. hitmebackblog June 21, 2009 at 11:58 am Reply

    You make a salient point — but how about next time there’s a conflict on the Continent (there are many, not just in Zim) you just go ahead and initiate something like the avatar change? It is so easy to be reactionary and complain after the fact. Next time, just do something!

  4. Faith June 21, 2009 at 12:02 pm Reply

    Well the big pink elephant in the room about Iran has to do with the US involvement and financial support of Israel. Otherwise nobody would give a rat’s ass about it. If Zimbabwe had nukes or wanted to bomb our 51st State then it would be all over the news. I included a statement about how the gov’t was involved in negotiating access for Twitter accounts to remain open and I got crickets. Nobody wants to talk about that aspect. I’m sure the citizens of Iran are upset, but I wonder how much outside interference is fueling it. There’s a race component as well. If it involved more whites directly there’d be an interest in (meddling further with) Zimbabwe.

  5. Jo June 21, 2009 at 3:46 pm Reply

    I agree with Ron that the situations are apples to oranges.

    I have to disagree with the tweet “Um, why weren’t people changing the color of their avatars after the Zimbabwe election? Tsvangirai really coulda used it” and even stronger with the statement “that no one expected the level of dissent we’re seeing in Iran, but that we always expect terrible things to happen in Africa”.

    A few things I’d like to say:

    Public opinion is very much dependent on media coverage, and media coverage is never ‘fair’; sometimes through editorial preferences, but often through nothing other than momentum or the lack thereof.

    In this context, I would say Momentum = Access to Twitter from inside + (lack of) access by other media from outside in + popularity of/reliance on Twitter.

    Why didn’t it happen for Tsvangirai at the time of the elections? Because it wasn’t there! Twitter back then was tiny compared to today, and no ordinary Zimbabwean had online access at all (except for maybe Mugabe’s cronies), while foreign media reps had been kicked out, beaten up or worse. The momentum just wasn’t there and Twitter wasn’t a platform yet as it is today.

    OK, MySpace and Facebook were bigger, could have served as platforms, but… to channel what exactly? Who exactly? The supply of information wasn’t there – there were relayed stories, but (relatively) little or no direct information or still or moving pictures.

    As for Iran, eventually the only channel for communication from inside out is Twitter, now that foreign media reps have been pretty much thrown out. Locals have access to Twitter, and besides indirect stories there are direct reports accompanied by images. Twitter has by now become huge, so people picked up on that momentum, no surprise considering even the official media rely on information captured via Twitter (although most of them do so remarking that all coverage is unofficial and unconfirmed, because they can’t even confirm dates and times of the visual imagery sent out).

    Now about those green avatars – I think most people with green avatars will fully appreciate it probably won’t change anything, but they may see it as a symbolic way of expressing their solidarity with the protesting Iranians.

    Besides that, Twitter is also very much an online social network (like Facebook and MySpace) used by plenty (narcissist?) people to present an image of themselves of how they want to be seen rather than how they actually are, who may have made their avatar green for no other reason than to ‘join the fad’.

    Would Zimbabweans deserve similar support? Sure, why not, but how much of such support would be genuine and how much just ‘fad’? Also, Morgan Tsvangirai was interviewed on British TV today and his appearance highlighted another problem: currently he’s joined forces with Mugabe and so the message he conveyed was very much defensive of Zimbambwean government and policies.

    Of course, if he didn’t, he’d probably get killed, but as long as there is no internal political opposition as there used to be, lead by Tsvangirai, so if there’s no opposition movement to support… what to do?

    Zimambe needs ‘momentum’ for the world to act where it failed before, but that momentum can only be achieved if Tsvangirai dared to once again turn on his ‘allies’, or worse, if something happened to him.

  6. rachel June 21, 2009 at 8:46 pm Reply

    whoah, lets not play oppression Olympics. We have a lot more interests in Iran, we are connected to them online, there aren’t hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans on the streets to rally us.

    • shani-o June 21, 2009 at 9:30 pm Reply

      I think I mentioned points 1 and 2 in my post.

  7. Carla June 21, 2009 at 8:52 pm Reply

    Hmmm, yeah, that Tweet was a little salty. 😉 I have to disagree with your comparing US reactions to Iran and Zimbabwe. The major of catalyst of empathy with a foreign country is probably recognized cultural, economic or political involvement with said country. Key word is, “recognized.” For Americans, Iran has bee a part of their foreign policy narrative for at least 3 generations. Using my logic, I’d expect the Brits to raise hell re: Zimbabwe’s election but Americans, not so much.

    • shani-o June 21, 2009 at 9:45 pm Reply

      You know, I think you’re right. Aside from, I heard the most coverage of the Zimbabwe fiasco on the BBC news. I’m not sure they were ‘raising hell,’ but considering Zimbabwe was once Rhodesia, the coverage was pretty comprehensive.

    • Metal_teapot June 25, 2009 at 12:49 pm Reply

      I think that one possible explanation for this is that the Iran elections came as somewhat of a surprise however nobody in Britain expected a fair election in Zimbabwe. In fact if the election had turned out to be free and fair I think there would have been a far more shocked reaction. All main stream media channels in Britain do report on Zimbabwe and covered the election. At the same time it is difficult to be outraged at something you expect. It is worth remembering that as long ago as the invasion of Iraq questions were being asked by the public on shows like Question Time about why if we invaded Iraq for regime change were we not invading Zimbabwe.

  8. Adrienne June 21, 2009 at 8:53 pm Reply

    I can’t believe the uproar about Iran especially with daily atrocities going on in Africa. I emigrated from South Africa in 1996 when I was 8 years old. I had family in Zimbabwe that was effected by Mugabe in a serious way and now, thankfully, they live safely near Perth, Australia. Could we not choose a color for Zim? Or ask that it be for democracy all over the world, and not just Iran? My avatar is green because it was easy to do but I’d very happily manually change mine to, say, orange or red, or whatever color would be appropriate.

  9. G.D. June 21, 2009 at 9:27 pm Reply

    This is kind of a random comparison, and oversimplifies some serious differences between the nations’ circumstances. Iran funnels resources to Iraqi insurgents, has a pretty serious intelligence agency, sits on some of the world’s largest oil reserves, hates Israel, and is on the road to getting nukes.

    Zimbabwe is without doubt a tragedy, but it’s just not the same thing.

    • shani-o June 21, 2009 at 9:35 pm Reply

      I guess I should’ve bolded and underlined the paragraph where I said I understand why the cases are different, and added “saltiness knows no logic.”

      But all of those things you mentioned don’t explain why people generally who know nothing/care nothing about global politics are fired up about the Iran election. Perhaps it is “momentum” as someone suggested upthread.

      • G.D. June 21, 2009 at 9:52 pm Reply

        here’s a question: what do you think changing a Twitter avatar does for the people in Tehran or Harare, either way?

        • shani-o June 21, 2009 at 9:59 pm Reply

          Nothing. But that seemed like a really salty thing to say.

  10. EKSwitaj June 22, 2009 at 2:08 pm Reply

    A lot of different things have come together to explain why Twitter avatars are going green; besides the points already mentioned, this is a case where people have been able to provide some assistance directly online, whether it’s changing their location to help confuse Iranian officials searching for dissidents or setting up proxies for people in Iran to use to bypass censorship. Because of this, people who usually don’t go in for purely symbolic actions have jumped in.

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