He is the brains behind the two-year-old Twitter phenomenon, @263Chat created for Zimbabweans from all over the world. With a following of about 30 000, the discussion platform looks at an array of topics including business, politics, health, culture, education to what is happening in the world of football or Formula One.
Her Zimbabwe had a chat with Nigel Mugamu, popularly known as Sir Nige last month about @263Chat, new media and the future.
Vimbai Nyakabau (VN): How did the idea of @263Chat come about?
Nigel Mugamu (NM): The idea was really about dialogue and changing the Zimbabwean narrative. I remember living in Scotland and there was a lack of information on what was happening on the ground in Zimbabwe. Having moved back home, I thought why can’t @263Chat provide that service. It would be a place where people could share information and amplify everything we are doing today. I did not have a complicated game plan; I just thought it would be good to have a conversation once a week on Twitter and that was really it.
VN: What have been some of the milestones?
NM: The Highway Africa Award that we won last year was definitely something really special to us but there are also simpler milestones that come to mind. For us, it is not reaching that x amount of followers; it’s the small things, like setting up a Whatsapp group and the kind of conversations that people have on a day to day basis. One morning we can talk about human rights and on the weekend, we can talk about football or Formula One. Our conversations vary, which in itself is a milestone. Moving from Twitter to setting up a Facebook page and getting people to like it was also a simple milestone for us.
We are now producing content and learning how to use different equipment and these are victories to me as I am not a journalist by profession. As @263Chat, we have partnerships with a number of organisations. Them just agreeing to partner with us is a really big achievement. We will soon be launching a website and a mobile app, which will be huge milestones. These are the small victories which add up to the war we want to win.
VN: What did the Highway Africa Award mean to you?
NM: The award opened other doors; I have been invited to speak in South Africa, where I have been the only foreigner at some of these platforms. These opportunities have been great for meeting new people, networking and seeing what is happening in other countries. My goal with @263Chat is not winning awards, however. I talk about my aunt who lives in the village and until she becomes part of the conversation, we have not won yet. We are headed that direction and the award is just a part of the journey. The fact that it is called @263Chat means it should cast a wider net, but we are working on it.
VN: You are involved in different community based programmes. Can you tell us a little more about these initiatives?
NM: I am co-founder and board member of the Hypercube Tech Hub. I created @263Chat because I am a big believer that technology can solve some of Africa’s challenges. I think the mobile phone is critical to that and reaching the masses. I wanted to help create a space where young people especially school leavers and those who have just finished university can create their own jobs. What I really wanted was to play a role in bringing different people, skill sets and organisations together. That was really what inspired me to get involved in the Hypercube Tech Hub. I have also been involved in Startup Weekend as a mentor and festivals like Shoko Festival. I also went on a tour to Gweru and Bulawayo in April just to talk to people and have a series of tech based workshops. I love dialogue, so obviously this works well for me.
NM: I would like to use the word disruption; lots of my tech friends use that word. I will use @263Chat as an example, we could have just decided to do what mainstream media does and gone into print but we said no, let us use the voice recorders, let us use the cameras and let us use social media to convey our messages via the internet.
I believe innovation is about performing the same task but using the tools that are available to you. What I have noticed about the new media organisations that I have come across is that they are doing a lot of work, but without the massive budgets that similar companies in South Africa, Kenya or the United States of America have.
VN: Bloggers, Instagrammers,Tweeters,Youtubers…Social media is introducing a new language and changing the world of media. The argument is mainstream media is dying. What is your perspective?
NM: I feel that at times, our mainstream media does not know how to relate to new media. I sense, although I could be wrong, traditional media views new media as competition. But I believe that there is a lot of collaborative work that we can do.
The idea of selling a newspaper for a dollar in this country does not make sense to me. It is too expensive and the print run does not equate to the population. Some newspapers are printing 3 000 copies a day and we have a population of over 13 million people. New media organisations are able to reach a bigger audience and allow you to comment, share and read comments. It is important to get a sense of how people across Zimbabwe feel about a particular topic. There are some important questions that new media is able to answer that traditional media may not be able to ask, like how does a person living in Gweru feel about land reform.
VN: @263Chat has about 30 000 followers and 83% of them are male. Why do you believe this is so?
NM: The 140-character limit on Twitter is intimidating to people. You have to be concise unlike on Facebook where you can write a whole thesis. I believe that they are also Twitter bullies and they can also be abusive towards women and that can put some women off. I think there is a need to educate people on the benefits of using Twitter, not just for women but for every Zimbabwean in general. We are experiencing a growth in the number of people using Twitter, but we are still trying to fully understand why there are considerably more men than women on Twitter.
VN: You were invited to speak at this year’s Shoko Festival Hub Unconference. What did you feel about the whole experience?
NM: It was a young crowd which was trying to learn how to leverage social media or new media. I purposely talked about the @263Chat journey as a way to inspire people. How I started this with no resources, how I did not want to wait until the money came in first and how I just followed my passion. So I hope that the lesson I imparted inspired them to take on their own initiatives. I would love to see a situation where more Zimbabwean stories are told.
VN: With social media constantly changing, what is the current role social media is playing in civic engagement? And how would you see its role change in, let’s say, five years?
NM: I think social media is putting us and the policy makers in the same room. Growing up, where was I going to meet a government minister? Yes, I would see his car pass by but we now have government ministers on social media and tweeting. You can ask them questions and at times, they respond. The internet is a democratic and freer space for dialogue, so I see us engaging more with our policy makers. We want Zimbabweans to tell their own narratives and social media is a good start.