Bitcoin Revolution

Location

  

            In response to constant political repression and the government’s recent introduction of bond notes, this paper outlines a mobilization plan that aims to empower the middle class and unite the opposition in Zimbabwe. This plan focuses on the use of Bitcoin which is a “virtual currency that has been devised for anonymous payments made entirely independent of governments and banks”.[1] Bitcoin will provide citizens with an alternative currency that is safe from the government dominated bondnotes, and also it serves as a means to protest the government’s illegitimacy. 


Mobilization Strategy

  1. The coordination of opposition movements, parties, teachers and recent graduates in the recruitment of a base.
  2. The creation of the Bitcoin Revolution brand and logo as well as a marketing strategy that utilizes graffiti and pamphlets to gain attention.
  3. The process of educating the public on how to use this currency, and its implementation in informal markets in Harare.

            This plan benefits from anonymity, accessibility, and the ease of international trade that is characteristic of Bitcoin. Furthermore, it is an inclusive strategy that unites the opposition and encourages all members of society to participate and better their economic situation. Risks that arise when using Bitcoin include the volatility of the market and that the payments are not made in real time. However, these risks can be mitigated by the online currency exchanges and the Maintenance of a transaction log. In total, this non-violent movement is a protest to the current economic and political situation, and it provides Zimbabweans with an opportunity to regaincontrol of their financial autonomy.

 

Background

            Under President Robert Mugabe’s regime, the economic and political situation in Zimbabwe has suffocated its citizens. While being in office for over three decades, President Mugabe and his party, ZANU-PF, has governed Zimbabwe with a “strong and ruthless leadership” that is “anti-Western, suspicious of capitalism and deeply intolerant of dissent and opposition”.[2] These qualities have stifled opposition and many peaceful movements with violence and intimidation. Mugabe maintains his power through a firm grip on the civil service and his control over the military, police, and intelligence agencies. These pillars of power are formidable challenges for opposition groups to gain footing.

            Mugabe is not the only factor that impedes success for the opposition, as the sheer quantity of opposition parties has prevented their common overall objective: to remove Mugabe and ZANU-PF from power. There are many political opposition parties in Zimbabwe, and two of the larger ones are MDC-T and MDC-N that were once a single party called Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). It is clear that without consolidation, the opposition parties “risk splintering the vote and allowing ZANU-PF to retain these seats with bare pluralities of the vote”[3]. There are also many different non-violent movements which include Heal Zimbabwe Trust (HZT), Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), Tajamuka, and #ThisFlag[4]. A wealth of groups and movements committed to non-violence exist in Zimbabwe, and they have had mild successhowever they still struggled to gain traction under the heavy handed regime.

            Not only do these groups face intimidation and violence, but they are also forced to exist in a state of constant economic uncertainty. Zimbabwe has suffered from many economic crises that originate from Mugabe’s Land Reform policies in the 1990s. The first major concern that arose was hyperinflation in 2008[5]. Mugabe attempted to tackle hyperinflation by simply changing the value of the currency, essentially he removed zeros and changing its name. This process of printing new currency and dropping zeros continued and led to the production of four different forms of currency: ZWD, ZWN, ZWR, and ZWL. This led to the complete collapse of Zimbabwean currency, and so in 2009 the “Minister of Finance gave legal tender status to the South African Rand and the US Dollar”.[6] After this the economic issues facing Zimbabwe were far from over, as their hyperinflation problem gave way to a liquidity crisis. Mugabe’s response to the liquidity crisis has sparked public outrage and skepticism, as he began printing out bond notes or Zim-dollars. These bond notes represent the “economic illiteracy” of the regime and it is speculated that “the reintroduction of the Zim-dollar will have catastrophic consequences to the remaining constructs of Zimbabwe’s pseudo economy”[7].

 

Purpose and Goals

            The purpose of this mobilization plan is to unite and empower the opposition by introducing Bitcoin as an alternative currency to the government imposed bond notes. While building off of the already prominent informal markets in Zimbabwe, the use of this electronic currency will be a way for citizens to protest and boycott the government’s new bond notes. Additionally, they will be able to regain control of their savings which have fallen victim to the money clearing tactics of the banks and the fluctuating and illegitimate economic conditions imposed by President Mugabe. If used on a large scale, Bitcoin has the potential to economically hinder the regime by draining Mugabe the funds needed to pay his pillars of power such as the civil service and the military, but the real intention is to give small businesses the ability to trade domestically and internationally without having to work around the regime dominated dollar.This plan provides citizens with an outlet to protest Mugabe’s economic policies by showing that they would rather participate in the market of the “dark-web” than their own government. Furthermore, economically strengthening the middle class and informal markets that have previously been disenfranchised by Mugabe’s tactics will create a unified and powerful opposition. With the 2018 elections in the near future, a strong opposition will be extremely important in order to secure the election and prevent another rigged run-off vote.

           

Mobilization Strategy: “Bitcoin Revolution”

            In order to achieve these goals, this paper proposes a three step mobilization strategy that includes coordinating opposition, marketing and branding the movement, and educating the public on the use of this electronic currency. This virtual currency is called Bitcoin and “has been devised for anonymous payments made entirely independent of governments and banks”[8]. It is a free and easy to use alternative currency that is determined by the international market forces of supply and demand[9]. By using this currency, Zimbabweans are expressing their skepticism and concern for the recent economic policies implemented by President Mugabe.

Coordinate Opposition

            The first step will be to reach out to opposition parties and movements to seek partnership. Larger movements like “Tajamuka and #ThisFlag have already announced that they have intentions to coordinate with other opposition groups[10]. By initiating communication with these larger movements, this movement can gain legitimacy and validation from the public who have already seen the work done by these more established groups. In addition, by working with these groups this movement will have an opportunity to learn from their experiences and gain perspective on how to structure their leadership. Member recruitment will also be much faster if this movement starts by recruiting groups and organizations first as opposed to individuals.

            The next element is to incorporate political parties into the movement. As it stands, “Zimbabwe’s institutional framework centralizes power and makes opposition coordination especially important”[11], so involving the political opposition parties into this movement will provide them with an opportunity to communicate and bridge their divide. There was a recent Anti-Mugabe protest in Harare that consisted of a “coalition of at least 18 opposition parties and civic organizations” which shows that unification is more than possible[12]. All of these groups have something in common: they want Mugabe out. The two groups that should be approached first are MDC-T and MDC-N because they were originally one party, and they share similarities in structure and views.

            The last key groups that should be included are the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) and recent graduates. Both of these groups have a vested interest in removing Mugabe from power, as for teachers they “have been primary targets for voter oppression, with threats and various acts of violence levied against them”[13]. Recent graduates have struggled to find jobs because of the economic conditions. Integrating this groups are important because their skills will be valuable to education and implementation stage. Additionally, teachers are revered in Zimbabwe, and they will add legitimacy and strength to the movement.

Brand and Marketing

            After securing a base, the next step in this mobilization plan is to reach outand appeal to the general public through branding and marketing. The purpose of the brand is to demonstrate organization and to draw attention. The two key elements of branding for this movement include the name and the logo. The name of this movement will be the Bitcoin Revolution because it is short and catchy. The logo that will be used is located in Appendix A. It combines the essence of a Bitcoin with patriotic elements that are found in Zimbabwe’s flag. The image takes the shape of a coin and includes the Bitcoin “B” as well as the red star and colors from the Zimbabwe’s flag. An added benefit to this symbol is that it is easy to recreate.

            Now that the revolution is branded, it must be marketed. Graffiti is a classic and low budget way of marketing for opposition movements, and this coin image only requires red, green, black, and yellow spray paint. In order to make this graffiti symbolic, members should spray paint this coin image on or infront of banks and other financial institutions to remind citizens of their options.Additionally, the graffiti serves as a means ofpoking at the eye of the regime. Because of the nature of Bitcoin and its anonymity, it will be very difficult for Mugabe to root out users. He will be forced to look at the graffiti, but he will have no means of stopping the spread of Bitcoin.

Education and Implementation

            Now that a base has been created and word of the Bitcoin Revolution is starting to catch the citizens’ interest, the movement needs to focus on the education and implementation of Bitcoin as a plausible payment method. The demographic that should be targeted first is Harare’s informal markets. In order to educate the public, the movement will create an education chain, so as to disseminate knowledge efficiently. The first step will be to have all the participating organizations and groups inform their networks about the technology and how to use it, so the leadership must start by informing their members. After the Bitcoin Revolution network is informed and ready to use the technology the informal markets have to be convinced to put their trust into this electronic currency. The next step employs the teachers in the PTUZ who will help teach small businesses in the informal markets as well as the renters in the informal housing market how to use Bitcoin through workshops.  The last piece of the chain involves educating communities and the consumers to these markets which will be done by the members of the organizations and political parties that have already been educated.

            To clarify, political parties and protest movements must educate their base, the base will educate communities, and PTUZ will educate small businesses. Using the teachers to help with the spread of knowledge will instill trust in the movement. Additionally, consumers are more likely to transfer some of their savings into Bitcoin when they are confident that the small businesses and renters will accept this form of payment. All of the information necessary to teach an individual about Bitcoin is available on the Bitcoin website and can be used to create educational pamphlets that can be passed out[14]. This information from this site will also be used in the PTUZ workshops.

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Benefits

            The benefits to this mobilization plan include that it is relatively safe from government crackdown, the technology is easy to use and accessible, and it provides an easy outlet for international trade. Safety is important because Mugabe’s regime has cracked down on the informal markets in the past with Operation Murambatsvina. Bitcoin is safer from government oppression because in addition to being “a decentralized virtual currency scheme with bidirectional flow, and a cryptocurrency”, Bitcoin is anonymous[15]. Each transaction uses a different address and thus it is very difficult to track. This allows participation to be at a low risk from government crackdown.

            Another benefit of this plan is that the technology is easy to use and highly accessible. Zimbabwean citizens are already used to participating in informal markets, seeing as just in 2005 “at least 70 percent of people in Zimbabwe’s urban areas worked in the informal sector (which controlled as much as 60 per cent of the country’s GDP), and lived in various kinds of informal housing”.[16]Thus, they have experience working around the government. Anyone with a computer, tablet, or smartphone can access this technology. Furthermore, according to the Bitcoin Market Potential Index, Zimbabwe is ranked as the country the third highest potential for the adoption of bitcoin[17]

            In terms of international trade, Bitcoin opens Zimbabwe’s informal sector to an entirely new market and new potential business endeavors. Bitcoin allows for a much faster means of international trade than using banks and it also has dramatically lower fees for money transfers. By interacting more in the international market, citizens can draw international attention to their concerns as well.

 

Risks and Limitations

            The use of Bitcoin does come with some risks such as market volatility and that the payments are not in real time. As Bitcoin is still in its nascent stages, there is considerable volatility in the market in comparison to other currencies. It is difficult to assess when it might depreciate or appreciate because it is not tied to a government. This volatility makes the potential for loss much higher for users, and thus it is suggested that users do not put their entire savings in Bitcoin. That said, this volatility can be mitigated, even eliminated, by online Bitcoin exchanges where Bitcoins can be exchanged instantly into another currency[18]. The ability to instantly transfer money into a fiat currency such as the US Dollar or the South African Rand can essentially eliminate risk associated with the volatility of the market.

            Although international payments with Bitcoin are much quicker than alternative payment methods, payments are not in real time. This means that “it can take up to ten minutes for a payment to be verified”, and “the general rule is that one should wait six verification rounds to be sure that the payment was actually added to the “blockchain” which could potentially take up to an hour[19]. Slower payments could pose an issue for domestic transactions for small trade. However, this can be mitigated by encouraging business owners to keep a transaction log that holds payers accountable. Moreover, trust is a key component of informal markets, and so individuals can choose to simply wait for the first verification round if they trust the buyer.

 

Conclusion

            This mobilization plan provides all Zimbabweans with an opportunity to participate in a nonviolent economic movement. It provides the participants with access to new markets, financial security, and protection from the government controlled banks while calling attention to the skepticism around President Mugabe’s bond notes and potentially starving him of the funds necessary to finance his pillars of power. The strategy itself relies heavily on the coordination of opposition groups and an increased dialogue that will help to unite different factions. Costs associate with this plan are very low. The only expenses are in the branding and marketing phase which involve the use spray paint for graffiti and the creation of educational pamphlets. The software itself is free to use. There are risks and benefits to this plan, yet the options available for risk mitigation are very reasonable. Overall in terms of goals, the Bitcoin Revolution is developed in a way that incentivizes opposition unity while empowering the middle class. The use of Bitcoin both has symbolic undertones and real world applicability that can be used to invigorate the public and usher in change.

            Lastly, success or failure should be measured by the amount of citizens that create Bitcoin wallets and begin to the technology. This will indicate the level of unity and organization of the Bitcoin Revolution by the number of citizens that they can reach out too. All in all, the more citizens who participate, the stronger the bitcoin market becomes, and the slower the circulation of Mugabe’s bond notes.

 

Works Cited

Canvas. “Analysis of the situation in Zimbabwe, September 2016.” Sept. 2016.

Carrick, Jon. “Bitcoin as a Complement to Emerging Market Currencies.” 52.10 (2016): 2321-2334. EconLit with Full Text. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.

Coomer, Jayson, and Thomas Gstraunthaler. "The Hyperinflation in Zimbabwe." The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics 14.3 (2011): 311-46. Fall 2011. Web. 29 Aug. 2016.

Hileman, Garrick. "The bitcoin market potential index." International Conference on Financial Cryptography and Data Security. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2015.

LeBas, Adrienne. "Briefing on Current Zimbabwe Socio-Political Relations." (2016): 3.

Musoni, Francis. “Operation Murambatsvina and the Politics of Street Vendors in Zimbabwe.” Journal of Southern African Studies 36.2 (2010): 301-317. Political Science Complete. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.

            Mutzaka, Farai. “Zimbabwe opposition parties unite for anti-Mugabe protest.” Business Insider,    26 Aug. 2016.             Web. 27 Nov. 2016.

Perekwa, Gamuchirai B.; Prinsloo, Tania; and van Deventer, JP (2016) "The Impact of Mobile Technology on Micro and Small Enterprises in Zimbabwe in the Post-Hyperinflation Economic Era,"The African Journal of Information Systems: Vol. 8: Iss. 3, Article 3.

            Phiri, Gift, and NdakazivaMajaka. "Mugabe's Bond Notes Trigger Zim-dollar Fears." Daily          News. Daily News, 6          May 2016. Web. 15 Aug. 2016.

Segendorf, Björn. "What is bitcoin." SverigesRiksbank Economic Review 2 (2014): 71-87.

"Zimbabwe Profile - Leaders." BBC News. 9 Dec. 2014. Web. 18 Aug. 2016.

 

 




[1]Segendorf, Björn. "What is bitcoin." SverigesRiksbank Economic Review 2 (2014): 71-87.

[2] "Zimbabwe Profile - Leaders." BBC News. 9 Dec. 2014. Web. Nov. 20. 2016.

[3]LeBas, Adrienne. "Briefing on Current Zimbabwe Socio-Political Relations." (2016): 12.

[4]Canvas. “Analysis of the situation in Zimbabwe, September 2016.” Sept. 2016. Pg. 32.

[5]Canvas. “Analysis of the situation in Zimbabwe, September 2016.” Sept. 2016. Pg. 18.

[6]Coomer, Jayson, and Thomas Gstraunthaler. "The Hyperinflation in Zimbabwe." The Quarterly Journal of               Austrian Economics 14.3 (2011): 311-46. Fall 2011. Web. 29 Aug. 2016.

[7]Phiri, Gift, and NdakazivaMajaka. "Mugabe's Bond Notes Trigger Zim-dollar Fears." Daily News. Daily News, 6       May 2016. Web. 15 Aug. 2016.

[8]Segendorf, Björn. "What is bitcoin." SverigesRiksbank Economic Review 2 (2014): 76.

[9]Segendorf, Björn. "What is bitcoin." SverigesRiksbank Economic Review 2 (2014): 71-87.

                [10]Canvas. “Analysis of the situation in Zimbabwe, September 2016.” Sept. 2016: 32.

                [11]LeBas, Adrienne. "Briefing on Current Zimbabwe Socio-Political Relations." (2016): 3.

                [12]Mutzaka, Farai. “Zimbabwe opposition parties unite for anti-Mugabe protest.” Business Insider, 26 Aug. 2016.      Web. 27 Nov. 2016.

[13]Canvas. “Analysis of the situation in Zimbabwe, September 2016.” Sept. 2016: 32

[14] See more information on the Bitcoin website: https://bitcoin.org

[15]Segendorf, Björn. "What is bitcoin." SverigesRiksbank Economic Review 2 (2014): 71-87.

[16]Musoni, Francis. “Operation Murambatsvina and the Politics of Street Vendors in Zimbabwe.” Journal of Southern African Studies 36.2 (2010): 301-317. Political Science Complete. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.

[17]Hileman, Garrick. "The bitcoin market potential index." International Conference on Financial Cryptography and Data Security. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2015.

[18] Carrick, Jon. “Bitcoin as a Complement to Emerging Market Currencies.” 52.10 (2016): 2321-2334. EconLit with                 Full Text. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.

[19]Segendorf, Björn. "What is bitcoin." SverigesRiksbank Economic Review 2 (2014): 76.