Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo and United States Ambassador to Zimbabwe Harry Thomas Jnr yesterday had a nasty social media exchange, raising fears that the heated exchanges could trigger a diplomatic fallout between Harare and Washington.
Tempers flared when Moyo accused Thomas, whom he described as “Dirty Harry”, of funding and founding a social media movement known as #thisflag campaign fronted by local cleric, Evan Mawarire to expose the country’s endemic corruption.
“US envoys ignited social media revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, whose common outcome was bloodshed. (US) government declares Zimbabwe poses a continuous security threat to (its) interests. And some people think that’s okay. If these images don’t tell the story of the evil ways of US interference in Zim affairs, none will,” Moyo said, providing a picture of Thomas and a group of social media activists posted on the embassy’s Twitter account, as the alleged evidence. Ironically one of the people in the picture is a senior stafferat Zimpapers.
The embassy denied the charge.
In response, the US embassy said: “Ambassador Thomas met with diverse SocMed (social media) voices, [on] May 6 for the first time to hear their stories, and none included #ThisFlag.”
But Moyo would have none of it.
“#OurFlag! Nice try. But nobody is fooled. Evidence of an exposed cat coming out of a see-through bag. The May 6 lunch to launch #ThisFlag was of course after the April 20 to May 5 testing period. The full story is known! US envoys used lunches (and) dinners in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya to start social media revolutions. Result: bloodshed,” the minister, who has since launched his own social media campaign, named #ourflag to counter Mawarire’s #ThisFlag, said.
Moyo said his hashtag would be used during the proposed million-man march pencilled for May 25 by the Zanu PF youth league.
Information minister Christopher Mushohwe yesterday said government was concerned and would investigate Thomas’ alleged involvement in the campaign.
“Naturally, we are concerned if they are doing this against the government of Zimbabwe. It is not part of the ambassador’s functions. But it will need to be established if indeed the ambassador is funding or behind the campaign with the intention of harming Zimbabwe,” he said.
Another minister, Supa Mandiwanzira, early this week was involved in a nasty brawl with Mawarire after the social media activist-cum-cleric had taken part in a heated discussion on a local radio station ZiFM Stereo, owned by the minister.
Mawarire told NewsDay that Mandiwanzira had also accused him of being in an “unholy alliance” with the US envoy.
Washington and Harare have had frosty relations since the imposition of US targeted sanctions on the Zanu PF regime over a decade ago on allegations of human rights abuses and electoral fraud, although there has been an improvement in the last few months.