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Zimbabwean journalist taps into power of dancehall to fight corruption

Award-winning Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono uses his pen to expose Government corruption in his homeland, an act that has seen him arrested three times in the past six months.

Now, he is using the power of dancehall music to continue his fight through a song called “Dem Loot” which has gone viral throughout the Southern African nation.

The song, he told Loop News, started off as a bit of fun but has since been remixed by producers and taken root among the country’s townships.

“I was sitting here three weeks ago and I just got bored and I decided to play some reggae music and I played a track which I last heard a long time ago, “Limb by Limb” by Cutty Rank, and I looked for the instrumental on YouTube but I started singing along using a melody from Shabba Rank’s “Dem Bow” and I decided to use that line but replaced 'bow' with Loot,” he recalled.

“Dem loot, dem loot, dem loot, no money in our banks, dem loot. Dem loot, dem loot, dem loot, hospitals have no medication, dem loot,” he sang in an interview via Zoom.

He posted the ditty on Twitter and within 24 hours the minute-long video was watched by over 150,000 people. The song went viral on Facebook and Instagram as well.

“Producers took it and extended it and did their own versions which are now being played on radio stations in Zambia, in Namibia, in South Africa and especially in Zimbabwe. Professional musicians have now done their own versions,” he said.

Thanks in large part to Bob Marley, reggae music has been wildly popular in Zimbabwe since the late 70s. Marley was the only outsider invited to perform at the Independence concert in 1980 of the new nation formerly known as Rhodesia. His 1979 album Survival featured a song called “Zimbabwe” which he wrote in support of their fight for Independence.

Today, dancehall music, particularly that of Vybz Kartel, continues to influence a generation of Zimbabweans enamoured with the culture of Jamaica and inspired to develop their own homegrown version of the genre.

Chin’ono said with dancehall being the most dominant form of music in the ghettos, the youth use it to talk about their suffering, desires and dreams.

“I have been writing about corruption for a long time and it seems that it was a discussion taking place among the elitist circles, middle-class people, educated people and we didn’t have a platform where we could engage with the uneducated youth who are mostly affected by the consequences of corruption,” said Chin’ono who holds an MA in International Journalism from City University in London and an MA in Documentary Practice from Brunel University.

“Reggae is very popular in Zimbabwe and because I used music, a lot of youth who were left out of the discourse on corruption and the looting of public funds suddenly found themselves having something they could relate to and they found themselves being able to sing about it using the language that they can relate to like Jamaican patois that is used a lot in our townships,” he added.

The 49-year-old journalist said the song now has everyone talking about corruption even in the neighbouring countries.

“This song has been powerful in that has been used as an entry point to discuss the serious issues that are affecting Zimbabwe and the failure by our Government to do the barest of minimum. Two thousand five hundred women die every year in Zimbabwe giving birth. The biggest hospital in Zimbabwe has only two maternity theatres which were built in 1977 by the colonial government and none of them are working,” he said.

Chin’ono said the five central hospitals in the country are in need of medication which cost US$50 million a year but Zimbabwe loses US$100 million dollars in gold through smuggling every month, money that could be used to buy the necessary medication.

“The youth especially are not able to understand how this corruption is being done, who is doing it and how it is affecting them. For years we have been saying the ruling elites are corrupt but a lot of people are not able to understand what this corruption means. If you say to someone a US$100 million worth of gold is stolen every month they don’t’ understand what it means but if you say to them your hospitals need US$50 million every year but US$100 million is stolen every month they can then understand,” he explained.

The outspoken journalist, who spent 81 days in prison on pre-trial detention and is awaiting his cases to be called, said he is not concerned about the authorities clamping down on him anymore because he knows what he is doing is correct.

Chin’ono has been recently awarded the Gatefield People Journalism Prize for Africa 2020 and the Greenfield People Journalism Prize for Africa for his fearless work which includes an exposé on COVID-19 procurement corruption which led to the sacking of the Health Minister Obadiah Moyo.

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