Journalist Hopewell Chin’ono’s song denouncing “looting” in Mnangagwa’s regime has inspired a host of follow up versions
Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono has taken his fight against corruption to the ears of thousands around the world via reggae with a new song entitled “Dem Loot”.
The reporter, who has been arrested three times in six months for his work challenging the current government, released a short video on Twitter singing against what he says is an endemic rot in Zimbabwe – and it has sparked a flurry of follow up versions under the hashtag #demlootchallenge.
Zimbabweans on social media have joined his “challenge” to denounce corruption in their government, which is blamed for, among other things, the collapse of the country’s health system.
Dem Loot (they steal) – an adaptation of Jamaican musician Shabba Ranks’s 90s release “Dem Bow” – garnered 120,000 views in 24 hours on Twitter. Chin’ono’s version laments the lack of prescription drugs in the country’s hospitals and high rates of unemployment and poverty.
The song has been trending on social media, with other Zimbabwean producers and singers, including Austria-based Vusa Mkhaya, joining in the challenge, releasing their own reggae and jazz renditions, and versions using the mbira, the country’s traditional instrument.
According to Transparency International, Zimbabwe loses $2bn (£1.5bn) to corruption annually.
Chin’ono told the Guardian that music was a powerful tool to engage young people in the country. He said it was important for youth to engage in political discourse.
“Music is a very powerful tool when dealing with corruption. You realise that in order to get to youth, you need to speak a language they understand. The song is meant for the youths to engage in day-to-day political discourse,” Chin’ono said.
“It was not planned, but the song has become very popular, we have been trending for the past two days.”
Chin’ono was released last week from a maximum security prison after 20 days on allegations of communicating falsehoods, as the Zimbabwe government continues to clamp down on President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s critics.
Before the arrest, Chin’ono was on bail on separate charges of inciting violence, after he voiced support for an anti-government protest in July last year, and on contempt of court charges for claiming corruption within the country’s national prosecution agency.
He is known for exposing corruption by the former health minister, Obadiah Moyo, who was involved in a $60m Covid-19 supplies scandal.
Moyo was later dismissed by Mnangagwa.
There are only 21 countries more corrupt than Zimbabwe, according to an international transparency barometer of 179 nations.
In Zimbabwe musicians have often avoided political messages, while some who dared sing against the status quo used metaphors and idioms. Zimbabwean musicians often ignore political issues such as corruption, choosing instead to focus on social commentary.
Unable to demonstrate due to Covid-19 restrictions, Zimbabweans have increasingly turned to social media to protest corruption and human rights abuses.
Last year Zimbabweans sparked global movement #zimbabweanlivesmatter in protest over human rights abuses by the Mnangagwa government.
The campaign was supported by musicians and other celebrities around the world, as Zimbabweans demanded an end to human rights abuses following detainments of well-known political activists.