Zimbabweans invited to America’s Facebook Diplomacy

The walled United States of America embassy in Harare is a building that has all the whole marks of “out of bounds unless invited.” For years, ordinary Zimbabweans like me have seen the embassy as a place where only the political elite would be allowed in for wine and secret talks.

Most ordinary Zimbabweans would be familiar with US President Obama through the media than Ambassador Charles Ray who may live next door.

That is about to change after reports that Ambassador Ray is willing to engage in open diplomacy with ordinary Zimbabweans (which I take to include members of ZUPA, the unemployed) through social networks like Facebook.

He is quoted as having told a recent meeting: “I have over 5 000 Facebook friends who I maintain on-going conversations with everyday. … they can be some of the most fruitful exchanges because they force me to re-assess my own views and add a new frame of reference that makes my perspective more diverse and rich.”

The beauty of it all is that, that time appears to be starting now, with Ambassador Ray reportedly asserting at the end of his address in Harare that he is shifting “from my talking, to us having a conversation. I want to hear your thoughts.”

What a breath of fresh air. So members of ZUPA, in their millions, from the teapot pouring end of the Victoria Falls to the Diamond teapot handles of Mutare; from the boiling teapot top of Kariba to the burning teapot base of Limpopo can now have direct access to the Ambassador and have a conversation, tell him directly that the ARVs America donated did not get to the village after all. Villagers in Dotito, Bulilima, Jotsholo, Shashe and Chipinge can exchange their views with him in real time for the first time ever. For the first time, the Ambassador’s cables may reflect the evidenced views of the ordinary citizens of Zimbabwe who have never had access to champagne filled diplomatic sessions of the suited and booted.

I want to share my views on why Ambassador Ray’s open diplomacy and invitation to engage ordinary Zimbabweans should be the future but first, let me fulfil my column religion by reflecting on my contribution to Zimbabwe last week.

Last week, I wrote about the need for someone, especially Zimbabweans to assist the Zimbabwean Ministry of Education to resource and manage an effective and efficient data collection and data management system. This followed the realisation that this important ministry appears not to have an idea of how many schools or enrolled children there are in Zimbabwe due to lack of information.

I also revisited the brewing crisis due to the civil servants’ industrial action and urged the Government to put the interest of the ordinary Zimbabwean child first.

I wondered how Minister for Public Service Lucia Matibenga would react given her dual role as a Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) Vice President and the Minister responsible for solving the crisis.

Minister Matibenga failed to deliver and did not even attend a meeting with the Apex Council leadership. D-Day came amid confusion on whether to strike or to stay away.

A group of teachers decided to put their art skills to test by drawing the face and head of Matibenga and their leader, Apex Council Chairperson Tendai Chikowore. They abandoned the poster after passers-by failed to tell the difference between Matibenga and Chikowore’s “portraits.”

And so they joined others in chorus, accusing Minister Matibenga of betraying their cause. Majongwe could be forgiven for rubbing it in after his previous “ZCTU” clashes with Matibenga. (Rewind August 2011 to be precise.) Minister Matibenga told the world she no longer wanted to talk about the civil servants crisis anymore. There were even calls for her to resign with further industrial action due this coming week.

Last in, first out. Welcome to a country in crisis.

Minister Matibenga, should have, in my view cited conflict of interest and recused herself from the crisis allowing others to find an amicable way forward. It is still not too late for her.

The striking civil servants may choose to stay away rather than engage in toyi toyi for fear of victimisation. Some may join ZUPA members and other Zimbabweans in flea markets and street corners selling juice cards and other wares.

They may find that the street corners and market stalls are a social war zone and challenging. The police and the city fathers have decided to clamp down on vendors in a manner that triggers memories of the past. The unemployed are squeezed from all corners and barred from exercising their vukuzenzele spirit of survival.

In Mutare, more companies retrenched with more de-industrialisation. In many towns, water supplies have been cut and electricity supplies stopped from reaching needy families who now live in dangerous health and security hazards.

The middle class are feeling the squeeze too and decided to pass on their expenses on the poor unemployed tenants through an increase in rentals. Those in council estates watch helplessly as the councils start mass evictions for non-payment of rent without sparing the elderly or children.

Even those who once told stories of how the land question may have benefitted them are now confused with 1 000 or so facing eviction after courts or someone ruled that the stands they secured from someone who claimed to own some land in fact had been allocated to someone else.

For me, I worry about the children who will miss lessons and face failure in the face because teachers and Government cannot resolve the pay dispute.

I worry about the children who continue to be denied access to social services assistance and the Basic Education assistance Module (BEAM) because of bureaucracy and corruption.

I worry about all the unemployed members of ZUPA who face harassment when they try to make a living out of selling goods and juice cards in street corners.

I worry about all the decent women and men including university and college students who are forced to sell their bodies just because cadetship scheme is not accessible to them

I worry about lack of urgency in Government in creating employment or at least consulting on a national employment master plan.

Employment creation is the most important pillar to get Zimbabwe out of the crisis. ZUPA is willing to work with Government and other Zimbabweans to ensure that Zimbabwe rises again.

My worries though remain enveloped in hope that with open diplomacy now on the menu, ordinary villagers can now have an opportunity to share their issues with politicians and Ambassadors directly.

Not that there is an expectation for them to solve our problems, but just so those that seek to assist in the Zimbabwean crisis can be clear what the undiluted and uncorrupted views of the ordinary Zimbabweans are.

That, is the way I see it in this 3rd week of 2012.

Thamsanqa Zhou Jr is the Director of Strategy for ZUPA, the association in Zimbabwe representing the interest of unemployed people or in poverty. He is writing the Column “The Way I See it” every Monday, in his personal capacity and is contactable on [email protected]

Post published in: Arts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *