On August 31, Ambassador Charles A. Ray took U.S. Embassy Harare's Youth Dialogue Initiative to the wide, enthusiastic world of Zimbabwe's Facebook fans in the embassy's first "AmbChat." During a one-hour pizza lunch, Ambassador Ray "chatted" on Embassy Harare's Facebook wall on the topic of "Zim Youth Making a Difference."
Facebook users from as far away as Bindura, Kwekwe, and Mutare joined Harare and Bulawayo fans in telling Ambassador Ray about the many positive and ambitious activities they are doing to build their communities. Malony in Plumtree wrote, "I'm aged 19 nd ws a volunteer peer educator 4 restless dvpnt in plumtree, the youth over ther a havin problems in acces gd medical facilities due 2 lack of fundin 4 e local clinics." Penelope, a student at Harare Institute of Technology, works with SAYWHAT (Students And Youth Working on reproductive Health Action Team), and she wrote, "SAYWHAT envisions a gender just nation with youths who are empowered and know their sexual reproductive health rights."
Ambassador Ray responded he appreciated learning first-hand what youths are doing today and encouraged participants that they can make a difference at both the grassroots and national level. He advised the young people to take up the policy discussion at the national level, while contributing to their communities through local, self-organized projects. He also recommended that youths turn to local businesses for support, as young people are important "valued customers" in their community.
Facebook fan Nanchie responded, "I could not agree more, Ambassador Ray, sometimes change starts with an individual, small steps like being environmentally conscious, picking up litter, helping one child on a street by sharing one's lunch with him/he, being a role model...etc. One of my philosophies is that we should be the change we want to see, one act of kindness makes a difference and the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service of others!"
The Embassy Harare's Public Affairs Section set up two threads of discussion on our Facebook wall -- one for youths and one for "26 years of age and up." The discussion generated over 250 comments, while over 200 new fans joined the more than 2,500 fans already following the page each day. The embassy intends to hold regular "AmbChats" on Facebook in the coming year to meet the growing demand for direct, online interaction from technology-savvy Zimbabweans.
Zimbabwe is a country with great potential for rapid Internet and social media expansion. In June 2011, the website internetworldstats.com reported that nearly 1.5 million Zimbabweans (11.8 percent of the population) are Internet users. According to the Zimbabwe Advertising Research Foundation (ZARF), 24 percent of urban adults have access to the Internet and 83 percent of them use it at least once a week. In 2010, Zimbabwe's largest cell phone service provider, Econet, launched Zimbabwe's first 3G wireless broadband cell phone service, allowing the 86 percent of Zimbabweans with cell phones to access the Internet and social media that way. Currently, over 30 percent of Econet's subscribers (1.8 million people) are now using this service.
Furthermore, journalists and media leaders in Zimbabwe are increasingly using social media as a means of sharing and verifying fast breaking information. For example, news of "kingmaker" General Solomon Mujuru's death in a fire August 15 broke on Facebook. While it might be unclear how many Facebook users are in Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe advertising industry's quarterly publication reports that Facebook is currently the most popular social media site in the country. You can follow U.S. Embassy Harare on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.