Ambassador Wharton engaged over 250,000 Zimbabwean youth online during a social media tweet@ble discussion hosted by Nigel Mugamu (@SirNig) of @263Chat. The veteran American diplomat is concluding a three year term in Zimbabwe, the second in his Foreign Service career in the southern African country having served previously as the Embassy’s spokesperson between 1999 and 2003. He shared his personal experience working to engage Zimbabweans from all walks of life including support to health, agriculture and human rights.
The discussion held on November 3rd generated over 600 independent tweets from nearly 160 people reaching 234,000 people and generating nearly a million impressions within 24 hours according to statistics provided by TweetBinder, an online tool that analyzes, classifies, and reports on hashtags.
Despite fragile relations between the countries, Ambassador Wharton noted various positives in the engagement between the two countries including continued funding support to health and other sectors.
“My objective was to carry through the commitment that my government made to the people of Zimbabwe at the time of independence in 1980 to support development in this country in public health, food security, and economic activity,” said the U.S. Ambassador. “One of the things that an ambassador does is to struggle for resources; we just got $35 million more in support of public health in Zimbabwe.”
He said the frequency of conversations about issues of mutual concern between Zimbabwe and the United States has definitely increased, but more work still needs to be done to restore the relationship to normal.
“I wanted to make sure that my government understood the enormous potential and all the positive things about Zimbabwe. I think that I have made improvements there,“ said Ambassador Wharton. “I now meet regularly with senior government officials and we have serious conversations. I talk about the concerns that we have about what it is going to take to get the economy moving and they talk about the concerns they have about what they feel is an unjust American policy towards Zimbabwe. The conversations are regular and that is a step forward.”
Reflecting on his two missions to Zimbabwe, the U.S. diplomat noted that the issues that Zimbabwe has had to deal with have not changed much.
“When I arrived in 2012, I saw that some of the same fundamental issues that Zimbabwe was dealing with in 2000, Zimbabwe was still dealing with in 2012, and frankly, still dealing with today—issues such as how to get the economy going,” said Ambassador Wharton.
Wharton has been in Zimbabwe to witness the constitutional reform process, the referendum in 2000, and the beginning of the widely reported land reform program. “I was here for the steep decline of the economy and I remember when we were bringing staples from South Africa for our staff and there was no petrol available in the gas station,” he noted. “In spite of those difficult times… I was absolutely captivated by the intellectual capital of this country.”
In addition to promoting and protecting the interests of American citizens and interests, Ambassador Wharton said his objective was to build and find relationships of trust between the two governments as well as getting commercial and business interests between Zimbabwe and the United States moving forward.
Rolling up his sleeves and promising to take any and all questions from both the live and virtual audiences, Ambassador Wharton spoke candidly at the tweet@ble. He noted the U.S. concerns about the transparency of the 2013 elections, but applauded their peacefulness compared to previous elections. “We were concerned about the circumstances and conditions of that election, some very technical issues, I think that put the relationship in to deep freeze for about a year, because of our reaction to that election and the government of Zimbabwe’s reaction to us…but I think we have overcome that. My successor made some very positive comments at his confirmation hearing last month and talked about working for the positive relationship. The good ideas and the good projects will prosper.”
Ambassador Wharton also expressed optimism about the role Zimbabwe’s youth will play in the economic future of the country. As evidenced by his choice to engage a youthful audience in person and on twitter as one of his last public engagements, he repeatedly stressed the power his audience has in determining their own futures, as well as that of the country.
Ambassador Wharton, who played a key role in 2010 whilst in Washington in the establishment of the Young African Leadership Initiative said he had always worked in finding ways to support young Zimbabweans as well as ways to improve the place of women in society. He mentioned one of his primary pieces of advice to his incoming successor was to engage Zimbabwe’s vibrant youth. “The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) has seen 60 young Zimbabwean leaders travel to the United States since 2014 to participate in the Mandela Washington Fellowship. 60 more are being recruited for the 2016 Fellowship program due to the impact their predecessors from Zimbabwe are making in the YALI Network,” he cited as just one of the examples supporting the vibrancy argument.
The U.S. has also started a multi-million dollar project that will see the construction of a new Embassy compound in the Westgate area of Harare. Ambassador Wharton said that the project clearly demonstrated U.S. commitment to the future of the relationship between the two countries, as it will be one of the largest construction projects taking place in Harare, and will locally source much of the work and materials.
“Our approach is to buy as many materials as we can locally and to employ as many people as we can locally,” I hope that this will be a good investment in Harare and spur further economic growth.” – ZimPAS© November 10, 2015