Remarks by Ambassador Bruce Wharton
Honorable Resident Minister;
Ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning and welcome to the NUST-American Space. You might have noticed it’s not completed yet, but I’d like to ask you to take a moment to imagine what this space will look like in a few months. And please don’t stop your imagination there. This space is designed to foster imagination, innovation, and collaboration. This will be a place for the NUST community, and for the wider community in Bulawayo, to come together and create new technology and new partnerships. I welcome and encourage students and faculty from Lupane University, Solusi University, Bulawayo Polytechnic, and the Catholic University to also take advantage of the resources that will be available when this project is finished.
As you may know, the U.S. Embassy has American spaces in Bulawayo, Mutare, and Gweru, in addition to our Information Resource Center in Harare. American Spaces are typically located in a discrete corner of established libraries and frequently, those libraries are located within universities. American Spaces exemplify the U.S. commitment to a core tenet of democracy: a citizen’s right to free access to information. Through the American Spaces program, we aim to provide the Zimbabwean people with information about the United States—its history, culture, society, and values. We also seek to provide comprehensive guidance on study in the U.S. through our Education USA advising program. Most importantly, this space has been designed to foster people-to-people connections, increase understanding, and build respect with local audiences through cultural programs. More than a traditional library, our hope is that this American Space will become a dynamic community space and entrepreneurial hub. Our goal is to engage audiences with compelling learning environments that welcome spontaneous interaction, shared ideas, and warm conversations.
Last year, our colleagues in Washington got together to select the most strategically important locations to allocate our limited resources for what we call public diplomacy. On the African continent, ten cities were selected for significant upgrades – Bulawayo made that list. Keep in mind, Bulawayo was chosen, not just in competition with other African countries, but among the many spaces located within each country throughout the continent, including the four spaces in Zimbabwe. So, you may ask: Why here in Bulawayo?
My colleagues and I at the Embassy engage every day with your compatriots in Harare. This is an opportunity for us to enlarge our reach outside of the capital region, and to engage with the greater Zimbabwean population. In the same way that innovation is not limited to those ideas that come from Washington, D.C., we know that there is a great deal of potential and creativity that resides beyond the city limits of Harare. Ultimately, Zimbabwe’s prosperity depends on its greatest resource — its people.
Zimbabwe’s progress is being led by Zimbabweans from around the country – including some emerging youth leaders who are with us today. Further, there’s an increasing recognition that if countries are going to reach their full economic potential, then they absolutely must invest in youth – in their education, and in their skills. I’ve been very encouraged by the desire of leaders here to partner with us in supporting young entrepreneurs, including through President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative. Last year, two of 30 fellows in the Mandela Washington Fellowship program hailed from Bulawayo. This year, we seven of 30 participants selected for this unique fellowship program will come from Matabeleland. Next year, the program will continue to grow and we anticipate sending an even greater representation of Zimbabwe’s regional diversity.
We sincerely hope the returning fellows will use this space for their many community engagement activities. This space will have free wireless internet for the general public. It will host speaker events, ranging in topics from the arts to entrepreneurship, from technology to youth development and women’s empowerment. And if you want to talk about something else, just let us know. I’d like to urge you, again, to continue to use your imagination whenever you engage with this American Space.
I am very excited to partner with NUST on this project and to work together to provide Zimbabwe’s youth with the tools to succeed and grow. I look forward to seeing pictures of the final space – as we have envisioned on these designs (point to designs) and hear about all the exciting and creative programming and collaborations happening at this space. Although I’m not saying goodbye quite yet, I probably will not be here when the NUST American Space project is scheduled to reach completion in September. However, I will strongly encourage my successor to carry on this work, because we want all Zimbabweans to understand that they will always have a strong and reliable partner in the United States of America.