Harare, June 29, 2012: United States Ambassador Charles Ray says Zimbabwe’s cultural environment is fraught with artificial divisions and a pre-occupation with politics, which youth will do well to move beyond if they are to build a better country.
“Put your focus on the things that really matter,” Ambassador Ray during a DefZee-facilitated discussion on his tenure and engagement with youth in the country as America’s top diplomat in Zimbabwe. “I have noticed over the past three years that politics dominates every conversation. It’s as if nothing else matters.”
“I know that political decisions can affect our lives – bad economic decisions can raise prices, drive away investment, cost jobs – but, it’s really the day-to-day personal decisions we all make that truly determine our lives. I’m not saying you should ignore politics, but put it in its proper place – somewhere out there -- and use more of your energy in building a better local environment,” said Ambassador Ray, who is wrapping up his term as America’s top diplomat in Zimbabwe.
Discussion host, Andile Maposa, and about 80 young people took turns asking the envoy questions about diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Zimbabwe, his perceptions of the situation in Zimbabwe vis-a-vis the prevailing political and economic environment, as well as his personal life.
“Learn, learn, learn, and question everything. Take everything at face value, but prove it before you buy into it and reach out to the broader world,” said the U.S. Ambassador responding to an inquiry about the prevailing culture of violence that has characterized Zimbabwe’s elections.
“The things that I find most disturbing are all the artificial divisions that have been created between and among people, the born freers versus the born befores…the Matabeleland residents versus the Harares… it’s these meaningless divisions that have been created that keep people apart, that have built automatic intolerance, that make it difficult for people to reach out to people they don’t know or to trust them,” said the U.S. diplomat drawing from his experience in his 20 year career in the U.S. military and over 30 years as a diplomat.
“I spent twenty years in the military during the height of the Cold War and I was trained that if it was communist it was bad,” confessed the U.S. diplomat. “I was trained not to trust Russians and not to trust Chinese. I had never met one but I just knew in my heart that they couldn’t be trusted. I left the army and I became a diplomat and guess where they sent me for my first tour? Mainland China -- where I had to deal with all these communists.”
“About three or four weeks into my tour as I got to know and talk to people, I realized that the main difference was that that guy carried a card (saying) that he was a communist and I carried a (different) card. And when we sat down and talked together, we found out that we had a lot in common,” said Ambassador Ray. “We all wanted the same things. This intolerant attitude of deciding that you trust someone because of their label does not make sense.”
Asked about his mission in Zimbabwe, Ambassador Ray said he had sought to “change the nature of the conversation between the U.S. and Zimbabwe.”
“I think I have been successful in getting that started. For ten years, we were just yelling and hurling insults at each other, and we never really had a substantive conversation about anything. We were complaining about some misbehavior, and they were calling us regime change neo-imperialists,” Ambassador Ray said.
Since his arrival towards the end of 2009, Ambassador Ray has spearheaded several youth engagement programs with youth in various parts of the country and online. An accomplished author, the U.S. diplomat has written several blogs in the local and international media. He wrote a book, "Where You Come from Matters Less Than Where You're Going," during his first year in Zimbabwe that is being used by several youth groups throughout the country.
“Reflecting on my nearly three years in Zimbabwe, I remain cautiously optimistic. The long-term future for this country is bright, and that is due in large part to the overwhelmingly energetic, dedicated, and intelligent young people -- people who make up the majority of Zimbabwe’s population,” said Charles Ray. - ZimPAS