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Zambia Turns to Facebook for Policy Communication

Dora Siliya, the Minister of Education for the African country of Zambia, and the spokesperson for the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy, has turned to her Facebook page to make national policy announcements.

This isn’t the first time an African leader has used Facebook to reach out to his or her citizens. Nigeria’s interim president, Goodluck Jonathan, used the social networking service to announce his run for the presidency.

Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, has also availed himself of the outreach capacities of the popular site, using his account to crowdsource a new cabinet.

Siliya, a graduate of the University of Zambia and of Cambridge University in the U.K, posts mostly about educational issues, soliciting ideas and opinions from her people about large issues and about specific decisions. One such decision was that to increase access the country’s safety-net schooling program, the APU. The announcement inspired 50 comments on that post alone, split between critics and boosters of the decision.

The minister is fast approaching the 5,000 friend cut-off limit that Facebook enforces. (As of this writing he’s within 42 friends of reaching that point.) Given the average circulation for the country’s main newspapers of about 10,000, this is a large reach.

The role that social media is playing in opening channels for conversation between public servants and the public they serve is undeniable, and Facebook, being the largest social media network, is taking a lead. In many ways, that is heartening. But given Facebook’s checkered history regarding user privacy, and its persistent opposition to anonymity, the trend should not be welcomed uncritically.

Zambia flag via Wikimedia Commons | other sources: AllFacebook and Global Voices

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