PRESIDENT Sata yesterday made a surprise entry into social media when he announced in the morning that he had decided to network and connect via Facebook to enable the nation to have a glimpse of his thoughts and ideas on various issues relating to the country.
“My friends on Facebook, today, I have decided to network and connect with you by means of this platform. This page will enable you to have a glimpse of my thoughts and ideas on various issues relating to our great nation. Let’s interact!” the early morning post reads.
And within hours of the announcement, the page had garnered thousands of likes, views, shares and followers.
“Most welcome Your Excellency. Information and thoughts directly from you will be key in informing citizens on what Government is doing and what future plans you have for our great nation. Other presidents in USA, RSA, Kenya, etc. also have their FB pages. Congrats Your Excellency,” wrote Jonas Chanda.
Mwila Emmanuel Chanda also wrote: “It is good to see that you really want to interact with your people Your Excellency. Facebook as social media is mostly youth-dominated. Hope my fellow youths will use this platform to learn more from you, Sir, and bring to your attention various issues and challenges affecting them so that hopefully through your wise responses together we continue to build a better Zambia.”
But with a number of fake Facebook accounts purporting to belong to world leaders available online, bloggers expressed doubt as to whether the page, His Excellency Michael Chilufya Sata, was indeed his.
However, the President’s special assistant for press and public relations George Chellah allayed those concerns.
“BREAKING NEWS: Comrades, I can confirm that the link below is His Excellency, Mr Michael Chilufya Sata, President of the Republic of Zambia’s official Facebook page,” he wrote on his wall.
President Sata joins a list of world leaders who use social media, first popularised by US President Barack Obama when he first used the micro-blogging service to communicate with his electorate in 2008.
Since 2012, there has been a marked increase in the use of social media – especially Twitter and Facebook – by heads of state and government, ministers and diplomats. The entire governments of Chile and Mexico and their ministers, are on Twitter.
The most recent world leaders to join the social network are European Union Commission President José Manuel Barroso (@BarrosoEU) and UK Prime Minister David Cameron (@David_Cameron), who signed up on October 6, 2012, immediately prior to the UK Conservative Party conference.
Neither of them are tweeting personally while Barack Obama rarely tweets personally, and if he does, his “bo” tweets become national news stories.
However, about 30 heads of state and government do their own tweeting. The most conversational are Ugandan Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi (@AmamaMbabazi) and the prime minister of Rwanda, Pierre Damien Habumuremyi (@HabumuremyiP), both of whom engage personally with their followers on Twitter.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati (@Najib_Mikati) holds occasional Twitter chats with his followers, while Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (@NajibRazak) invited his 500,000th follower for breakfast. The Croatian government organises regular tweet-ups for 50 lucky followers at its government offices.
Local leaders who regularly use social media to communicate include Minister of Tourism and Arts Sylvia Masebo, Commerce Deputy Minister Miles Sampa and Lusaka mayor Daniel Chisenga.
New terms such as twiplomacy, Facebook diplomacy, weiplomacy and digital diplomacy have emerged in recent times in reference to how the use of social networks has become an integral part of government communication.
These new tools, which former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton termed the “21st Century Statecraft”, are fast becoming as important for government leaders, ministers, and diplomats as the telephone, email and diplomatic cables.
With this new communication move, hailed by many as a ‘sure fire way’ of winning hearts, especially young hearts who make up the future, President Sata will be able to communicate directly now more than ever with Zambians locally and abroad.
He will also have an idea how his electorate think and whom they are as Facebook allows him to check their demographics and ages.
With this new move described as one small step for Sata and a milestone for the presidency, there is no telling whether the Head of State will join other heavyweights and open a Twitter account but only time can tell what happens next.