A couple of days ago a list of the 100 most influential young Zimbabweans was released by the “Gorindemabwe frontier”, whatever that is. The Gorindemabwe frontier calls itself “an arc of acumen platform whose mandate is to inspire thought leadership in Africa” and their definition of influence is derived from “the essence of thought leadership”. The definition of young is anyone under forty years of age.
The list has caused quite a stir, and has largely been dismissed as a farce- or as one comrade wittily remarked: “it is like someone’s list of Facebook friends.”Clearly whoever made the list did not do enough research or is ignorant of other young Zimbabweans, whose omissions, in my opinion are glaring.
Though I personally found the list ridiculous and- in some instances- factually incorrect, the Gorindemabwe frontier must be commended for this noble idea. We should celebrate and recognize our young thought leaders. Additionally, as the list rightfully points out, such recognition serves as an inspiration to young people like myself to rise out of mediocrity.
However the caliber and influence of the “100 most Influential Zimbabweans” themselves cannot go uncontested. To do so will be to accept the mediocrity that the same list wishes us to escape.
To get a proper perspective of how these lists are made let us look at how similar lists are compiled elsewhere. The most famous, of course, is the Times 100, which is released every year by Times magazine which has featured politicians, luminaries and visionaries such as Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, the Dalai Lama, Bill Gates, Pope Benedict, Angela Merkel, Steve Jobs, Vladimir Putin and Hu Jintao. The Times list bases on qualities such as moral example and public possession of power and allows people to vote for their choices online. Thus influence is proportional to the number of people one’s opinion or innovation impacts- regardless of the consequences.
New African magazine also compiles an annual list of the most influential Africans, divided into several categories. Closer to home, in South Africa, they have a list of 200 Most influential young South Africans in which the nominations are done by the public after which a panel decides the finalists. All these three lists have something in common: individuals whose talents and discoveries shape their societies; men and women whose lives and ideas, according to Times Magazine, “spark dialogue and dissent and sometimes even revolution”.
The list by the Gorindemabwe Frontier is therefore fundamentally flawed before it is even compiled, firstly, because the candidates are picked by the Frontier itself and, secondly, because there is no way to accommodate public opinion. Because there is no way of nominating young people who have had a profound impact on the Zimbabwean society, some deserving candidates are left out- either because of the ignorance of whoever makes the list or because they do not know their ages.
The example of Dr Philani Zamchiya easily comes to mind. A former president of ZINASU, between 2003 and 2005 was the face of over 150 000 students. More recently he has been regional director of Crisis Coalition in Zimbabwe and has published works on Zimbabwe that are considered the best in the world. He is also consulted by international organisations on how CSOs in Zimbabwe should operate. Furthermore by being a researcher and scholar at Oxford University, Philani Zamchiya shapes opinions at one of the world’s best universities. He is 32. I challenge anyone to tell in what way those who made it into the list are better than him.
The list also has some people who are more suited to be called “successful” rather than influential. The second most influential young Zimbabwean according to the Gorindemabwe Frontier is one George Manyaya, a Corporate Services Executive at Mbada diamonds. Now Mr Manyaya is obviously successful but hardly influential, his ability to shape public opinion is non-existent. That is precisely why most people on social media were wondering who he is. I can’t imagine how well known he is in the village I was born. The list of CEOs, founders ad managers goes on and on, people the majority of Zimbabweans don’t know of and are thus uninfluenced by.
The problem of quality continues with the inclusion of questionable characters such as the raunchy dancer Beverly Sibanda who is the last person on the list. She is popular, but mostly in Harare and not influential at all. Her inclusion also flies in the face of the Gorindemabwe Frontier’s claim that it wants` to bring to national attention young people setting a positive example.
Another problem is that the list seems dominated by “urban” personalities and one can be forgiven for thinking it’s a list of those with the greatest followings on Twitter and Facebook. Maud Chifamba, who made international headlines last year after being admitted to the University of Zimbabwe at 14, gets no mention despite the fact that her story generated much debate among Zimbabweans from all walks of life. She is a true example of an inspirational young woman.
Of those who made the top hundred the order seems random. Nelson Chamisa, a former Minister who became MP at 25 is ranked 13th, behind two prophets, Winky D, Kirsty Coventry, Vimbayi Kajese and other comrades of questionable influence. He is also erroneously listed as Secretary General of the MDC-T. This just doesn’t make sense, how can the Organising Secretary of Party of more than 1.5 million people be less influential than a prophet whose followers number less than 50000 and are mostly based in Harare? As a former government minister his decisions influenced millions, and as a National Executive member of his party he is easily the most influential young Zimbabwean by a long mile. The same applies to Tendai Wenyika Gava, a former student leader and Secretary General of the Pan African Youth Parliament; Promise Mkwananzi and Solomon Madzore- MDC (T) youth leaders- and Psychology Maziwisa. In terms of influence they are way above say, Evan Mawarire (with all due respect).
It seems the people who made the list were inebriated or just plain ignorant. They mistook popularity for influence, and social media presence as evidence of the influence in a country in which far less than half of the population are active internet users. More importantly they thought Harare is Zimbabwe, and that local city socialites exert influence in Dotito, Muchakata, Sadza, Chivi, Nkayi or other parts of the country.
The efforts of the Gorinemabwe Frontier should be commended and encouraged but they should also be more serious and thorough. Public input would also help them by bringing to the Frontier’s attention some deserving people who are shaping Zimbabwe’s future and also allowing the public to vote.
This year’s list is a joke, just another addition to the incessant power cuts, miracle money, a lethargic government and a minister of Psychomotor Activities and, like them, it should not be taken seriously.