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Public Conversations Must Engage Local Voices

Marginalization of public conversations around local issues on Twitter threatens local democracy. Image by The Economic Times

BY DIVINE DUBE | @village_scribe | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | OCT 29, 2021

If you feel drained by too much attention on national issues at the expense of local, more pressing ones, you’re not alone. The absence of local perspectives and the relegation of local voices from the public conversation has the potential of leaving our local democracy in tatters.

BULAWAYO (The Citizen Bulletin) — Since the coronavirus pandemic broke out in early 2020, I've been using Twitter every day to catch up with current affairs, and to explore funding and professional development opportunities. However, recently, I’ve noticed a trend that upsets me and drains my energy. Each time I peep into the platform to catch up with the latest news, there is always a trending national topic on my feed, with everybody on my timeline seemingly preoccupied with what mainstream political figures are doing or not doing.

If you’ve been feeling the same way you’re not alone! The marginalization of public conversations around local issues on dominant platforms such as Twitter has been going on for a while, and this is becoming a growing threat to the very fabric of our democracy. Currently, the public conversation in Zimbabwe, which is led by urban elites, is dominated by national issues. The absence of local perspectives and the relegation of local voices in the ensuing discourse has the potential of harming local democracy more than what most of us realize.

Interestingly, even the local legacy media seems to be following, instead of shaping the dominant conversation on elite platforms. Screaming headlines of lead stories in local dailies and weeklies reflects this inherent challenge: we’re preoccupied with what’s happening at the highest level of the country’s politics at the expense of big local issues. Yet, in all earnest, our immediate conditions and surroundings should matter the most.

Sadly, the dominant discourse on national issues has forced some niche news organizations initially launched to drive the local conversation to abandon their mission as they now focus on trending national issues. What further complicates the matter is that online media spaces are often characterized by sensationalism and trolling, rather than fact-based, high quality reporting.

The Citizen Bulletin has stayed true to its mission and continues to lead the conversation on important local issues often ignored by the mainstream legacy media in Matabeleland. Over the past half a decade since we launched, our dedicated team has produced thousands of stories on social and economic justice, local government, public health and education to illuminate the state of affairs across the greater region of Matabeleland.

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We are proud of our work. Our rigorous reporting empowers residents to be civically engaged, especially at a time when the public conversation is monopolized by national issues. Our hard-hitting and impact-focused reporting also helps our audiences hold local leaders to account at a time when all the attention is taken away from pressing local issues, and directed at broad national issues that have little or no impact on local democracy.

In this publication, Issue 26, we take a deep dive into the crumbling health system in Bulawayo, Matabeleland’s capital. We also spotlight the undesirable effects of gender based violence in Matabeleland North which is taking a toll on underprivileged children. In addition, we shine a light on alleged corruption at Bubi Rural District Council which is exacerbating underdevelopment. We invite you to spare your precious time to explore these top stories in addition to several other nuanced, reflective pieces in this e-paper that shine a light on important local issues affecting populations across the greater region of Matabeleland.

While on Twitter, and other digital native spaces, elite masses indulge in big, national conversations that have nothing to do with the ordinary and underserved populace from smaller towns and outlying rural areas of Matabeleland, we pride ourselves in illuminating an important conversation on local issues. It is this important but often undermined discourse that ignites our local democracy. For this reason, we dare implore the elites to engage ordinary masses—one way or the other—in mainstream public conversations.