Zimbabwe Must not Persecute its Diaspora

Published on 7th June 2008

Zimbabweans abroad are seen as working against the ruling party
Globalisation is viewed by some critics as a sinister intention to create a global ruling class governed by first world nations, and imposed upon us as a version of imperialism in postcolonial Africa. Swimming against this tide instead of harnessing the opportunities that come with it cannot constitute a proper development agenda. Globalisation brings with it the free flow of factors of production, among them the contentious issue of brain drain (Skilled labour emigration).

The African Union has defined the African Diaspora as "… people of African origin living outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality and who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the African Union." Its constitutive act declares that it shall "invite and encourage the full participation of the African Diaspora as an important part of our Continent, in the building of the African Union."

In much of postcolonial Africa, brain drain has been negatively viewed as the sinister poaching of scarce skills by developed nations, a euphemism for the "accumulation strategies of international capital" of developed nations. Concern is that the sending countries will lose out in form of scarce skills (Doctors, Teachers, Engineers and other highly educated professionals) and tax money invested in educating and mentoring the emigrating professionals.

In Zimbabwe, the movement of people (Zimbabwean Diaspora) fleeing the economic and political disaster has from the state point of view been projected as a security threat, hence the reluctance to allow them participate in the 2008 general elections. The state thus views the Diaspora as a source of political and economic competition.

Viewing our economy as a victim of the West has inspired policies in postcolonial Zimbabwe. All policies are now geared towards countering foreign threats including the ‘threats’ from Zimbabweans abroad, who are seen as working against the ruling party. What has been ignored is the fact that the Diaspora is a critical element of the development programme of any successful nation. History is littered with examples of nations that harvested from integrating Diasporas in economic planning.Mexico, China, Korea, Taiwan, India and the USA are few outstanding examples.

The deportation of sons and daughters of the ruling elite and cronies from Australia should help to instill the real sense among my countrymen who have fallen prey to the propaganda that learning and working abroad is sinister and non-patriotic. At least the Australians action vindicates this pretence by government.

The Diasporas are beneficial in Transport, tourism, trade, Telecommunications and Transmission of remittances. Transport is boosted, in particular the air, road and rail transport as Zimbabweans domiciled in foreign nations travel to and from Zimbabwe during public holidays. The visits also accompany with it tourism, as the returnees come home for holidaymaking and visiting relatives. Zimbabweans in foreign lands also act as ambassadors of the Zimbabwean brand. They are thus Zimbabwe’s political and socio-economic ambassadors. When they part with their relatives, emigrants want to maintain their social and business ties, so the telecommunications industry gets a boom in telephone calls and Internet revenue.

Trade is boosted through a network of ties which are developed. Indians in USA for example, act as middlemen's in outsourcing IT requirements for their countrymen. This helps to instill confidents in transactions, thus enhancing trade. The transmission of remittances is also another obvious oversold benefit of foreign flow of revenue for consumption and investments purposes.

Zimbabwe cannot avoid missing the opportunities of harnessing the Diaspora component in economic recovery, if it is to meet its development agenda. A post crisis era should encourage the returnees to return back to their motherland and invest in their country through various initiatives among them; creating high interest foreign currency bonds specifically for the Diaspora, and tax exemptions for those bringing industrial equipment and machinery (this paid dividends in China and Pakistan).

Encouraging entrepreneurship should be a priority because the Diasporas have the advantage of huge savings as compared to locals and their competitive edge is a specialized skill and exposure to advanced technologies. The post crisis government should encourage the formation of hometown associations e.g. Harare-SA association as vehicles for investments and networking.

Above all we should secure an economy which values private property rights (land ownership titles should become a market commodity) through a court protection underpinned by an independent judiciary, the Diasporas must be presented as compatriots, and a free contestation of opinions must prevail as a market of ideas.

The state has no strategic capacity to remain with management functions of the economy; it should dispose public entities targeting the Diaspora, and remain with a few strategic public utilities such as ZINWA and National Railways, which should instead be commercialized. The state should retain a regulatory, coordinating and accountable role in the management process of the economy; by setting the rules of the game and ensuring that they are respected by all. Trampling on private property rights and other economic subjects should become a treasonable offence.

This will allow Zimbabwe to speak the same language in the international business circles while ushering in a middle class composed of entrepreneurs, which are a more stable element and ardent supporter of the development of the country.

The lessons of the harsh legacy that Zimbabwe has received should collectively unite us on a vision for the love our motherland, through the theme "no more abuse."

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