HomeOpinionTsvangirai call on exiles ill-thought out

Tsvangirai call on exiles ill-thought out

THIS is an open letter to the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe Morgan Tsvangirai.

DURING  your recent trip, it was encouraging that you made an effort to engage Zimbabweans abroad to come back home. You initiated an important conversation which must be continued. This was important in that the government admits there is a role to be played by Zimbabweans abroad. The minor problem was the timing and packaging of the call for Zimbabweans to return home. Zimbabweans who left their country did so out of necessity and a lot of their grievances have not yet been addressed.
These include, but are not limited to, basic freedoms, media freedom, respect of human and private property rights. In this letter, I will try to be less formal and will address you by your totem as Honourable Save (Hon Save). I will also address the president as Cde Gushungo.
It is unfortunate you were not able to finish delivering your speech in London. However, it was also important that Zimbabweans were bold enough to let you know how they felt about your message. Fortunately, there were no shoes thrown at you, a la George Bush in Iraq!
Zimbabweans expected you to be on their side in terms of saying Zimbabwe remains unstable and on a challenged path. It requires international assistance, and some of that assistance includes asking the international community to continue accommodating Zimbabweans until the country is stable. Under the US’s Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zidera), I am sure you could have even asked for the Americans to grant more scholarships to Zimbabweans based in America. These Zimbabweans would in future be expected to contribute in Zimbabwe’s development.
As prime minister, it would be good if you could stand up and encourage host governments to be accommodative to Zimbabweans abroad. The choice of returning to Zimbabwe, let it be an individual choice. What matters is that someone still identifies with their motherland and still contributes in whatever way they can. There is no need or urgency for Zimbabweans abroad to all flock to Zimbabwe. There are many Jewish people all over the world, in the United States in particular and all over Europe. Whilst they are encouraged to return home once in a while, there is never a push for them to abandon their current residency.
Non-resident Zimbabweans must be allowed to vote. No taxation without representation! This is where your party should show leadership and difference with the opposition. Zimbabweans were expecting that you would make a major announcement that Zimbabweans can vote from wherever they are, as long as they go and register at the embassy or consulate.
Non-resident Zimbabweans must be allowed dual citizenship or nationality. This is a critical step that needs to be included in the proposed new constitution. This is a worldwide trend to be accommodative to former residents and allow them to hold dual nationalities. It is just unacceptable for someone born in Zimbabwe to be forced to try and get a visa to be allowed to visit Zimbabwe.
Whilst there is a shortage of skilled personnel, it is also correct that there is unemployment of close to 80%. Therefore, to call for the return of more workers before those at home are fully employed cannot be a clever policy. A relevant and related fact is the return of exiled business people and entrepreneurs. As you will recall, in my May 2009 letter to you, I mentioned some of these individuals by name.
These are some of the people that should be encouraged and given incentives to return to Zimbabwe. Most of these people have skills and the ability required to create jobs which Zimbabweans desperate need. When they return and create jobs, a call such as the one you made in London is like preaching to the converted Hon Save. Currently, all civil servants are still earning US$100 per month regardless of their rank or experience.
When most Zimbabweans were growing up in Magwegwe, Emakhandeni, Kambuzuma, Warren Park and other neighbourhoods, these places had functioning social services such as fully staffed schools and clinics. Many won’t mind returning to these places. However, to ask someone with a young child who is attending a fully-functioning school in one of these Western nations and expect them to pull out their child and send them to some school at present day Magwegwe or Sakubva may be asking too much.
Whilst we have seen various efforts to attract foreign investors to Zimbabwe, we have yet to see a direct and sustained effort to try and re-attract Zimbabweans as investors and tourists. Charity begins at home Hon Save. There is need for a clear government programme on how these Zimbabweans will be treated when they come back home. There are a few specific areas such as waiver on import duties, tax breaks for those who set up businesses and proper guarantees on the rule of law and respect for private property. These may seem trivial issues but these are some of the basic things that most non-resident Zimbabweans take for granted and readily expect because they have been fully exposed to the workings of a normal representative government which listens to its citizens.
The communication process is correctly a two way one. From the events in London, it was apparent that there may have been some in your team who were taking non-resident Zimbabweans for granted. Hon Save, when people say they want change, they want such attitudes to change as well. The people want to be consulted well in advance, especially when it concerns their future. Had the people been consulted, I doubt you would have called for Zimbabweans to return home. Rather, Zimbabweans expected you to encourage the host governments to make life a little easier for Zimbabweans by granting them work permits and other relevant immigration status that would allow them to work, study and continue to contribute as they have always done in the development of the country. This is where your team should have done its homework, and asked Zimbabweans what they expect to hear from the prime minister.
The Western nations are still reluctant to release aid because they know things are not okay. You as the prime minister could have simply requested that these host governments deliberately pursue policies that will allow Zimbabweans to continue self-development whilst things stabilise.
The government should consider a truth and reconciliation commission to handle grievances. It is only when people see such developments that they will begin to really believe the change is irreversible, and justice has come. The nature and mandate of the TRC is not to be vindictive but rather to close a sad chapter in our great nation’s history. In addition, just calling for the return of Zimbabweans without proper signed government-to-government agreements can complicate matters. Zimbabwe can easily get direct assistance linked to the return of non-resident Zimbabweans. This assistance has to be properly negotiated and documented before any call is made to ask people to go back and stare hunger and being jobless. I hope you won’t find these letters annoying. They are meant as free advice.


Muponda is a co-founder of 3MG Media.


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