Candid comment: This is the time to milk the diaspora

ONE of the most useful things that Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara did last weekend was to assure Zimbabweans living in the diaspora that the government valued their contribution to national development.

Mutambara suggested the creation of a ministry to cater for their needs, but did not say how this ministry would operate without duplicating the roles of other arms of government such as embassies and existing ministries.

Mutambara was quoted in London as saying: “Zimbabweans must serve the national interest wherever they are; they must strive to build the country from their foreign bases.”

As many as four million Zimbabweans are thought to be living in foreign countries. One would have expected Mutambara to take the opportunity to solicit ideas on how his audience wanted to contribute to national development.

Other countries that faced flight of human capital to the extent that Zimbabwe has, have crafted policies that have reaped dividends. These countries include Ethiopia, Armenia and South Korea. In Armenia, the country’s 5,5 million plus diaspora has excelled in generating international political support in the funding and implementation of humanitarian aid programmes as well as mobilising private transfers. In South Korea, its six million-plus diaspora have increased exports by 16% and imports by 14% as well as increase trade between the USA and Korea by between 14% and 20%.

Ethiopia lost 76,6% of its human capital between 1980 and 1991 but the human capital is being turned into a resource for the development of the country. It is important that the government drafts a policy on how the country can benefit from Zimbabweans in the diaspora. The policies do not need the creation of a specific ministry. However, that policy should take into account the fact that it is not all diasporans who are useful. According to Professor Berhanu Nega, writing on the Ethiopian experience, there are six broad groups of diasporans. The first two groups are not helpful as they include many who live a lavish life that fritters away outrageous amounts of money by spending beyond their limit, often depleting their savings without planning for their financial future.

The first group suffers from lack of knowledge about how to use money profitably. The second group presumes that their full access to political or certain professional power is the only solution to the country’s economic stagnation. This group also discourages others from helping the nation. They equate any type of positive contribution to direct support for the government. The third group includes expatriates who have accumulated work and education experience. Prof Nega believes this group is an untapped positive force that could improve economic conditions. Prof Nega suggests that this group exchanges ideas and experiences with non-governmental organisations through voluntarism or joint ventures.

The fourth group lives in Europe. Anti-immigration laws in several European countries offer them a once-off payment if they agree to return home for good. This group could take advantage of the money and invest it in the country. They could also bring their strong work ethics to Zimbabwe.

The fifth group, the Zimbabwean business community around the world, is great asset for economic progress. Prof Nega draws lessons from developing countries such as Vietnam, China and India. These countries used their expatriates as an instrument for an economic leap forward. According to Prof Nega, entrepreneurs abroad could be a bridge between domestic and foreign businesses. The government has been searching for foreign investors for years with little success yet the diaspora have the contacts and know how to bring investors to the country. 

The sixth group includes expatriates with a strong affinity towards the country, which creates a desire in them to return during retirement or earlier. Unfortunately, Professor Mutambara missed an opportunity to engage the diaspora on how they could collectively build their country. 

Already, there are many Zimbabweans who hold influential positions throughout the world, but are not able to contribute to the country because of the polarisation of the political environment where you either have to be Zanu PF or MDC, notwithstanding the unity government. Zimbabwe cannot expect its children to make partisan contributions to the country’s recovery. The country’s leadership needs to realise this and change their attitude.  

Edwin Dube

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