ZIMBABWE has lost millions of its skilled and experienced manpower to the diaspora and, if given a chance by government, they have the potential to help the country’s economy revive.
For the first time disporans have made moves to try and be part of the country’s recovery process. The diasporans gathered in the resort town of Victoria Falls last week to look into ways of contributing towards various sectors, among them economic development, social services, reconstruction and human rights and governance.
They hope to get government support to implement their plans aimed at reviving the ailing economy and restoring respect for human rights.
According to the Development Foundation for Zimbabwe (DFZ), an estimated 4,5 million Zimbabweans are based in South Africa, Britain, Botswana, the United States, Australia and Canada.
They fled the political and economic crisis that hit Zimbabwe from 2000, in the process severely depleting the country’s human resource base.
The diaspora community was, however, puzzled by Zanu PF’s absence at the conference which was attended by officials from MDC-T and MDC-M. The reason could, however, have been because Zanu PF was holding its annual people’s conference 1 016km away in Mutare.
As a starting point, the DFZ formed clusters in line with those established by the government, with the committees comprising technocrats dedicated to work towards the development of the country. Some of the foreign-based Zimbabweans expressed willingness to return home and launch viable businesses that can help reduce the unemployment rate estimated to be above 90%.
“The main mission is to contribute to the development of Zimbabwe and ensure that Zimbabweans are at the forefront of this process regardless of geographical location,” said DFZ in a statement released during the conference.
Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara told the conference that government would enable the diasporans to invest back home and lead revolutions in information communication technology and banking sectors.
He said jobs were still scarce and serious contribution by the diaspora could help in employment creation and productivity.
“Those in the diaspora must help in policy formulation, they should come in to address the ballooning debt and also invest in various sectors of the economy,” said Mutambara.
DFZ plans to invest money and human capital in areas that were negatively affected by skills flight such as health, education, water and sanitation. It says over 80% of critical health workers ranging from doctors, nurses, physio-therapists, pharmacists to radiologists who trained since 1980 have left the country.
“The contribution of this group is therefore vital to the promotion of national cohesion and the success of any national projects,” said the diaspora organisation.
The organisation’s spokesman Alex Magaisa said they were offering support in health, education and economic sectors.
“We are saying let’s get resources together to support institutions back home. The diaspora is a reservoir of skills, wealth, money and experience; this is a national asset which has been underutilised,” said Magaisa, a United Kingdom-based lawyer.
He said they were engaging the government and civil society to allow Zimbabweans to tap into many benefits from those working outside the country.
Another sector which the foreign-based Zimbabweans are looking at investing into is policy formulation since hundreds of policy experts are feeding their experience in foreign governments.
“We have been regarded as the black sheep of the flock but we want to repair relations and participate in the economic building at home,” said Magaisa.
He said those in the diaspora were also willing to be actively involved in the indigenisation process in support of local businesses.
“We are also indigenous people based outside the country; we want to be involved because we can bring in a vast wealth of experience and money, among many other things,” said Magaisa.
DFZ board chairman Brian Kagoro said his organisation was focusing on citizen-centered development characterised by a progressive partnership between citizens, the private sector and government.
“As DFZ, we believe that there are multiple sources from which development finance and resources can be drawn and in the case of Zimbabwe one of the most underrated and under-utilised sources is diasporan skills, remittances and investments,” he said.
He said Zimbabwe had been a net exporter of its high quality human capital which left the public service severely depleted.
“We believe that recognising and harnessing the diaspora potential is a key step in converting into reality the rhetoric about indigenisation and Africans taking initiatives to help themselves instead of waiting for handouts from the West,” said Kagoro.
While the disporans have taken the initiative to try and assist in the country’s economic recovery, Constitutional Affairs minister Eric Matinenga said they would not participate in local elections.
Observers say the disenfranchisement of the diaspora may have a negative impact on their zeal to invest.
“Maybe we need to push for the diasporans to vote because for now there is no hope that they will participate in elections. It is not provided for under the electoral laws,” Matinenga told the DFZ conference.