Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Zim Diaspora's Changed(ing) Political Character About 'Home'

By Takura Zhangazha*

Recent media reports have indicated that in the last two years, Zimbabwe’s Diaspora  has remitted at least US$ 1, 4 billion dollars into the country. The majority of these Zimbabweans reside in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, the United States of America and Canada. The veracity of these statistics lie in the fact that it was the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe that announced them with the caveat that such remittances show confidence in the national economy (also to be read as the political situation in the country). 

As to the latter point, I am sure a sizeable number in the Diaspora would probably express some reservations at such an assertion. 

Since the turn of the last century, our Diaspora has generally had a tendency to remit money for the purposes of assisting family to mitigate our harsh domestic economic environment.  It would be hard to argue that in the last two years these economic circumstances have significantly  improved in order for the reasons for the remittances to have changed. 

It is more plausible to argue that while the Diaspora has  tried as much as is possible to invest in movable and immovable property back home, their remittances still play a large part in assisting friends and family to attempt to overcome prevalent economic challenges.  Not that the Diaspora is fundamentally altruistic. The remittances are also used to shore up investments in property and smaller business concerns such as public transport, small scale farming and mining. In most cases this can be viewed as more the giving of the ‘fishing rod’ as opposed to the ‘fish’ to relatives back home. 

What is however of greater significance are the changes in political perspectives  of the Diaspora.  Over the years it has become less invested in the politics of the country. 

There are fewer meetings of Diaspora political party branches and less activism on issues directly related to Zimbabwe in the foreign countries of residence. With this has also come lesser inclination to fund raise for political or civil society outfits that are based in Zimbabwe. 

The reasons for this state of affairs are varied. Among them is the fact that countries of destination have become a lot tougher on migration and are less inclined to grant political asylum.  This limits the activism let alone political umbilical cord the Diaspora has with the country. Furthermore, there are younger generations that make up the Diaspora, likely with citizenship of the host country, that do not have as organic a link with Zimbabwe. They are not able to understand the necessity of continuing political, let alone, familial linkages with the country their parents originate from. Especially if they are already citizens of the country they are already living in. 

Thirdly, much more difficult economic circumstances in host countries and the foreign multi-currency monetary framework in Zimbabwe has led to a change of livelihood priorities. It has also led to significantly less interaction between home and abroad due to the fact that help that was easy to give both in economic or political terms is much harder to do so.

And then there is the seeming lack of hope for initially envisioned democratic political change and the intransigence of both ruling and opposing political establishments.  The Diaspora has always wanted recognition and a role, primarily because of its contribution to the economy, but also its ability to transfer knowledge and experience it has acquired over the years back home.  

Neither the mainstream opposition nor the ruling party have structurally granted this wish.  Even in the new constitution, the ambiguity of dual citizenship, which would have been a trump card were it clearer, remains a key disappointment for the Diaspora. It is also a dual citizenship that has not seem a deluge of applications, despite its ambiguity.

 Not that, there is no semblance of continuing support to either of the mainstream parties, it is just no longer at the same levels or as intrinsically important to the Diaspora. Its more or less a wait and see attitude that has come to also be characteristic of many Zimbabweans at home.

A key question that therefore re-emerges is that of whether the Diaspora can be re-engaged beyond its remittances? The democratic answer would no doubt be in the affirmative.  What is required is a direct re-engagement of the Diaspora beyond political party affiliation. That would entail the Zimbabwean government establishing a holistic Diaspora policy beyond trying to ‘formalise’ remittances, which would include their right to vote, clearer and democratic dual citizenship and transparent economic investment frameworks. 

Civil society organizations that have an interest in the Diaspora have to also embark on wider consultative processes on a holistic Diaspora national policy which understands long term political, demographic and economic realities as they exist.  Where minds are put together, the Diaspora can reclaim its shared rights to the country with domestic national support and understanding.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blgospot.com)