Dear Mr. President,
Zimbabwe has an abundance of resources
It is not a secret to anyone that Zimbabwe is blessed with natural resources in abundance. There are over 40 precious mineral resources discovered in our beloved country. These include coal, chromium ore, asbestos, gold, nickel, copper, iron ore, vanadium, lithium, tin, platinum group metals and diamonds to name but a few. Zimbabwe has the best climate for agriculture.
After all, has been said and done about your administration, there is one thing that will stand out in the minds of the citizens of the world about your vision for Zimbabwe. Your words, “Zimbabwe is open for business” reverberate across the nations. Your tireless engagement with the world will, without any doubt, bring the needed capital to Zimbabwe. Thank you for the great work.
Any government or company that succeeds in the world must have skilled human resources. Organizations that invest money without human capital investment, have a high rate of failure. In tried and tested economies, they value qualifications and experience. Zimbabwe has both. Unfortunately, most Zimbabweans with these qualities are scattered across the globe.
Since the year 1995, Zimbabwe suffered unimaginable brain drain in living memory with experienced and skilled workers fleeing the declining economy under President Mugabe. Every sector lost workers from doctors, nurses, accountants, engineers, every sector of the Zimbabwe economy. It is not clear how many Zimbabweans are outside the country, but figures show that millions fled the country. Many of these people in diaspora are yearning to come home for the reconstruction of “Jerusalem”. This is the reason why I decided to write this letter.
I would like to divide the diaspora into three groups.
- The first group fled Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) before independence and settled abroad (approx. 400,000). Some of these never returned to Zimbabwe after Independence. The chances of this group returning to Zimbabwe are very slim. Their children remotely consider themselves Zimbabweans.
- The second group fled Zimbabwe after 1995 from the worsening economic situation (approx. 3 million). These are skilled workers who worked in Zimbabwe under Mugabe. They left Zimbabwe with a desire to make ends meet, hoping to come back home after a short period of time. Some left on a 6 months visa. 6 months became one year. One year was extended to this day. After they realized things were not changing sooner than they thought, they moved their families broad. Now they have settled abroad. They bought properties and have successful careers. They kept increasing their knowledge through studies, hoping to come home one day. Now they are special economic advisors to western governments, senior managers of blue-chip corporations, lecturers at established universities etc and are influential in their fields of expertise. This group of diasporas is willing to come home. After spending a long time in the diaspora, they are now citizens of countries where they live. Probably their Zimbabwean passports expired or even got lost and it has not been important to get one.
- The third group is made up of children who came abroad with their parents or who were born in the diaspora. They went to school abroad and they have little connection with Zimbabwe. The only connection with Zimbabwe is through their parents. Their lives have been molded by the new homes. Even though they are said to be Zimbabweans, there is very little Zimbabwean about them. Some of these have white mothers, who may not know where Zimbabwe is and who do not speak Zimbabwe languages. They cannot cook sadza and rarely eat Zimbabwe meals. Still, they are Zimbabweans and the government can find a way to engage with them.
What other countries are doing
Zimbabwe is not the only country in this situation. There are many countries with a large population in the diaspora. Because of the awareness of the importance of the diaspora, some countries established institutions to systematically facilitate ties with their diaspora citizens. The most popular framework is to establish a Ministry of Diaspora. A ministry of the Diaspora or Ministry of Expatriates is a governmental agency which is charged with interacting with the nation’s emigrants and expatriates in other states. Some of the countries who have functional Ministries of Diasporas at ministerial level or local level include:
- Armenia – Ministry of Diaspora (0.8m)
- Azerbaijan – State Committee on Work with Diaspora
- Bangladesh – Ministry of Expatriates (4.9m)
- Benin – Ministry for Foreign Affairs, African Integration, the Francophone Community, and Beninese Abroad (0.5m)
- Canada – Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada
- Georgia – State Ministry on Diaspora Affairs (1m)
- India – Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (10m)
- Ireland – Minister for Diaspora Affairs
- Israel – Information and Diaspora Ministry
- Mali – Ministry of Malians Abroad and African Integration (1.2m)
- Serbia – Ministry of Religion and Diaspora (2.3m)
- Syria – Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates (0.5m)
- Tunisia- Ministry of Social Affairs, Solidarity and Tunisians Abroad (0.6m)
- Poland – Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs Poland Inter-Governmental Committee for Polonia and Polish Minorities Abroad (2.3m)
- Sierra Leone Office of the President, Office of the Diaspora (0.08m)
- Chile – Chile Inter-Ministerial Committee for Chilean Communities Abroad (0.6m)
- China – Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council (7.2m)
- Mexico – Mexico National Council on Mexican Communities Abroad (11.5m)
- Morocco – Morocco Ministerial Delegate for the Prime Minister Responsible for Moroccans Resident (2.7m)
- Philippines – Abroad Philippines Office of the President, Commission on Filipinos Overseas (3.6m)
Other countries with established diaspora legal frameworks are Brazil, Albania, Ethiopia, Peru, Romania, Uruguay and the list goes on.
According to World Population Review website, Zimbabwe is estimated to have around 16 million people by July 2018. The average age in Zimbabwe is 20.6 years. About 8.6 million are adults. One can estimate that the greater percentage of the adults in Zimbabwe are below the age of 40, looking at the average age. Harare, the most populated city has approximately 1.5 million people, followed by Bulawayo with about 700,000 people. Some estimates say unemployment is as high as 95%, without taking the informal sector into consideration. It is estimated that Zimbabwe might have as much as 3 million people in the diaspora. This makes the diaspora extremely important to the recovery of the country as it is made up of people in formal employment, educated and experienced.
What is the purpose of a Diaspora Ministry?
A government needs to know the needs of its citizens in the diaspora and what they offer to the country. There is very little cost the government incurs by engaging the diaspora community. In fact, there are many benefits a government can get from the diaspora. Zimbabwe is already receiving hundreds of millions through monthly remittances. Human resources need training. This involves cost and time. The diasporas are already qualified and experienced!
At a time when Zimbabwe is rebuilding itself, the diaspora expertise is crucial. Speaking on an SABC TV interview, the University of the Witwatersrand Johannesburg, School of Economic & Business Sciences Senior Lecturer Dr. Peter Karungu said, “If Zimbabweans had to pack and leave South Africa, it would cause a professional decline in South Africa”. He said, “Zimbabweans are skilled, they are hardworking and extremely bright”. This is evidenced by the positions Zimbabweans hold in business across the globe.
- Zimbabweans who established themselves abroad are happy where they are. They have families and flourishing careers. To move them from where they are would require trust in the government of the day. There is, therefore, a need for a coherent strategy for attracting the diaspora talent. Some people may not be interested in working but are willing to start new companies. The government can facilitate and create diaspora opportunities. There are also those who want to work. When they come home, they want secure jobs. They prefer stability to profits.
- The government can establish a legal framework of engagement with Zimbabweans in the diaspora and find a way to implement laws that are geared for the diaspora. As much as the government is creating an investment enabling environment, there is a need for the government too to create a migration environment for Zimbabweans in other countries. This is a critical resource that Zimbabwe should be proud of.
- The ministry, therefore, needs to draft and propose policies for promoting the benefits the diaspora will bring and oversee their implementation
- After so many years in the diaspora, there is a need for integration. Some people may be excited to come home, but they may find out that life is no longer the same. Without planning some may quickly flee back to their new homes.
- The diasporas lives can be made difficult by the local people who may feel threatened by the arrival of the diaspora talent. This happened in the bible when the prodigal son came back home. Good planning can make the most out of both groups of people so that no one is alienated.
- Creation of Economic Councils where government and the diaspora sit and find ways to build the country can be useful. For instance, the Serbian Diaspora Minister created an Economic Council that includes experts from the homeland and the diaspora. It also has plans to establish a virtual business network that would house information on relevant organizations, individuals, and investment opportunities.
In a book called Closing the Distance: How Governments strengthen ties with their Diasporas, Dovelyn Rannveig Agunias looks at how countries are engaging with the diaspora. She said, “Getting the process right (for the government) is key to building trust with members of the diaspora, assuring them that their views are taken into account and avoiding bureaucratic rivalries that can undermine achievement. Ms. Agunias suggests that governments need to invest in capacity building to make sure that their agendas for diaspora engagement can be implemented. She identifies three key “force multipliers”: funding, technical know-how, and partnerships. Finally, she recommends that diaspora engagement is linked to the country of origin’s development planning while recognizing that substantial challenges are involved in doing so.
Efforts by the Diaspora to engage
Modern Zimbabwe is an organization that has been trying to connect the government to the diaspora. Our efforts to call some ministers fell through as their phone numbers kept ringing with no one picking. Emails provided go nowhere. We are now asking you, Mr. President, to consider opening channels of communication with a dedicated ministry. I would be grateful if you could make this possible soon.