Source: Zimbabwe’s Diaspora: The vote, the cash | The Financial Gazette September 29, 2016
“IT’S not a secret that government is facing financial challenges and we are appealing to our people in the Diaspora to chip in, in whatever form towards the revival and improvement of our health system. We are looking at human capital and medicinal assistance.”
This was Health and Child Welfare Minister, David Parirenyatwa, admitting, last week, that government is overwhelmed with the public health burden and it is searching for relief from Zimbabweans living abroad who could possess the critical expertise and resources that are needed to help the perennially under-funded health sector.
Parirenyatwa’s remarks followed hard on the heels of similar statements from Finance and Economic Development Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, who together with governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, John Mangudya, recently made a whirlwind tour of Western capitals which ended in London.
The primary aim of the tour was to sweet-talk the Zimbabwean Diaspora into investing in Zimbabwe to alleviate the dire situation back home; Mangudya and Chinamasa wanted the Diaspora to increase their remittances, money that has kept the economy from lapsing into comatose.
While in times of need government is quick to send an SOS to its citizens in foreign lands, because it considers them as key stakeholders, it is, however, a different story altogether when it is time to choose the country’s political decision-makers. This is a moment when suddenly some animals become more equal to others.
Like children raised by a cruel foster parent, who are most appreciated when it is time to till the land, but are never welcome when it is time to celebrate the harvest; such could be the case of those Zimbabwean citizens who for one reason or another, have found themselves away from home.
For more than a decade now, Zimbabweans in the Diaspora have been lobbying government to allow them to cast their votes from countries where they are now based, to no avail.
In fact, the anger with which this request has been met would give the impression that the request is something out of the ordinary, when, in fact, it is something that is fast becoming the in-thing among most countries that lay claim to democracy.
There are more than 120 countries —of which about 30 are African countries, including South Africa and Mozambique — that allow their citizens based abroad to vote in national elections, provided they constitute a sizeable number, such as 1 000 in the case of neighbouring Mozambique.
Depending on the number of these Diasporans in proportion to the country’s population, a number of seats are reserved for legislators representing the interests of those in the Diaspora.
France has 12 out of 331 seats reserved for the Diaspora. Croatia allocates six out of 152 seats to its Diaspora. Algeria’s 389-parliament has eight of the seats reserved for the Diaspora. Angola allocates three out of 220 seats to the Diaspora. Mozambique allocates two out of 250 seats to its Diaspora.
These legislators are tasked with dealing with, among other things, matters that affect the Diaspora, and also bring an international perspective to the debate in their legislative assemblies.
With an estimated four million of its citizens — about a third of its population — now living abroad, Zimbabwe is certainly among those countries with the highest number of their citizens in the Diaspora.
This notwithstanding, President Robert Mugabe’s government, whose ruling ZANU-PF party recently made it clear that it would not concede to any electoral reforms that could see it getting out of power, voting rights for those citizens living abroad is a luxury that it is not ready to even consider.
However, United Kingdom-based constitutional law expert, Alex Magaisa, said despite government’s current position on the matter, voting is a constitutional right for every citizen who so wishes to exercise it.
“Zimbabwean citizens in the Diaspora have a constitutional right to vote and participate more generally in national affairs,” Magaisa said.
“In the highly competitive global environment, Zimbabwe needs a policy that ensures retention of linkages with its migrant population. Promoting political participation is one way of enhancing these linkages between the home country and its migrant population.”
Political and social analyst, Takura Zhangazha, said with a lot of uncertainty on the political front, the ruling party would rather play it safe by letting sleeping dogs lie instead of getting itself into something that could give it more headaches.
“The vagueness in Zimbabwe’s Constitution with regards to the Diaspora vote was also an opportunity lost and probably deliberately so. Of course if you look at the population ratio of those in the Diaspora with those eligible to vote in Zimbabwe, the former would obviously be a game changer in a national election, hence the reluctance of the ruling party to permit it,” Zhangazha said.
He, however, said the fact that government would need the intervention of its citizens abroad could not be used as an effective bargaining chip by the Diasporans because government does not benefit directly from their remittances.
“For the State, the vote of the Diaspora is not a priority because with or without it, the latter is going to send money to family or to sustain capital investments such as houses, businesses etc. However, giving the Diaspora the vote would greatly increase its confidence in sending remittances beyond family. But the ruling party is not keen on that for fear of an overbearing influence the Diaspora would have on domestic politics.”
Among those who argue fervently against giving the vote to citizens living outside the country’s borders is Nick Mangwana, the chairman of the ZANU-PF United Kingdom branch.
Mangwana told the Financial Gazette in an interview that there are many factors militating against this ideal, the most important of which is limited fiscal space.
“Firstly, there is a big challenge in the fiscal space. The country always struggles to raise money for elections and at some point in the last 15 years, money had to be secured from a citizen. Right now we are struggling with wages for civil servants. This makes trans-national voting a challenge and less of a priority.
“Do we tax the Diaspora so we can fund this election or we take the money from those who are paying radio taxes for their smart-phones and use it to bring a ballot to the doorstep of those who already vote in different sovereigns?”
Mangwana said aside from fiscal constraints, Zimbabwe does not have a pragmatic and realistic model on the Diaspora vote, which he said should be referred to correctly as transnational vote, could be achieved.
He said the matter should be debated exhaustively because “there are too many unknowns and too many unanswered questions and too many challenges to have it now”.
“We have the issue of an undefined citizenry. We have never been able to discuss and come to a consensus on who is our Diasporan. Is it he who left Zimbabwe, their children or anyone who is eligible for Zimbabwean citizenship? If the answer is affirmative, does it mean that all the Nigerians marrying our sisters can vote in our elections? So we need to define this and make sure we would not subvert the will of the people on the ground, who are directly affected by decisions of that elected government,” Mangwana pointed out.
He said Zimbabwe cannot be said to be denying its Diasporan citizens the right to vote, because anyone who feels strongly about this has always been free to return home to exercise this right, the same way they do when they attend funerals, weddings and other events back home.
“A point of clarity in the semantics is that Zimbabwe allows any Diasporan who comes to Zimbabwe to register to vote. This is contrary to even the UK. In this case one can argue that Zimbabwe allows Diaspora voting but not trans-national voting,” Mangwana said.
Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF) chairman, Gabriel Shumba, said Zimbabweans everywhere should be allowed to exercise their voting right.
“ZEF believes that it is immaterial how long one has been outside Zimbabwe. The expatriate vote is an entitlement that comes by virtue of being a citizen, not on account of where one resides. Thus, even those who left Zimbabwe a long time back, but opted to remain her citizens, should be able to vote. There is a multiplicity of reasons people stay outside the borders of the country of their birth.”
Shumba, a lawyer who is based in South Africa, added that if the country’s forefathers wanted conditional voting for the citizens of Zimbabwe, the nationalists might as well have accepted the Rhodesian 1961 constitution that sought prescribe that citizens meet certain requirements for them to qualify as voters, thereby obviating the need for the armed struggle.
“In the same vein, it is not important whether one is paying tax or not. There are many inside the country who vote, but have never paid a cent in taxes all their lives. To suggest otherwise would defeat one of the prime purposes of the liberation struggle: one man one vote. That principle does not measure one’s poll worth with one’s means.”
Shumba said for government to plead poverty is to abdicate responsibility and therefore an indicator that it has no more reason to continue in office.