via Are the Zimbabwean Diasporas a real source of Peacebuilding and Development? April 2, 2014 by Sheanasu Hove
What are Diasporas?
Nationals from Zimbabwe living outside the country number in the millions. Some say 3 million, some 3, 5 million, and so on. There is no accurate count of the actual numbers. These are known in the modern world as the Diasporas. The term refers to expatriate minority communities that have been dispersed from their homeland, have a collective memory, believe in an eventual return, are committed to the maintenance or restoration of their homeland through transnational activities, and have a collective identity, group consciousness and solidarity.
Direct transnational activities occur when Diasporas, acting as individuals or groups, send money, goods or ideas to their country of origin directly. Indirect transnational activities occur when Diasporas, acting as individuals or groups, urge others, including governments and nongovernmental actors, to undertake activities that benefit their countries of origin.
In some cases, voluntary or professional Diaspora organisations are formed to promote these activities. In the case of organizations with mixed membership, an organization is considered a Diaspora organization when the majority of its board members have a Diaspora background.
In this opinion piece, I intend to share my some few ideas on the potential of the Zimbabwe Diasporas as a real source of peacebuilding and development in our country. I define peacebuilding as activities aimed at the sustainable transformation of structural conflict factors and patterns. My definition presupposes a long-term commitment, on the part of Diasporas, state and non-state actors, to a process that simultaneously addresses the material and the attitudinal level of polarisation that creates tension (mistrust) in our country.
There is a deliberate advantage of putting across such a broad definition of peacebuilding in that rather than understanding peacebuilding and development as two separate fields; I see them as being located along a shared continuum.
There is no better demonstration of the Diasporas’ presence than the huge flow of funds that are remitted each year by this important constituent, which unfortunately tend to be sidelined or completely forgotten when it comes to meaningful participation in issues of national interest.
Through their commitment to the maintenance or restoration of their homeland, members of the Zimbabwe Diasporas engage transnationally. They contribute to development and peacebuilding in various ways, which take many shapes, with variations occurring in who acts, how, doing what, why, where, and so on.
On one hand, and in many cases, individuals often contribute through the sending of remittances to family members. Many families in Zimbabwe depend on Diasporas, making the latter an important source of income in a country that fails to provide social services, let alone feed its hungry citizens. I believe many would agree that Diasporas have come handy in Zimbabwe.
On the other hand, Diaspora organizations implement various projects in our country. For instance, I know of Diaspora organisations, which are doing tremendous work in Chivhu and Hatcliff, and probably many other places, supporting disadvantaged kids, empowering the youth and women through various projects such as improving access to water, healthcare or education.
For this reason, I believe that the Zimbabwe Diasporas are an important constituent whose potential for peacebuilding and development is yet to be fully realised. I recall some conversation I had on the potential of the Diasporas with one of my colleagues who is a World Bank Specialist. In the conversation, he insisted that Diasporas are an important group, which represents a great market that the government can target for investment, growth and development.
My argument is that, given the intimate knowledge they have about the opportunities back home, Zimbabwe Diasporas are best placed to take advantage of these opportunities and make an impact in terms of building peace and promoting development.
While the Zimbabwe Diasporas contribute material, financial and in-kind contributions, a unique feature of this constituent is that there can contribute substantially to social capital. For example, we can take a leaf from Somali PhD holders among the Diasporas who contribute virtually, through electronic communication and the provision of online learning opportunities, to help establish Mogadishu University or to teach at the University of Hargeisa. We can do the same and contribute immensely to the resuscitation of our education system, especially considering the state of some schools such as Nevana Primary School in Gokwe.
How can the government of Zimbabwe take advantage of the potential of this constituent?
Rumour has it that the current government is considering ways and means of engaging the Zimbabwe Diasporas. If this is true, I welcome that development. If it is not true, I offer my advice as to how some meaningful engagement can be started.
We know that past governments have not been forthcoming in meaningfully engaging the Zimbabwe Diasporas for the sole reason that they considered them an opposition constituency. Even during elections the Diasporas do not vote. Food for thought for the government.
The incumbent government must think seriously about the Zimbabwe Diasporas, and their potential in contributing to peacebuilding and development in our country. Politically, I think we have a mixed Diasporas, and in any case, individuals are entitled to their own political opinions.
When it comes to issues of national interests, politics should take a back stage and the nation comes first. With this in mind, I urge the government and leadership across the political divide to lower or remove completely barriers to engagement, and facilitate structured opportunities of meaningful engagement with Diasporas as well as increase information flow and transparency about terms of engagement.
One way of meaningful engagement is to launch a Diaspora bond that allows Zimbabwe Diasporas to make tangible yet minimal socio-economic investments in Zimbabwe. Diaspora bonds are essentially a form of government debt that targets members of the national community abroad, based on the presumption that their emotional ties to the country make investing in such products worthwhile. Sales can be restricted solely to members of a particular nationality or opened to all buyers, with nationals receiving a preferential rate.
I know that in the past we had Homelink. However, I do not hear about it anymore and I am not sure whether it still exists or it died a natural death.
Alternatively, the government should be forthcoming in allowing Diaspora organisations to operate in Zimbabwe without too many restrictions, as is the case now. For example, Diaspora organisations can be easily registered overseas but it is more difficult to do the same in Zimbabwe. The advantage with Diaspora organisations is that they do not need to always deal directly with the actual peacebuilding and development activities. They have great potential in matching foreign investors with projects in Zimbabwe. That is, they bring investors to the country and introduce them to sustainable investment opportunities.
Another important element is that Diaspora engagement takes place not only from the country of settlement but also through (temporary) return and not necessarily permanent return. This comes handy considering that the new constitution allows dual citizenship for Zimbabweans by birth. A number of characteristics may combine frequently. Diaspora organizations, for example, are collective actors that largely function on a voluntary basis, and human capital may best be transferred through (temporary) return. However, in principle, examples of any combination of these characteristics can be found.
Why it is important to engage the Zimbabwe Diasporas?
Considering the wide variety and high level of Diasporas engagement with development and peacebuilding, it is not surprising there is great interest in the topic in Zimbabwe today. There are a number of reasons for this interest, which relate to remittances, return, resources, recognition and reputation, and I will address each of these in turn.
Remittances have widely been acknowledged as a major source of finances in Zimbabwe almost at all levels, national and household levels. I speculate that past governments have attempted to tap into this resource, but have largely recognized that, since much of this funding stream is private money sent for private purposes, such an approach is problematic. Efforts that would be more successful should focus on lowering the costs of remittance transfers and increasing legal options for sending money.
While the incumbent government may show a great level of interest in Diasporas engagement, I urge the leadership to develop and put in place cutting-edge policies and programmes on peacebuilding and development. This should include enticing voluntary permanent return migration for the Diasporas. This allows Diasporas to return permanently to Zimbabwe with some level of guarantee and appreciation of their contributions to the development of the country. Some recognition could include but not limited to preferential investment opportunities.
Furthermore, these policies and programmes should promote initiatives focusing on return migration as a kind of win–win situation for both individual Diasporas and the country. For instance, there could be programmes that target addressing issues of ‘brain drain’, some programmes would focus on making proper use of migrant resources that are often underutilized in countries of settlement, while others would address migration-related concerns of coming back home after a while in the Diaspora.
The current voluntary migration program being implemented by the UK government, for example, is more to do with that country’s policy of controlling migration. However, at the same time, it promotes return migration for many Zimbabweans. The incumbent government should take advantage of this program and put in place policies that facilitate “safe landing” for return migrants and a programme that allows returning Diasporas to contribute human capital in a beneficial way to the country.
I am sure the government has a wish to make better use of the resources of return migrants. This is plausible. However, the government needs to address issues related to the Diasporas vote, citizenship issues for other Zimbabweans other than by birth, property and intellectual rights and corruption within the governance system.
Collaborating with Diasporas in development and peacebuilding provides recognition of the important contributions made by Diasporas as citizens of both their countries of settlement and Zimbabwe. By recognizing the new realities in the world of modern politics, where many citizens may have transnational ties and increasingly identifying themselves as cosmopolitan citizens, this fact can be turned into a strategic peacebuilding and development resource.
In the context of an emergent consensus around human security and neoliberal conceptualisations of good governance as organising concepts for peacebuilding and development processes, states are increasingly focusing on maintaining good reputations internationally. At the same time, international interest in migration and development links has increased significantly over the past decade. This can be seen, inter alia, in the ongoing Global Forum on Migration and Development, actions taken by a number of UN bodies, and various initiatives by the European Union and the African Union. These developments should stimulate the incumbent government to develop policies on and provide funding for or investment opportunities for Diaspora-related initiatives.
I strongly feel that the increased interest in Diasporas engagement should be derived from the benefits of Diasporas participation in development and peacebuilding. Sometimes these benefits are described in policy documents, but often this is not the case, which is problematic, as benefits cannot simply be assumed. Furthermore, there are critics of the approach I have briefly outlined, who are quite sceptical of the assumed value added of Diasporas engagement. Their viewpoints need to be taken into consideration, especially if they are among the actors who are supposed to facilitate the participation of Diasporas in development and peacebuilding.