ZIMBABWEANS back home, including professionals and the government itself, remain suspicious of exiled compatriots, Professor Arthur Mutambara has said, adding that the problem is adversely impacting diaspora engagement efforts.
Speaking at the University of Birmingham in the UK last week, the former deputy prime minister said Zimbabweans back home were not receptive to diaspora input.
“People back home have a challenge of being non-receptive to input from the diaspora; not just in government but also the ordinary people, our business executives, our academics,” said Mutambara.
“You might be an academic based in the diaspora; when you go home and say - ‘I’m on holiday, I want to give a lecture’, people are not receptive at the University of Zimbabwe, at MSU; they are like ‘ooh, you think because you’re from the Diaspora you know better than us, no we don’t have time’.
An unprecedented and still continuing economic crisis blamed largely on President Robert Mugabe’s policies has forced an estimated three million Zimbabweans into exile, escaping the resultant hardships and political instability.
Most of the exiles settled in neighbouring South Africa and Botswana while others moved overseas to countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.
However, while Zimbabwe has benefitted from the brain and labour drain through cash remittances averaging around US$1 billion annually, the country’s engagement with its diaspora has remained fraught with challenges.
Mutambara said the problem could be addressed in the diaspora engagement police the Harare government says it has been working on.
“We need to make sure that somehow, in our Diaspora policy, we explain to, and socialise those back home that, as the Diaspora, we seek to contribute; we are not looking to replace them or take their jobs,” he said.
“There is a lot of insecurity among the people in Zimbabwe with respect to those in the diaspora in all sectors; academia, business, the churches. So, we need a revolution in terms of consciousness; in terms of the people in the country with regard to embracing the diaspora.
“More specifically, the government must look positively towards the people in the diaspora and reach out saying – here is the ministry of finance, here is the ministry of industry, we want to work with you in Birmingham; what can you do to help us with investors, to help us with ideas on policy and strategy.”
The Zanu PF-led government has particularly angered sections of the Zimbabwean diaspora by refusing to allow them to vote from their foreign bases.
Before the 2013 general elections Patrick Chinamasa, a cabinet minister and senior ruling Zanu PF official, claimed a diaspora vote would be unfair on the ruling party because its leaders could not campaign abroad due to sanctions imposed by the European Union and several western countries.
And ahead of the 2018 elections, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has already ruled out exiles voting from countries where they live claiming this was not provided for by the law.
However, Mutambara said the Zanu PF government feared that the “diaspora would vote wrongly”.
“The government is more concerned about – who are they (exiles) going to vote for; that the diaspora is going to vote wrongly,” he said.
“There should be no taxation without effective representation. If we want the diaspora to participate effectively in the economy, we must make sure that we allow them to vote, that we allow them to be part of the democratic processes in our country.
“It’s not even about technology or competence; the Malawians (diaspora) are voting, the Mozambicans are voting; the Chinese, the Americans participate in the politics of their countries from wherever they are.”
Mutambara said Zimbabwe needs a “critical mass of people who are thinking right; a critical mass of people who are thinking positively” about the role of the diaspora.
“Once we have that critical mass, the rest of you can stay wherever you are; we can leverage you from wherever you’re based, whether its New York, or Tokyo, or London, because there you have access to technology, capital, networks and ideas,” he said.
“We need to leverage that diaspora advantage, that diaspora dividend to drive our economy. But it will take a lot of changes back home, a lot of changes among yourselves (as the diaspora).”