Zimbabwe’s Finance minister recently extended what was seen as an olive branch to the diaspora community, but Zimbabweans living outside the country roundly rejected his overtures.
Zimbabwe hoped to set up a diaspora bond to lure people living outside the country into investing in Zimbabwe, as the country is fast running out of friends willing to bail it out. The finance minister, probably hoped to tap into their patriotism, but the disaporans did not bite.
The Zimbabwean government has in the past proved untrustworthy and profligate with money, and throwing money into the proverbial bottomless pit is a seemingly more attractive prospect than giving it to the Zimbabwean government.
However, more importantly, for the diaspora community is that they have been disenfranchised by the Zimbabwean government, called unflattering names, yet when the government is desperate it tries to reach out to that community.
Scepticism and mistrust have become the hallmark of relations between Zimbabwe and its diaspora and without meaningful dialogue between the two groups the country will continue to miss out on much needed investment.
In the past few years the sheer essence of “Zimbabweaness” seems to be contested terrain, with some who remained in the country believing that those who left during the last decade were either “sellouts” or cowards, who could not stand being in the kitchen, when the heat was cranked up. Living through 2008 is now seen as a badge of honour, a mark of resilience and bravery, which those who left for the diaspora cannot be awarded.
But on the other hand some in the diaspora believe some of the best brains left the country in search of greener pastures and they can only return if certain incentives or a soft landing is provided. They say a crumbling Zimbabwe was not ideal to inspire innovation and entrepreneurship and they had no choice but leave.
This then sparks a “Cold War” of sorts, as locals question why people who left the country deserve any recognition, when they (locals) bore the brunt of the economic and political downturn yet they receive no incentive for their patience and doggedness. The locals also question the diaspora vote; if the diaspora is not paying any form of taxes, who then, do they think, will finance their enfranchisement, the argument goes.
It is indisputable that disaporans have been exposed to, in most cases, better run economies and political systems and their return, or at least their participation in the Zimbabwean economy, may be key in resuscitating it, as there maybe transference of knowledge since they are exposed to best practices. Zimbabwe is desperate for any form of investment and the diaspora may hold keys to that, not to discount the efforts of locals who have also shown a great deal of innovation to survive in possibly one of the worst conditions ever for a country not at war.
Presently, Zimbabwe seems caught up in a chicken and egg scenario, where we can’t decide what comes first; diaspora investment or their right to vote. It is difficult to tell diasporans to invest yet denying them the right to vote, but if we are honest with ourselves we will know that Zimbabwe is running on empty and may genuinely be unable to finance a diasporan vote.
I am not making excuses for the government or the diaspora, but there is a clear stalemate, and Zimbabwe is the ultimate loser in this.
The sooner the country holds an earnest non-partisan dialogue with its diaspora the best for everyone.