Come home or stay put? The diaspora dilemma

The call for the Zimbabweans living abroad to come home has been getting louder. The question, writes PERRY MUNZWEMBIRI, is what exactly the Zimbabwe diaspora should come back to? A critical look at where we are as a nation seems to show the crude fact that nothing has really changed.

Zimbabwe has witnessed a significant outflow of her citizens over the years. During the so-called ‘lost decade’, Zimbabweans migrated abroad in droves searching for greener pastures.

These now constitute a Zimbabwean diaspora scattered around the globe. It would be wrong to fault the thousands who left the country at a time when the country was staring down the barrel of a gun, hamstrung by hyperinflation and chronic unemployment. The allure of brighter prospects offered by distant lands was simply irresistible.

But the negative effect this massive drain of skilled human capital has had on the economy has been all too apparent. The nation has been shorn of the expertise of those who could have contributed to the progress of the nation.

This argument has steadily gained traction over the years, with the general consensus being that, had the diaspora community been around, they would have positively applied themselves to building a better economy.

It may seem patriotic to suggest that nothing has changed, but that, sadly, is what some critical analysis seems to show. And some would argue that it is because of that very fact that the thousands of Zimbabweans abroad should make the journey back to their motherland.

Where are the jobs?

Having been exposed to the developed world, they would be perfectly placed to help develop the country. Indeed the skills and expertise they have built up during their stay in foreign developed lands would be essential for the country’s advancement.

Be that as it may, Zimbabwe’s readiness to assimilate the many who left the country is a matter for debate. However unpalatable it may be to some, it is my view that the country is not at present equipped to integrate its returning citizens.

When people could not find gainful employment in their homeland regardless of their qualifications and training, there would be no inducement for them to stay in Zimbabwe. After all, the country’s motto is ‘unity, freedom, work’ and the government has dismally failed to provide meaningful employment for its people.

It was having no means of earning a living and a rocketing cost of living that led so many to go abroad to work. Years later, though the economic environment has changed somewhat, jobs are still scarce. The government claims an unemployment rate of around 60 per cent, though that figure must be taken with a pinch of salt when one looks at reality on the ground. If the Zimbabwe diaspora were to return, it is not immediately foreseeable how they would all be seamlessly integrated into the productive workforce.

It is heart-rending to note that as a country, basic amenities are still not being provided. The country is still subject to the vagaries of erratic utility supplies. At a time when the country needs its industry to be functional, it is hard to see how this can be achieved under the present circumstances.

Electricity cuts and water shortages are the order of the day and this heavily prejudices the economy. The cost of doing business is sharply increased as a result.

Money from overseas

Even when we are calling for Zimbabweans to come back home and be entrepreneurial, the current situation is untenable and, at best, does not encourage local enterprise to flourish.

Closely tied to the current inertia in industry is the issue of budget deficits. For a long time, the country has been importing more goods than it has been exporting. The World Bank notes that in most developing countries, remittances from people living abroad are the second largest financial inflow, far exceeding international aid.

If the country were to not obtain these inflows of money that have been augmenting national income, the effects on the country’s balance of payments would be dire.

In an ideal world, it would have been preferable to have all our citizens hands on deck, working to build the country.

However, the current state of affairs does little to lure back those who left the country at the peak of its economic meltdown. At present, therefore, it would be a ‘hard sell’ to convince the diaspora community to settle back home.

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