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No to ministry for Diaspora

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During his recent visit to London, the Deputy Prime Minister Professor Mutambara revealed that the power sharing government is planning to appoint a minister for Diaspora. Reading from the government statements, one is made to believe that they are in urgent need of financial aid, but then it puzzles me to hear that there are plans to add another ministry for the Diaspora.
The Prime Minister was booed for asking Diasporans to return last time he was in London to address the same people. Such statements are not welcome as they make application for asylum impossible. Let’s assume that the Deputy Prime Minister was being politically correct by telling them that they don’t have to return and that a ministry for Diaspora will be introduced.
Zimbabwe can’t afford another ministry given that the current Cabinet is overbooked and that if Article 20.1.6(5) of Schedule 8 to the Constitution is anything to go by, then he should be calling for the reduction of ministries to the originally agreed 31 and channel that money towards development.
Perhaps, he is not aware of the recent controversial World Bank sanitation report which claims Zimbabwe is now leading in the world in the use of the bush toilet system. This, according to the report, is due to government’s lack of attention on sanitation over the past two decades. Memories of the 2008 cholera outbreak may still be fresh, but perhaps he may need to be informed that 78 cases of another cholera outbreak have been recorded in Chiadzwa. A Unicef 2009 report also shows that half of the women in Zimbabwe’s rural areas were also giving birth at home due to lack of a proper healthcare system. Public health system, the general welfare of the people and economic revival and constitutional reforms should inform the development agenda.
However, this is not to abdicate the role of the Diaspora in the development of the country. Serbia, Armenia, Georgia and until recently, Ghana had ministries for Diaspora. But the new leadership in Ghana abolished the ministry for lack of relevance.
Even Ireland, one of the success stories of Diaspora investment, never established a ministry for Diaspora but created a conducive environment for investment.
People need confidence, trust and security to return and invest not a ministry.
The Diaspora mitigated the impact of Asian economic crisis in the late 90s.
Globally, it is believed the Diaspora remit approximately over a billion dollars to developing countries. During that dark period, Zimbabwe too was a recipient of millions of dollars from the Diaspora, which unfortunately went towards consumption as the hyper inflationary environment couldn’t sustain any investment or savings. In fact, South Africa benefitted more from the Zimbabwe Diaspora remittances as most of the basic food stuffs were imported from them.
Indeed there is sense harnessing the Diaspora potential than there is in borrowing from the World Bank or IMF as Diaspora money doesn’t necessarily come with conditions. Diaspora money, in a normal environment, helps to improve balance of payment and trade and injects foreign currency in an economy. Assuming at least four million Zimbabweans outside the country contribute just $10 per month towards national development, it would create an annual income of $480 million a year.
This may not be enough to solve all the problems in Zimbabwe but it will surely ease the financial strain. But can we trust our authorities if they can’t trust themselves? The money lying idle in offshore accounts is clear evidence that no one, even those in power, can trust the current environment.
But does that potential warrant a ministry? Can’t we make use of embassies scattered around the world to harness this potential without adding another extra burden on the national budget? The government needs to address the underlying problems, which discourage people from investing in their country.
In March, the Prime Minister told the Crisis Coalition of Zimbabwe that as long as the country continued under a coalition government and that the political and economic situation was not stabilised, investors would not come.
Diasporans too won’t invest and neither will they be attracted to return even if there is a Ministry for Diaspora.
l Tapiwa Gomo is a developmental consultant based in Pretoria, RSA

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