Guest Column: Pearl Matibe
Since Monday January 14, Zimbabwe’s diaspora were horrified watching violent events unfold, and during the Internet shutdown, were petrified unable to contact family, friends and neighbours back home. They were gripped by fear that danger was imminent and in despair that the country’s neighbours and the world would look on without sufficiently attempting to stop the gross human rights abuses by the military.
Zimbabwe’s Gukurahundi survivors were reminded of what they lived through in the early 1980s. The survivors recalled the farm invasions and State violence of the 2000s; the people that lived through the violence in 2008; and the events of the August 1 2018 killings through to last month’s military crackdown.
It yielded a chilling truth.
Monstrous, barbaric and fierce crimes were being committed by units in full military regalia—some hiding their faces with balaclavas—Zimbabwe’s police and army in uniform and plain-clothes individuals, some carrying automatic weapons.
The diaspora—who are dispersed across the world—have been sowing back knowledge, obeying laws, paying taxes, some have been voting in local and national elections on a regular basis, making their opinions known on important public issues, improving the communities where they now reside. Some have also been volunteering in beneficial ways; assisting at schools, churches, as a good citizen would to improve his or her community in these other countries.
Predominantly in the opposition MDC strongholds of Harare as well as in Bulawayo, Ruwa, and other towns, the uniformed security forces used automatic weapons, batons, iron bars and a local-hybrid model of terror whips to beat, wound and kill unarmed diaspora family members. They watched shocking acts of atrocities on loved ones in Zimbabwe; brutalisation of children, violence on women in all horrible debasing forms, including sexual assault of teen girls and women.
All over the world, diaspora women watched on from afar, it looked like a wild rampage to eliminate people in communities they grew up in by an extremist security apparatus wishing to eliminate activists, union leaders, civil society leaders, MDC members, their supporters, but most significantly, their families..
It’s time to acknowledge that the Zanu PF-led government has irreconcilable differences with the people of Zimbabwe and its diaspora.
Zimbabwe is not in a civil war in the traditional sense, but the State has declared war against its own people. Anyone who fails to look on the deaths as atrocities should examine their moral compass. Had this been Rwanda in the early hours of its genocide, these would have been seen as the elements that made up the beginnings of genocide.
Yet, President Emmerson Mnangagwa is expressing insufficient public remorse. Across the southern border, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa listened as alarm bells were sounding off—it appears that he is still not listening to the diaspora.
Overseas, the diaspora is a very important brand; brand Zimbabwe to the international community. They are a critical economic group that should be involved in the public affairs of the nation. When relatives make purchases using diaspora remittances, the State earns income through VAT at the point of sale. Provision and guarantee of the diaspora vote would immediately add trust to the country’s dealings with the outside world.
The diaspora is an undervalued asset to Zimbabwe—they are marginalised.
Problem one: Diaspora vote
The continued exclusion of Zimbabwe’s diaspora from democratic participation and representation is clear discrimination.
Today, Zimbabweans are dispersed across the world contributing to communities and economies where they now live in. In those great numbers living outside the country’s borders are individuals who have an absolute right without conditions; a right to vote in the national elections and referendums of Zimbabwe while still resident outside the country.
The notion of the citizenship of diaspora must be more explicitly and legally protected in the Constitution to allow them to participate in the country’s affairs from wherever they are now living. A 2007 International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (Idea) report confirmed, ‘Diaspora voting is currently practised in 115 countries around the world.” Historically and prior to 1979, voting was denied in the country based on race.
The diaspora woman is marginalised; in the Zanu PF ruling government’s refusal of the diaspora vote, they are excluding millions of women in Zimbabwe’s voting process. This is further compounded by a prevalence of patriarchal exclusion of women in general countrywide.
Problem two: Diaspora rights
Since the crackdown, the diaspora debate and momentum is mounting. They are demanding their voice to be heard.
Although many Zimbabweans are not expatriates, they send money home to family members. Historically, diaspora citizens of the African continent and the world have been enjoying their right for more than 100 years, yet in 2018, that right was denied to Zimbabweans. The government of Zimbabwe can’t disallow female diaspora citizens’ rights. They shouldn’t deny any diaspora rights. Hundreds of thousands of these individuals who have been displaced, become asylum seekers, and have been impacted from the separation of their scattered families. After all, they might choose to return to Zimbabwe in retirement or choose to make it their home at some point in their future.
The right to vote is both a civil and political right for every individual. The freedom to express a political thought is a right. When the government of Zimbabwe negates that right, it says, “you’re not a part of this society.” If that were the case, the government shouldn’t accept Value Added Taxed (Vat) from purchases made from diaspora remittances. The truth is, diaspora is a part of Zimbabwe, and they [themselves] have the opinion that Zimbabwe is theirs.
All rights should be enjoyed by all diaspora citizens and they should be able to contribute to the country’s socio-economic well-being.
Problem three: Diaspora remittances
The diaspora’s foreign currency exchange contributes to running the public affairs of Zimbabwe, including its social services.
I asked a professor of applied economics at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland in the United States, and the world’s guru on hyperinflation, Steve Hanke a few questions on remittances.
PM: World Remit and Western Union are two money transfer companies through which Zimbabweans living overseas can remit earned income back home. What is their year-to-date total dollar amount of remittances to Zimbabwe for 2017 and 2018?
SH: The dollar amount of remittances to Zimbabwe via World Remit and Western Union is not available. But, the World Bank provides the total amount of remittance inflows to Zimbabwe on an annual basis. The total amount of remittances for the year 2017 is 1,73 billion USD. For the year 2018, the World Bank estimates, as of December 2018, that the total amount of remittance inflows to Zimbabwe will be 1,9 billion USD for the year 2018. For 2018, this is significant, amounting to 9,6% of Zimbabwe’s GDP. That said, remittances as a percentage of GDP in Zimbabwe are well behind Gambia (20,5%), Lesotho (14,8%), Senegal (13,6%), and Liberia (13,1%).
PM: What’s the likely economic impact if the flow of money decreased per month or per year?
SH: It’s clear that even small declines in remittance flows in Zimbabwe, where they make up almost 10% of GDP, have important economic impact.
The out-of-touch establishment of military and Zanu PF elites, cronies and private sector ruling-party party loyalists broke Zimbabwe. They broke Zimbabwe economically, socially and left it with a bleak future. With rising insecurity, Zimbabwe needs a monumental improvement in leadership and moral dignity.
And so the responsibility is fully on government’s shoulders.
More so, too, because since 1980, Zimbabwe’s diaspora have increasingly become critical influencers and more prominent on the twenty-first century world’s stage. Importantly, a benefit is that a diaspora vote would significantly increase legitimacy. Of all the windows—or doors—available to the Mnangagwa government team, a diaspora inclusive vote is a window of opportunity not to be ignored.
The desire to have the diaspora vote should, in many ways, not stand in the way of an efficient, transparent, and electoral design reform.
The diaspora vote needs a referendum to find a sustainable resolution to the Zimbabwe crisis.
Parliament of Zimbabwe must also enact legislative reforms that enable, provide and protect the diaspora vote. Other stakeholders, including private sector, civil society, and faith-based groups together with the Government of Zimbabwe should galvanize awareness and all-round support for the diaspora vote as it will be a tremendous, sustainable benefit to Zimbabwe. Those who oppose making the diaspora vote an accessible reality have a severely flawed insight of diaspora aspirations worldwide.
In all aspects of Zimbabwe’s public affairs; foreign policy, education, health, and other areas such as economic development, the Zimbabwe diaspora’s position must be immediately redefined and not marginalised.
λ Pearl Matibe has geographic expertise on US foreign policy, think tank impact, strategy and public policy issues. You may follow her on Twitter: @PearlMatibe