THE exodus of Zimbabweans to the diaspora due to political and economic turmoil over the past two decades has presented both opportunities and challenges to the affected citizens and the country as a whole.
Zimbabwe has benefited from diaspora remittances but those forced to relocate are denied the right to vote.
The recent national census estimates that there are just under a million Zimbabweans in the diaspora.
Assuming this figure is correct — which we doubt — we still think that denying a million citizens the right to vote cannot be justified.
A transparent exercise by our embassies to ascertain the exact number of Zimbabweans abroad would be a good starting point.
Nation building is heavy lifting work that has never been done in Zimbabwe since 1980.
As we reflect on the “Zimbabwe we want” the right to vote for all citizens in the diaspora should be a priority.
Being forced to leave one’s country of birth is a traumatic experience. The quality of life for many in the diaspora is far from ideal.
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Given a choice many would prefer to be home with all that this offers, including the support of the extended family. To deny them the right to vote rubs salt on the wound.
The case for the diaspora vote is made stronger by the huge contribution to Zimbabwe’s economy by foreign-based nationals.
In 2022, the Zimbabwean diaspora sent home a staggering US$1,66 billion, up from US$1,43 billion in 2021. These remittances account for 16% of the foreign currency coming into Zimbabwe, much more than foreign investment which brought in only US$185 million.
We have not seen a 2023 election manifesto that prioritises the right for those in the diaspora to vote.
We hope that come the next election, mechanisms and logistics will be in place for Zimbabwe’s entire diaspora to vote.
There is a precedent on the continent — the South African diaspora votes. We can learn and improve on what they have put in place.
The Nigerian constitution allows for the diaspora vote but this has never been put into practice though Nigerians send approximately US$2O billion back home annually. Elsewhere, the US, UK and Turkey allow the diaspora vote with concomitant responsibilities.
The right to vote must be accompanied by the responsibility to pay taxes on all foreign income. We must also offer automatic dual citizenship to all those Zimbabweans and their offspring legitimately living outside the country with the year 2002 being an important marker. We must also use citizenship as a tool to recruit talent for our economic development.
Politicians must not fear the diaspora vote. Instead, they should go out of their way to openly court this important constituency by addressing their legitimate concerns. The Zimbabwe we want must fully embrace all its citizens, protect and provide for them where appropriate. This is the most durable way of engendering patriotism.
Trevor Ncube is Alpha Media Holdings chairman