This an open letter to the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe Morgan Tsvangirai.
Dear Prime Minister,
Firstly, I would like to congratulate you on your highly successful tour during which you met important World Leaders. It was a proud moment for every Zimbabwean to see the Zimbabwean Prime Minister with US President Barrack Obama.
During the trip, it was encouraging that you made an effort to engage Zimbabweans abroad to come back home. You initiated an important conversation which must be continued.
This was important in that the government admits there is a role to be played by Zimbabweans abroad. The minor problem was the timing and packaging of the call for Zimbabweans to return home.
Zimbabweans who left their country did so out of necessity and a lot of their grievances have not yet been addressed. These include, but are not limited to, basic freedoms, media freedom, respect of human and private property rights.
In this letter, I will try to be less formal and will address you by your totem as Honorable Save (Hon Save). I will also address the President as Cde Gushungo.
Since I now understand you regularly meet Cde Gushungo over tea or dinner, I will not be writing a separate letter to him as it’s expected you may discuss some of the points I will raise.
It is unfortunate you were not able to finish delivering your speech in London. However, it was also important that Zimbabweans were bold enough to let you know how they felt about your message. Fortunately, there were no shoes thrown at you, a la George Bush in Iraq. Such are things you can expect in a democracy!
Zimbabweans expected you to be on their side in terms of saying Zimbabwe remains unstable and on a challenged path. It requires international assistance, and some of that assistance includes asking the international community to continue accommodating Zimbabweans until the country is stable.
Under the United States’ Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA), I am sure you could have even asked for the Americans to grant more scholarships to Zimbabweans based in America. These Zimbabweans would in future be expected to contribute in Zimbabwe’s development.
As an example, the Mexican President stands up regularly and encourages the USA to document and regularise visas and other immigration formalities for Mexicans in the USA. This is Mexico’s national policy as they fully appreciate and understand the role played by their Diaspora population based in the USA. As Prime Minister, it would be good if you could stand up and encourage host governments to be accommodative to Zimbabweans abroad.
The choice of returning to Zimbabwe, let it be an individual choice. What matters is that someone still identifies with their motherland and still contributes in whatever way they can. There is no need or urgency for Zimbabweans abroad to all flock to Zimbabwe.
There are many Jewish people all over the world, in the United States in particular and all over Europe. Whilst they are encouraged to return home once in a while, there is never a push for them to abandon their current residency. The Israeli government policy is just to encourage its citizens abroad to remain committed to their motherland; to contribute; to invest and to visit as tourists.
Non-resident Zimbabweans must be allowed to vote. No taxation without representation! This is where your party should show leadership and difference with the opposition. Zimbabweans were expecting that you would make a major announcement that Zimbabweans can vote from wherever they are, as long as they go and register at the embassy or consulate.
Non-resident Zimbabweans must be allowed dual citizenship or nationality. This is a critical step that needs to be included in the proposed new constitution. This is a world wide trend to be accommodative to former residents and allow them to hold dual nationalities.
It is just unacceptable for someone born in Zimbabwe to be forced to try and get a visa to be allowed to visit Zimbabwe. These laws need to be amended to suite modern times and trends.
Non-resident Zimbabweans must be allowed to select non-resident Members of Parliament to represent Zimbabweans in all major nations. As an example, the non-resident Zimbabweans in the UK must be allowed to vote for a Zimbabwean based in the UK to represent them.
If Zimbabweans in Mabvuku or Kuwadzana are allowed to select a Member of Parliament, there is no reason or excuse for all Zimbabweans based in South Africa or UK not to be allowed to vote for one of their own to represent them in the Zimbabwe Parliament.
After many years of petitioning and fierce debate, the Italian government, in late 2001, finally passed a law allowing Italian citizens living abroad to vote in elections in Italy by postal ballot. Italians wishing to excise this right must first register their residence abroad with their relevant consulate.
The Italian Parliament is one of the few legislatures in the world to reserve seats for citizens residing abroad. There are twelve such seats in the Chamber of Deputies and six in the Senate. This is a model that Zimbabwe should closely look at and adopt or a modified version thereof.
The Italian Overseas Constituency consists of four electoral zones, each of which elect at least one Deputy and one Senator: Europe (including Russia and Turkey), South North and Central America/Africa, Asia, Oceania and Antarctica.
The Central message should have been to thank the western governments for accepting and looking after Zimbabweans during their time of need. In addition, a call should have been specifically made to encourage western governments to grant suitable immigration status that would allow Zimbabweans to travel between Zimbabwe and wherever they are based.
Whilst there is a shortage of skilled personnel, it is also correct that there is unemployment of close to 80%. Therefore, to call for the return of more workers before those at home are fully employed cannot be a clever policy.
A relevant and related fact is the return of exiled business people and entrepreneurs. As you will recall, in my May 2009 Letter to you, I mentioned some of these individuals by name. These are some of the people that should be encouraged and given incentives to return to Zimbabwe. Most of these people have skills and the ability required to create jobs which Zimbabweans desperate need. When they return and create jobs, a call such as the one you made in London will be like preaching to the converted Hon Save.
Currently, all civil servants are still earning US$100 per month regardless of their rank or experience. Whilst it’s important to acknowledge that there may have been progress in restoring some basic social services, these remain way below acceptable standards.
When most Zimbabweans were growing up in Magwegwe, Emakhandeni, Kambuzuma, Warren Park and other neighbourhoods, these places had functioning social services such as fully staffed schools and clinics. Many won’t mind returning to these places.
However, to ask someone with a young child who is attending a fully-functioning school in one of these western nations and expect them to pull out their child and send them to some school at present day Magwegwe or Sakubva may be asking for too much.
This is not about blaming anyone but once a human being experiences a better way of doing things, it’s hard to ask them to sacrifice that and regress to the past without adequate assurances and incentives.
Lifestyles and experiences have changed for most non-resident Zimbabweans. A lot of them have built networks of friends and associates and other support systems which can not be easily be replicated back in Zimbabwe. A lot will be reluctant to come and start afresh to rebuild networks and support systems.
However, many could still return as tourists and investors. This is what Zimbabwe desperately requires.
Whilst we have seen various efforts to attract foreign investors to Zimbabwe, we have yet to see a direct and sustained effort to try and re-attract Zimbabweans as investors and tourists. Charity begins at home Hon Save.
There is need for a clear government programme on how these Zimbabweans will be treated when they come back home. There are a few specific areas such as waiver on import duties, tax breaks for those who set up businesses and proper guarantees on the rule of law and respect for private property. These may seem trivial issues but these are some of the basic things that most non-resident Zimbabweans take for granted and readily expect because they have been fully exposed to the workings of a normal representative government which listens to its citizens.
The communication process is correctly a two way process. From the events in London, it was apparent that there may have been some in your team who were taking non-resident Zimbabweans for granted. Hon Save, when people say they want change, they want such attitudes to change as well.
The people want to be consulted well in advance, especially when it concerns their future. Had the people been consulted, I doubt you would have called for Zimbabweans to return home. Rather, Zimbabweans expected you to encourage the host governments to make life a little easier for Zimbabweans by granting them work permits and other relevant immigration status that would allow them to work, study and continue to contribute as they have always done in the development of the country.
This is where your team should have done its homework, and asked Zimbabweans what they expect to hear from the Prime Minister. The western nations are still reluctant to release aid because they know things are not okay.
You as the Prime Minister could have simply requested that these host governments deliberately pursue policies that will allow Zimbabweans to continue self development whilst things stabilise.
An advanced model would have been the government of Zimbabwe directly requesting the USA government and other nations to give internships to a select number of Zimbabweans. These Zimbabweans would be employed within these respective governments for periods of up to 24 months, getting training on how governments are run. This would give your party capacity after the next election to find a pool of highly qualified and experienced Zimbabweans to choose from and help steer the country forward.
Many Zimbabweans still feel aggrieved and haunted by past and current events. The government should consider a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to handle some of these grievances. It is only when people see such developments that they will begin to really believe the change is irreversible, and justice has come.
The nature and mandate of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is not to be vindictive but rather to close a sad chapter in out Great Nation’s history.
In addition, just calling for the return of Zimbabweans without proper signed government-to-government agreements can complicate matters. Zimbabwe can easily get direct assistance linked to the return of non-resident Zimbabweans. This assistance has to be properly negotiated and documented before any call is made to ask people to go back and stare hunger and being jobless.
I hope you wont find these letters annoying. They are meant as free advice.
Gilbert Muponda is a Co-Founder of 3MG Media. He can be reached on Facebook, ZimFace and email: firstname.lastname@example.org