The ongoing constitutional reform exercise comes at a time when there's been a marked transformation in the spatial distribution of the Zimbabwean nation. Estimates vary, but there's a general consensus that up to a quarter of Zimbabwe’s population – over three million people - now live in exile.
The Zimbabwean Diaspora is scattered across four continents, but with discernible concentrations in South Africa and the United Kingdom.
Driven by the country’s protracted economic and political crisis to seek opportunities and refuge elsewhere, Zimbabweans in exile have nonetheless remained connected with their homeland.
The majority lead parallel lives in which they exert themselves emotionally and materially to sustain livelihoods both in their countries of domicile as well as in Zimbabwe.
These binding ties mean that the Diaspora, quite rightly, considers himself an intrinsic and indispensable member of the Zimbabwean family and not merely a disparate person who traces his or her origins to Zimbabwe.
The inclusive Government’s draft Migration Management and Diaspora Policy acknowledges that Zimbabwe has in the past decade suffered its worst brain drain since independence in 1980.
It cites a study undertaken by the Scientific and Industrial Research and Development Centre (SIRDC) in 2004 on the causes and effects of the brain drain in Zimbabwe which concluded that the level and trend of the brain drain in the country has reached unacceptable and unsustainable heights.
For instance, between 2000 and 2002 Zimbabwe was the UK’s fourth largest supplier of health workers after the Philippines, India and South Africa.
These figures are old and the reality today lies far beyond this.
According to the Ministry of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture’s draft interim strategy, at least 24 per cent of teaching posts lie vacant, especially in science, maths and technical subjects, and the education sector is way under-supervised with 40 per cent of District Education Officer posts, covering 29 districts, unfilled.
Relatively recently, a discourse has emerged on migration and international development concerning states who manage emigration by reaching out to and engaging with their nationals abroad.
These diaspora engagement policies consist of a diversity of measures aimed at producing and reproducing citizen-sovereign relationships with expatriates. Current discussions revolve around how sending countries can engage diaspora populations in order to maximise remittance and impact development in their homelands. Evidence shows that both foreign direct investment and international development aid is significantly lower than remittances from diaspora communities to their homelands.
For example, the Chinese and Indian diasporas have fuelled development in their countries via both cash remittances and their direct engagement associated with the remittances. Many sending countries have sought to develop policies to maximise the amounts of remittances sent back and to stimulate investments by migrants.
Over the past decade, many sending states have embarked upon more inclusive diaspora engagement policies through extending special political and economic rights to emigrants and allowing dual citizenship.
This extension of rights to and extraction of obligations from non-residents has allowed states to exercise transnational power through fostering ties with migrants and their descendants, improving banking systems and improving competition on remittance markets.
The Moroccan state, for example, has been rather successful in stimulating remittances through a combination of diaspora engagement policies, the creation of a network of banks abroad as well as macro-economic, fiscal measures favouring migrants to remit money.
The inclusive government’s draft migration policy also notes that the key benefits of migration for countries of origin if properly managed include knowledge and skills-transfer when migrants return home on a temporary or permanent basis, relief from unemployment and underemployment, and increased levels of indigenous entrepreneurship through new opportunities in the private sector by those in the diaspora.
A significant key to unlocking benefits from the Diaspora is the extension of dual citizenship. Evidence from elsewhere on the continent bears this out. Remittances from the Nigerian diaspora averaged at $800m per annum from 1990 to 2001 but increased considerably on attaining dual citizenship in 1999 to $5.4bn at the end of 2006. Nigeria has developed advanced remittance tracking mechanisms, which are able to disaggregate consumption remittances from investment.
Zimbabwe has also started addressing the loss of human skills, particularly through the Taskforce on Human Skills Identification, Deployment, and Retention, which was established following the adoption of the National Economic Development Priority. The Institute of Continuing Health Education (ICHE) at the University of Zimbabwe College of Health Sciences also has an initiative whereby some doctors in the diaspora are returning to Zimbabwe at their own expense to lecture, moderate examinations and provide clinical services.
But the haemorrhaging of Zimbabwe’s skills base continues, and there’s a danger that these skills may become permanently lost over time. For instance, over the last two years alone, the number of Zimbabweans getting UK citizenship rose by 35 per cent in 2009 to 7,705, and the country’s nationals are consistently in the top ten nationalities acquiring British citizenship.
The constitutional reform exercise presents Zimbabwe with an invaluable opportunity to engage its scattered population across the globe through a new social contract that recognises the spatial distribution of its people and acknowledges them as an intrinsic part of the Zimbabwean nation. Globalisation has made it easier for people to traverse the globe in search of opportunities, and it requires imagination to keep a leash on our national resources to ensure that Zimbabwe continues to benefit from them, wherever they might be.
Professor Arthur Mutambara, addressing an infrastructure and investment conference hosted by Zimbabwean engineers in London recently, pointed to the need for Zimbabwean professionals to return home to contribute to national development, but also to stay put in their new domiciles and, through their presence, leverage opportunities and professional networks for the benefit of their country.
The challenge of developing Zimbabwe in the 21st century is not confined to the territorially resident population. Rather, it falls on all hearts that beat to the rhythm of Zimbabwe to invest their creativity, resources and networks for the building of a robust nation that is capable of holding its own in the topsy-turvy and highly competitive global era where sovereignty is no longer defined in the narrow sense of a state exercising its jurisdiction over a bounded community.