/ 10 January 2014

Zim diaspora rejects olive-branch bonds

Zim Diaspora Rejects Olive Branch Bonds

Zimbabwe's close to three million diaspora population is likely to give a cold shoulder to plans by the country's finance minister to float bonds exclusive to Zimbabweans abroad that would help the government to raise cash.

Zimbabwe has a strong skilled and nonskilled diaspora population mainly in South Africa, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and the United States.

Presenting the 2014 budget in Parliament last month, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa said the government was keen to tap into the $1.6-billion remitted to the country between January and November last year by its nationals abroad.

He said the government intends to set up small-scale hydroelectric schemes with the proceeds of diaspora bonds.

Chinamasa's statement is the first indication that the government wants to improve relations with the diaspora that it has long accused of being unpatriotic.

At an election rally last year, President Robert Mugabe ridiculed Zimbabweans in the diaspora, saying: "You have your country; you fought for it, why are you running away? Why run to Britain, a very cold and uninhabitable country with nowhere where you can say you can live happily? The houses are very small, why go there? So that you can say I went to England? Can those who went there show us what they did with their time?"

Zanu-PF not trusted
Those in the diaspora, in turn, say it is government's destructive policies that have forced them to flee abroad. A political observer this week said Zimbabweans in the diaspora will not warm to the government because of the Zanu-PF's perceived insincerity.

"It's unlikely. The same factors that keep foreign investors at bay are the same factors that will keep the diaspora community in a reluctant mode to invest back home," said Trevor Maisiri, a senior analyst for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group think-tank.

"[Those in] the diaspora will continue to directly support their families back home and invest in small private enterprises, but it's unlikely they will invest in any state-driven bond structure or investment vehicle."

He said many in the diaspora would be asking why the government that does not allow them to vote from abroad wants their capital. He said the problem is that the government is not trusted so the bonds may find no takers.

Award-winning novelist Petinah Gappah, who has returned to Zimbabwe, said that during the election campaign Zanu-PF had composed jingles mocking Zimbabweans living abroad. Hapana chiriko ikoko (there is nothing there abroad) was the chorus of one particular jingle.

"Yet Chinamasa now has the temerity … to address Parliament with a straight face and talk about ‘confidence-building measures' that will bring diaspora inflows," she said.

Need for engagement
"There is a sense I get that, if government wants the support of the diaspora, they need to do more to ensure that the diaspora is included as much as possible in matters of governance, including voting."

Gwendolyn Mhlanga, a Zimbab­wean who has been living in South Africa for the past five years, said engagement was necessary between the government and those in the diaspora to save the country from collapse.

"In as much as the Zanu-PF government has ill-treated those in the diaspora, it does not mean that they [Zimbabweans] haven't been ill-treated in those foreign countries as well. It's a matter of weighing the scales and making a decision based on where one sees their future in the next coming years – whether they will move back to Zimbabwe or settle permanently in the diaspora."