It’s all about peo­ple power

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - ANALYSIS & OPINION - Con­rad Mwanza C on radMwan­za­isFo un­der of the Zim­bab­weAchieve rs Awards. He wrote this ar­ti­cle for The Sun­day Mail

IF WE look at coun­tries’ nat­u­ral en­dow­ments as a mea­sure of their po­ten­tial for eco­nomic devel­op­ment, very few in Africa can stand toe to toe with Zim­babwe. Ours is one of those rare coun­tries that boa st a wide range of min­eral de­posits and nat­u­ral po­ten­tial.

Zim­babwe hosts the sec­ond largest plat­inum group met­als as well as the largest high grade chromite re­source base in the world on the Great Dyke.

A no­table global pro­ducer of lithium and chrysotile as­bestos, the coun­try is also pos­sessed with sig­nif­i­cant de­posits of gold and di­a­monds.

Add to that the mil­lions of hectares of arable and graz­ing land, which has his­tor­i­cally en­sured suc­cess­ful mixed farm­ing and may yet see Zim­babwe’s com­mer­cial agri­cul­tural sec­tor bounce back to its for­mer glory.

But with a lit­er­acy rate that has con­sis­tently topped all of Africa, and a mas­sive pool of skilled hu­man re­sources across all sec­tors, it goes with­out say­ing that Zim­babwe’ s big­gest re­source is its peo­ple.

These are the po­ten­tial driv­ers of the coun­try’s eco­nomic devel­op­ment if fully har­nessed and de­ployed to­wards pro­duc­tion, in­no­va­tion and ser­vice de­liv­ery. How­ever, over the past two decades, es­pe­cially, we’ve not been spared the ex­o­dus of skilled pro­fes­sion­als.

Many oth­ers trekked to more de­vel­oped economies in re­sponse to glob­al­i­sa­tion’s pull as well as the push of na­tional eco­nomic hard­ships and po­lit­i­cal in­se­cu­rity.

In­deed, the coun­try may have lost a large per­cent­age of its qual­i­fied pro­fes­sion­als and oth­ers who mi­grated.

In the United King­dom where I live, es­ti­mates put the to­tal pop­u­la­tion of the Zim­bab­wean com­mu­nity at 400 000 — that’s about four times the size of a mi­cro-state like The Sey­chelles.

The sheer de­ter­mi­na­tion of my com­pa­tri­ots to carve out a space for them­selves in their adopted home and get their pound of flesh was the sin­gle most in­spir­ing fac­tor that led me to found the Zim­babwe Achieve rs Awards in 2011.

The awards body was to serve as both a cel­e­bra­tionof those small, sig­nif­i­cant steps of suc­cess that Zim­bab­weans were mak­ing as they worked their way up the UK’s so­cio-eco­nomic lad­der, as well as in­spi­ra­tion and mo­ti­va­tion to­wards even greater achieve­ments.

In the seven years of our ex­is­tence, we’ve gone from cel­e­brat­ing small com­mu­nity busi­nesses to award­ing pro­fes­sional ar­chi­tects de­liv­er­ing multi-mil­lion-dol­lar projects across Africa.

We’ve recog­nised cut­ting edge tech-star­tups worth mil­lions, freight ser­vices serv­ing global mar­kets, and health­care com­pa­nies ser­vic­ing huge gov­ern­ment con­tracts.

Col­lec­tively as the Zim­bab­wean Di­as­pora, we’ve con­sis­tently re­mit­ted huge sums of dol­lars back home over the years and com­pelled Gov­ern­ment to pay at­ten­tion to our net con­tri­bu­tionto the econ­omy of our home coun­try.

Dol­lar­i­sa­tion has helped cut off the forex black mar­ket, en­sur­ing that all re­mit­tances go through the of­fi­cial chan­nels.

How­ever, re­mit­tances are only a frac­tion of the Di­as­pora’s ca­pac­ity to con­trib­ute to­wards na­tional so­cio-eco­nomic devel­op­ment.

To il­lus­trate the lim­its of re­mit­tances to achieve broader com­mu­nity trans­for­ma­tion, a case study from Bangladesh is worth re­fer­ring to. About 95 per­cent of all Bri­tish-Ben­galis trace their ori­gins to the Syl­het divi­sion in north­east Bangladesh.

The re­gion re­ceives around US$1 bil­lion in re­mit­tances every year from ex­pa­tri­ate Ben­gal­isin the UK alone and should, in the­ory, be the wealth­i­est and health­i­est part of the coun­try.

How­ever, as The Guardian news­pa­per re­ported,“Syl­het has worse lit­er­acy and school en­rol­ment rates than all other re­gions, child mal­nu­tri­tion rates are well over the (World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion) emer­gency thresh­old of 15 per­cent, fer­til­ity rates are the high­est in the coun­try and ex­pec­tant moth­ers are more likely to die dur­ing child birth in Syl­het than any other part of Bangladesh.”

And the rea­son for this dis­crep­ancy be­tween the high vol­umes of re­mit­tances and the over­all state of the com­mu­nity is that re­mit­tances are trans­ferred to in­di­vid­ual house­holds rather than to char­ity or com­mu­nity devel­op­ment.

As the Zim­babwe an Di­as­pora, we also find our­selves locked in this phase of fi­nan­cial con­tri­bu­tion and have yet to fully in habit our eco­nomicpo­ten­tial by broad­en­ing our in­vest­ment be­yond the fam­ily to achieve wider de­vel­op­men­tal im­pact.

At the Zim­babwe Achiev­ers Awards, we have spread out from our UK base to all ma­jor Di­as­pora cen­tres — South Africa, the United States and Aus­tralia.

Through this com­mu­nity ve­hi­cle, we’ ve net­worked with both in­di­vid­u­al­pro­fes­sional Zim­babwe ans do­ing great things in their ca­reers as well as en­trepreneurs, busi­nesses, so­cial en­ter­prises and phil­an­thropic or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Through­out the net­works we’ve built, the one pul­sat­ing pas­sion that cour­ses through all of us is a deep-seated de­sire to con­trib­ute to­wards Zim­babwe’s so­cio-eco­nomic devel­op­ment and make a dif­fer­ence.

We’ ve formed part­ner­ships with cor­po­rates based in Zim­babwe that are at the fore­front of kick-start­ing the coun­try’s brain gain by em­ploy­ing ex­pe­ri­enced di­as­pora pro­fes­sion­als and bring­ing them back home. This is a trend that we fully sup­port. We be­lieve Zim­babwe’ s crit­i­cal pro­fes­sional skills are in­dis­pens­able in there con­struc­tion of the coun­try af­ter decades of eco­nomic lethargy and the loss of much-needed hu­man re­sources. In­no­va­tive hu­man re­sources com­pa­nies need to step up and start en­gag­ing the di­as­pora labour mar­ket to har­ness key skills, bring­ing them back home.

In China, for in­stance, huge num­bers of pro­fes­sion­als who left their coun­try to study and work have re­turned.

These so-called “sea tur­tles” have brought back de­sir­able skills, in­valu­able net­works of in­ter­na­tional busi­ness con­tacts and in­no­va­tive ideas to en­er­gise the econ­omy.

In­dia, too, has en­joyed a sig­nif­i­cant brain gain in re­cent years, with sci­en­tists re­turn­ing home to take ad­van­tage of the rel­a­tive strength of the In­dian econ­omy and grow­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties there. By 2013, ac­cord­ing to sci­en­tific jour­nal pub­lish­ers El­se­vier, In­dia had be­come a net im­porter of pro­duc­tive sci­en­tific tal­ent.

But that does not just hap­pen: Home gov­ern­ments need to com­mu­ni­cate clearly that ex­pa­tri­ates are wanted and needed back home.

Pol­i­cy­mak­ers need to un­der­stand the di­as­pora and in­cen­tivise its in­volve­ment in the coun­try’s devel­op­ment. Emo­tional ties alone do not cut it.

Gov­ern­ments can ac­tively do away with ob­sta­cles and cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for di­as­po­ras to en­gage in eco­nomic devel­op­ment. Gov­ern­ments must be on their front foot if they are to har­vest real ben­e­fits from their di­as­pora.

Even more im­por­tantly, the role of the Di­as­pora as in­vestors is un­der-ap­pre­ci­ated within our own con­text.

One of the most prom­i­nent ex­am­ples of Di­as­po­ras in­vest­ing in their home coun­try is that of the Chi­nese.

Be­tween 1985 and 2000, the Chi­nese di­as­pora ac­counted for 70 per­cent of China’s FDI, which helped fuel the coun­try’ s rapid eco­nomic growth over this pe­riod.

There is need for the Zim­babwe an Di­as­pora it­self, the cor­po­rate sec­tor back home as well as the gov­ern­ment to work col­lab­o­ra­tively to fa­cil­i­tate Di­as­pora in­vest­ment.

Apart from send­ing money to fam­i­lies, many in the di­as­pora do not have the in­for­ma­tion they need to make de­ci­sions about in­vest­ment, nor do they know what in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties are avail­able.

There is need for mu­tual en­cour­age­ment to or­gan­ise bet­ter to fa­cil­i­tate this in­vest­ment.

It is fea­si­ble for health pro­fes­sion­als in the UK, for in­stance, work­ing with gov­ern­ment fa­cil­i­ta­tion, to in­vest in a state-of-the-art hos­pi­tal that can pro­vide world class med­i­cal care and save the coun­try mil­lions in dol­lars that are spent to­wards health tourism to In­dia, South Africa, Sin­ga­pore and other pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tions.

Like­wise, a lot of the in­fras­truc­tural projects in Zim­babwe can also har­ness the in­vest­ment and par­tic­i­pa­tion of Di­as­pora-based en­gi­neers.

Many of the en­gi­neers are mem­bers of di­as­pora chap­ter soft he Zim­babwe In­sti­tute of En­gi­neers.

Other types of di­as­pora in­vest­ment such as col­lec­tive in­vest­ment in com­mu­nity projects through home town as­so­ci­a­tions can be fully ex­plored. Clearly, there is a lot of un­ex­plored po­ten­tial in the Zim­bab­wean Di­as­pora.

A strong re­la­tion­ship needs to be fos­tered be­tween the Di­as­pora, Gov­ern­ment and the cor­po­rate and char­ity/phil­an­thropic sec­tors.

To this end, ZAA In­ter­na­tional will be host­ing a Zim­babwe Econ­omy Fo­rum in Dubai from Septem­ber 21 to 24 this year to ex­plore these and other key is­sues con­cern­ing our na­tional econ­omy.

One of the projects I hope to launch at the fo­rum, to­gether with part­ners like Vavaki Ar­chi­tects, is a hol­i­day hous­ing com­plex in the great Vic­to­ria Falls that Zim­bab­weans in the di­as­pora can buy into.

This falls firmly within the greater vi­sion to see a Vic­to­ria Falls that will be a leisure and tourist hub of the re­gion, com­plete with sta­teof-the-art fa­cil­i­ties to com­ple­ment its world her­itage nat­u­ral of­fer­ing.

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