11 July 2014

Zimbabwe: Fix the Economic Rot First

Photo: Antony Kaminju/IRIN
A woman sells vegetables at a food market in Harare

THERE is much anxiety among Zimbabwe's teeming ranks of refugees, mostly in Botswana and South Africa, after the neighbouring countries gave strong indications they have overstayed their welcome.

Botswana is slamming the door on Zimbabweans with its Defence minister declaring the political environment was now stable and safe for asylum seekers to return home.

Last month the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Botswana reportedly said it had resumed a voluntary repatriation programme for thousands of Zimbabwean refugees who fled to Botswana from "political persecution in the last decade".

In South Africa many more Zimbabweans face the daunting prospect of returning home following a cabinet resolution in March that permits issued to Zimbabweans would not be renewed upon expiry come November, as regional solidarity takes a tumble.

There was also a resolution fresh permits could be applied for, but only back in Zimbabwe through an unexplained process.

While Zimbabweans have always crossed the borders, especially into South Africa, in a bid to make ends meet, the estimated millions of Zimbabweans now in the diaspora are an enduring legacy of the tragic economic policies of the ruling Zanu PF party.

The exodus reached its peak at the height of the country's economic implosion typified by record hyperinflation around 2008.

If it's any consolation to Zimbabweans eking out a living in the diaspora, their government is rolling out the red carpet as it wants them back home to help rebuild the economy which, as the ruling party, Zanu PF is culpable in destroying in the first place.

The latest such overtures were from Vice-President Joice Mujuru who, during her speech at a burial ceremony at the National Heroes Acre this week, implored diasporans to return home.

"I hope our children in the diaspora will hear this message that they must not forget that Zimbabwe will always be Zimbabwe, it will always be home that we should always work to build. They must come and work to build the country.

She added: "The economy may not be moving in the direction that some of us would have wanted but we are there to work for the people."

Many diasporans would regard the bit about the economy not "moving in the direction that some of us would have wanted" as a huge understatement and failure to take responsibility for the deep mess the economy has been stuck in for well over a decade.

Zimbabwe remains the Zimbabwe they fled -- impoverished and stuck in an economic rut!

Which probably explains why the reaction to Mujuru's invite has been hostile to put it mildly -- if reactions on the media are anything to go by.

The call has been roundly rebuffed by diasporans who took to the social media to accuse Mujuru and her party Zanu PF of forcing them out of the country through political violence, the breakdown of the rule of law and self-serving economic policies that have ruined a once thriving economy. In any case, if there are any signs of economic revival they are yet to reach detectable levels, they argue.

The spectre of returning to an informalised "new economy" where selling airtime cards, pirated DVDs and hawking odds and ends in the city centre cannot be too tempting.

But Mujuru or government need not publicly invite diasporans to return home.

Fixing the economy to create jobs through investor-friendly policies, full restoration of the rule of law and pursuit of democratic principles would be the invite to tempt those still willing to return home.

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