2018 is around the corner, electioneering is just at that point before fever pitch. The all-too-familiar pre-rallying phase. The time when new political parties pop up and old ones try to make a point of asserting themselves as “the ones” to win (or lose). Zimbabweans – both in Zimbabwe and abroad – keenly watch on. Some of us engaging. Others not so much.
Over the past few months, I (a Zimbabwean abroad… over one long river, at least) have received a couple of messages calling on me to be an active citizen, and to show this “active citizenship” by contributing some money to political parties.
I haven’t answered this call.
Well, I actually can’t. (more on that in a bit)
I am one of many Zimbabweans that forms part of one of the largest growing diaspora communities in Africa. I moved to South Africa for work – mostly. The reasons why millions other Zimbabweans have left their home country are varied. For most, the hope of a better life – civil, political, social and economic – was (still is) a key driver. Having made a life for ourselves elsewhere, many Zimbabweans still regard Zimbabwe as home and try (where they can) to contribute financially and politically to Zimbabwe’s present… perhaps yearning for a future back in a place where they genuinely feel at home.
In 2016, the Zimbabwean government developed a national diaspora policy. At the heart of this policy is the need to engage the Zimbabwean diaspora worldwide… and ultimately, to leverage them to help Zimbabwe meet its development imperatives.
All good so far.
Indeed, working together with the United Nations Agency on Migration (IOM) and with the support of the European Union, the Zimbabwean government recently took tangible steps to develop a 2017 – 2022 National Diaspora Policy Implementation Action Plan. The primary focus of the plan is on socio-economic engagement, including diaspora investment, remittances (Zimbabweans in the diaspora currently send remittances of about $1,8 billion every year!), and how the diaspora can contribute to national socio-economic development. A mutually reinforcing relationship. At least on paper.
Still all good…
But so far, some of the laws and rhetoric suggest that diaspora engagement is really just about government deriving benefit from the diaspora. The diaspora gives, the government takes. That can’t be right. Surely?
First, there has been much talk about taxing Zimbabweans in the diaspora… and threats of revoking citizenship for failure to pay said taxes.
Second, the diaspora are still (essentially) prohibited from voting in elections. The main prohibiting factors are largely geographical and owing to limited resources, such as the unavailability of voter registration outside the country. These are readily understood. For the most part. But even where one travels back to Zimbabwe to register, they must show proof of residence and that will likely exclude many who will not be able to provide such proof of Zimbabwean residence.
Third, and perhaps least known, is why I haven’t responded to parties asking for donations.
Zimbabweans in the diaspora are barred from funding political parties in Zimbabwe.
This is a biggy.
With the emergence of new political parties – some of which have been incubated outside the country – some Zimbabweans in the diaspora will likely want to lend a financial hand to their parties of choice (new and old). Most can’t.
In terms of the Political Parties (Finance) Act of Zimbabwe that regulates how political parties are financed and from whom they can receive funding, only local donations are accepted.
A “local donation” is defined as “a donation by —
(a) a permanent resident or citizen of Zimbabwe domiciled in Zimbabwe; or
(b) a company incorporated in Zimbabwe which carries on business in Zimbabwe;
(c) any association of persons, whether incorporated or unincorporated, consisting exclusively of permanent residents or citizens of Zimbabwe, domiciled in Zimbabwe.”
Thus to donate to a political party, you must LIVE in Zimbabwe (citizen or not). (the Immigration Act defines who can and cannot be regarded as “domiciled” in Zimbabwe)
So, many of the millions outside Zimbabwe can support their political parties of choice… just not with their money.
This prohibition of foreign funding to political parties is designed and read to limit the diaspora’s political participation… That might prove a serious problem for most new political parties that must generate funds to run against well-funded parties.
So, while Zimbabweans in the diaspora are set to be taxed (including whatever remittances they may send to family still in Zimbabwe) to generate income for the state, many can’t give their money to political parties.
The message seems clear:
“Give us (not them) your daily bread, but keep out of politics”
As 2018 nears, many in the diaspora who want to be the change they want to see in the country will find that until the laws change, the only answer is to go back home.
But at what cost?