Harnessing Zimbabwe’s Diaspora Dividend

The Zimbabwean diaspora is the new normal and a fixture that will remain for generations to come. In light of this, the need for a mutually beneficial interaction between the state, its diaspora including their children (second generation) is increasingly important. There is a need to reimagine citizen participation which is not limited by geographical location. The significant diaspora population presents economic, social and other opportunities to Zimbabwe.

There is an opportunity for policy and lawmakers to be forward thinking and innovative in designing policies and regulations which enables the harnessing of these potential dividends and more importantly incentivises diaspora participation. This article looks at examples of some of these possible dividends.

The Afrobeat example: a creative dividend

It is worth taking a closer look at the growth of the Afrobeat music genre, particularly the role of the West African diaspora and the lessons that countries such as Zimbabwe, with a sizeable diaspora population, can learn. 

Davido, Wizkid, Tiwa Savage, D’banj – all these will be familiar names to most and a significant number of people reading this article will have these artists on their playlists. Afrobeat is now part of the mainstream sound with this genre being played on some of the major Top 40 stations in the West, and artists such as Wizkid charting on Billboard. Kanye West previously signed D’banj to his G.O.O.D music label and Tiwa Savage inked a management deal with Jay Z’s Roc Nation. 

Potential diaspora & second generation convening power.

Long before the Afrobeat sound captivated the wider world, West Africans had been enjoying & consuming the music locally. The talent and creativity displayed in that genre is not a recent thing, what is new however is the increased influence & convening power that the West African diaspora and to a greater extent the second generation, now have. Influence largely originating from some individuals’ ability to make key decisions.

Second generation West Africans in the diaspora played a key role in promoting this genre of music to the extent of influencing the airplay this music got on the Top 40 mainstream radio stations. One widely reported example is Abrantee Boateng (DJ Abrantee), a second generation Ghanaian who is one of the main pioneers attributed for championing afrobeat in the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom was the first country in the West to mainstream the afrobeat sound. DJ Abrantee premiered popular songs such as Azonto, as well as D’banj’s Oliver Twist. 

Music getting played on mainstream radio remains one of the primary mechanisms to opening up different genres of music to a much greater, more diverse audience.This has a positive impact on sales, streams & concert ticket sales. The mainstreaming of afrobeat has economically boosted the Nigerian music sector through increasing the number of individuals employed in the industry and revitalised the investment in arts in schools which is helping nurture future talent. In addition to the economic benefits, there have been social benefits – art is often considered to be the repository of a community’s collective memory.

The ecosystem dividend

The Afrobeat case is just one example of how the diaspora has and continues to play a key role in creating and supporting lucrative ecosystems with their home countries. Auditing firm PwC forecasts an estimated total revenue of $8.1 billion for Nigeria’s entertainment and media sector in 2019. Like many economies around the world, the Nigerian economy is experiencing a downward turn, however unlike other sectors of the economy, the entertainment sector continues to grow.

It is evident that the strengthening of ecosystems where the diaspora plays an active role presents opportunities that can result in economic and social benefits for all involved, including the home country. This is by no means only limited to entertainment.The diaspora community can play a number of roles including consuming homegrown arts, services, products, experiences etc, leveraging access to their social, corporate networks, goodwill and capital.

Patriotic capital: mutually beneficial returns

There are also opportunities to raise patriotic capital for national projects from the diaspora. The benefit of raising capital from citizens is that they have greater emotional investment. Although they expect a return on their investment, they are, of the various investment groups, the ones most likely to seek out opportunities that will benefit not only themselves but also their home country. This can go a long way in the development of the country and tackling of some of the country’s entrenched social challenges. 

Governments around the world, for various reasons, are finding more innovative ways to collaboratively work with the private sector and citizens to raise capital and to seed funding for the purpose of enabling good public service delivery. The involvement of the private sector and citizens creates additional levers of control to drive for high quality service delivery.

In Zimbabwe, most will agree that service delivery of health care, education, sanitation, criminal justice & other areas is below satisfactory and this adversely impacts citizens. Traditionally, governments rely on tax revenue to fund these services. In Zimbabwe, there is a significantly small pool of corporates and individuals that the tax authorities can raise revenue from due to company closures, high unemployment etc which means that the government has little resources to allocate to these areas. 

As part of any expansionary policy to recover the economy, the government could consider plugging some of the economic gaps through developing specialised ‘diaspora bonds’ which would enable Zimbabweans in the diaspora to invest in the economy by purchasing bonds. These bonds could be designed so that the capital raised is used for a specified set of objectives, for example capital to be used for infrastructure repair in a particular region. A bond, in general terms, is a loan to an entity. If a government wants to borrow money they can do this by selling bonds to investors. The investor then gets to receive a stream of future payments. A key feature of diaspora bonds is a country’s ability to raise low-cost capital which is reliant on the individual’s patriotism and shared interest in the growth of their home country’s economy. 

India and Israel have had successful issuances of diaspora bonds, with expatriates from each country investing billions of dollars. The most recent attempt at raising funds through diaspora bonds has come from Nigeria. The Nigerian Diaspora Bond raised approximately $300 million in 2017

It is important to note that the success of this is very much dependent on the confidence that individuals will have on the responsible government’s ability to deliver on projects and to generate a return.

A stake in Zimbabwe: incentivising diaspora participation

There are a number of mechanisms available that forward thinking policy and lawmakers can introduce and/or strengthen to incentivise diaspora participation. 

Dual citizenship 

This includes upholding citizens’ constitutional rights to have dual citizenship. Section 42(e) of the 2013 Constitution allows dual citizenship to those who are citizens by birth. However there has been reluctance from the Government to observe this (the Zimbabwe Citizenship Act of 1984 stipulated that it is was a criminal offence to simultaneously own passports from different countries. However, the 2013 constitution now supersedes this) and there is confusion as to whether this position has evolved or is evolving.

In this globalised era, creating barriers to dual citizenship stands to disadvantage Zimbabwe as this will dampen incentives to fully participate in the betterment of Zimbabwe. 

Second generation access to citizenship

In the same vein, the same incentives apply to children of Zimbabweans who are born abroad. As evidenced from the influence & convening power the second generation can have in creating opportunities, it would be beneficial to simplify the process of getting Zimbabwean documentation through embassies for this group. A key driver to participation for this group is the fostering and cultivation of ties with the home country and access to documentation and citizenship is key. 

There are real, tangible benefits to be realised in Zimbabwe by adopting a forward thinking and innovative approach to the country’s interaction with its diaspora in a way that is mutually beneficial. 

Natasha Fuyane provides social & political commentary on African issues. She holds a degree in banking and finance. Natasha has extensive experience in regulation and policy pertaining to financial services and the energy sector. She is the co-founder of a podcast, Girl In Skies. You can follow Natasha on twitter @malaikadiva.

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