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Monday, 28 June 2010

Zambia's re-energised diaspora..

It is good to see Zambia Diaspora Connect (ZDC)'s Executive Chairman Mr Musaba Chilainga interview in The Post, especially the revelation that ZDC is undertaking the housing project for teachers, among many other planned initiatives. ZDC has been at the forefront of leading the diaspora's engagement ever since it recommended the setting up of the Diaspora Desk, pushed successfully for inclusion of dual citizenship in the draft constitution and took part in the National Indaba 2009 (see extended report on that here).  Recently ZDC took part in discussions with the World Bank.

Regular readers will know that we continue to support ZDC as a credible vehicle for Zambians who are abroad to channel their efforts in areas of human capital and investment with people in the country.  As Zambian Economist our view is that ZDC and its new think tank arm led by Dr Richard Mbewe - Zambia Institute for Strategic Studies (formerly Zambia Foundation) is an organisation all Zambians should support. We share a common interest in ensuring that government policies are analytically informed and pulls together the best expertise available.  In that sense it would be interesting to see how ZDC engages government regarding the new suggested national think tank. Similarly, as Zambian Economist continues to invest in Zambia, the sorts of investment led initiatives being undertaken by ZDC also fits well with that.

The question is what is next for the Zambian Diaspora?

I think the time has now come for the Zambian diaspora to stop moaning. In recent times I have listen to at-least three Blog Talk Radio shows repeating the same pattern of moaning about how disorganised the diaspora is and the need for government to do more. When I wrote the 2007  piece - Living with a leaking bucket I was strident in my criticism of government and the diaspora  :

My question to Zambians abroad is – when are you going to do your bit to help our country live better with the leaking bucket ? When are you going to wake up and start lobbying Government to start thinking of creating such a framework?
I believe Mr Musaba and ZDC have answered that question. But as I have reflected on the progress ZDC is making it has also dawned on me that the diaspora need to realise that they are already doing a lot. I now believe what the idea of a lazy and unpatriotic diaspora is misguided. The problem with Zambia's diaspora is that it has poor public relations!

The Zambian diaspora have already made significant progress in terms of contributing to Zambia's meaningful development. The question of how meaningful the contribution has been in the past has not been properly addressed. The reason is largely because Zambians abroad themselves use the wrong comparator to measure their progress. Often they cite countries such as Rwanda, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, China and India as nations that show that Zambia's diaspora is not being properly harnessed. That may well be true but these countries are either nations which have emerged out of war / instability or countries whose critical mass allows greater leverage of diaspora resources. We cannot compare Zambia's diaspora to these nations. We must judge the contribution of the diaspora accounting for historical and socio-economic factors.

That of course, is an empirical question, but what I would say is that I know many Zambians abroad that have made enormous strides in terms of  investing in Zambia and translating their skills to help our country either through charity, direct investment or skills transfer. Where I think the Zambia diaspora have missed the trick is that they have become too negative in their self-evaluation without celebrating enough where progress is being made. A critical step therefore is that they need to stop talking and start marketing what is already being done better. Through such initiatives they will be able to exact greater concessions through the governance process. Ordinary Zambians need to be aware of this. Indeed their signs now that the diaspora has the listening hear of both government and ordinary Zambians.

In short, I hold that the era of endless talk shows bemoaning lack of organisation among the diaspora and the need for greater government participation must come to an end if the diaspora is to leverage its collective influence. The time has now come for the diaspora to change gears and market itself more intelligently. They must emphasise the good that is already taking place, rather than solely insist on the negative aspects of government policy towards the diaspora or how they are negatively perceived by common Zambian folk.  Zambia is not ready for a "I want this mindset" because our people have little to give. What our people need is to see initiative and self-determination among those who believe they have much to offer. As I have said, the Zambia diaspora actually has already done this, all that remains is to market it better to our people. I believe the sort of exposure and energy we have seen with ZDC now provides the best chance for this positive engagement.  It now remains to be seen whether the diaspora can "seize the moment".

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