My late aunt Zo, a Zimbabwean, was married to a Nigerian whom she had met in England. Her husband had lived in the United Kingdom since he was 11 years old and she had left Zimbabwe for England when she was 16 years to go and study nursing. By the time they met, they were both legitimate British citizens. When their two boys were in primary school, they moved to Johannesburg where her husband uncle Sun, armed with a PhD in the sciences, had got a job under the special skills category that allows one to get permanent residence before one even moves to South Africa to take up the job. By the time they left SA after 12 years, they had secured their South African citizenship and passports. Aunt Zo told me that she and their sons already had Nigerian passports as well.
the sunday maverick with GLORia NDORO-MKOMBACHOTO
When I asked Aunt Zo why she was collecting all these foreign passports, she smiled, then remarked that, mobility and access were her primary drivers. “The Zimbabwean passport is limiting when you want to transact in multiple destinations because you need a visa to gain entry to many countries. With a British passport, for example, you can travel across the length and breadth of the world without facing entry barriers.”
Although she died and was buried in the UK, she always considered Zimbabwe her primary home and always said: “Zimbabwe is special because that is the place where my umbilical cord lies.”
They made their fortune flipping properties in the UK and when she passed on, their family trust owned properties in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Nigeria with most of their immovable property located in the UK.
What is citizenship and why is it important?
When one does not have citizenship, they remain a permanent under-class with little chance of full integration into that nation. You cannot access resources at the same level as documented citizens.
Citizenship, not just legal status of any country, is important for the following reasons:
l Big gains to the economy — there are big gains that accrue to the economy of the host country and that of Zimbabwe. For the purposes of this discussion, I am going to highlight the benefits for Zimbabwe.
Writing for the NewsDay in February 2018, Victor Bhoroma reported that remittances from Zimbabweans living abroad have been growing exponentially from $552 million recorded in 2012 to over $935 million recorded in 2016 as a result of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) incentives to lure diaspora funds. Apparently, the RBZ currently gives a 10% incentive for all funds remitted back home. Foreign remittances by Zimbabweans in the diaspora are now the second largest source of liquidity (more than tobacco exports) in the country after mineral exports.
Over four million Zimbabweans live overseas and abroad in countries such as SA, UK, Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand. Because of its proximity to Zimbabwe as a neighbour, the highest number is in SA where an estimated 3 million Zimbabweans live with some travelling in and out, trading in both countries.
Bhoroma further advises that foreign remittances from diaspora Zimbabweans have a potential to improve our nostro account balances, finance infrastructure projects locally and guarantee foreign borrowings or financial instruments.
That is why it is important that government and the RBZ find innovative ways of channelling funds remitted to Zimbabwe into investments that can boost economic growth while improving the country’s foreign exchange reserves.
l Certainty for the immigrants as they access resources.
Those who are not documented in their host countries struggle to thrive and therefore, fail to remit significant monies back to Zimbabwe, whereas those who are documented thrive.
When your citizenship status is guaranteed and there is no constant harassment from immigration authorities threatening deportation, that certainty allows the immigrant to be treated like an equal accessing resources and benefits just like the natives. Many Zimbabweans in the diaspora invest both in their host countries and in Zimbabwe.
Increasingly, many Africans are now choosing to settle permanently in their host countries, particularly when most family members have emigrated. But a lot more invest back home because they see themselves retiring and dying in Zimbabwe. During their working years in the diaspora, they borrow from financial institutions to invest back in their countries of birth, because that is where “their umbilical cord lies.”
That is why, you cannot legislate for and against the sense of belonging that one feels about a place or a country.
l Scholarships, grants and government benefits — when
Zimbabweans become citizens of other countries, they access local scholarships, grants and other government benefits ordinarily closed to non-citizens. How cool is that, to have other countries educate Zimbabwean children? If our government does not realise the immense benefit from this, I do not know what else they will understand?
l Freedom to pursue life, liberty and happiness. It is a borderless world now. In his groundbreaking bestseller, The Borderless World – Power and Strategy in the Interlinked Economy, Kenichi Ohmae argues persuasively about how national borders are less relevant than ever before and identifies key characteristics of top-performing nations and corporations.
When there is a critical mass of Zimbabweans who have become truly internationalised citizens, that internationalisation is transported back to Zimbabwe and helps revitalise and change local mindsets.
Most importantly, gaining other countries citizenship while allowing Zimbabweans easier travel overseas and abroad, allows them to pursue decent lives of liberty and happiness, a feature that has been taken away from Zimbabweans living at home. When home-bound Zimbabweans are constantly under stress and anxiety, worrying about their livelihoods, it thwarts their capacity to be masters and mistresses of their own destinies. In short, it is bad for business.
Whichever way you look at it, Zimbabwe is the ultimate beneficiary.
There are many benefits accruing to Zimbabweans who take up citizenship of other countries, but the ultimate beneficiary will be Zimbabwe. Many Zimbabweans living abroad with good credit ratings are borrowing money from banks in their host countries to invest in Zimbabwe seeing that “Zimbabwe is now open for business.” They would not be able to do this had they not regularised their immigration status. Yes permanent residents of SA and those with green cards in the USA or permanent stay in the UK access more or less the same benefits as citizens, but it is a “citizen” who will always be considered a first class citizen.
When governments come up with laws that stand in the way of their citizenry realising their full potential, that country suffers. Denying Zimbabweans their right to multiple citizenship is only one of those unjust laws. We all must read Mike Bhangu’s book, Distracted and Defeated – the Rulers and the Ruled, as he forces us to interrogate the false assumptions we hold dear about our own jaundiced reality.
Gloria Ndoro-Mkombachoto is an entrepreneur and regional enterprise development consultant. Her experience spans a period of over 25 years. She can be contacted at email@example.com