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Towards meaningful diaspora engagement

20 Jan 2021 at 06:36hrs | Views
Globally, it is estimated that 1 in 7 people is a migrant. Though this measly figure appears to be statistically insignificant and to give credence to the critics of the so-called mobility bias in migration studies, it must be noted that migration does not necessarily end one's ties to their country of origin or ancestry. To instantiate, a recent study by the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) in Austria established that transnational activities by migrants from Bosnia and Herzegovina, India, the Philippines, and Ukraine were not incompatible with integration. Rather, the migrants engaged in multifarious ways and in different societies. Thus, it is logical that there is an expanding corpus of literature that is devoted to supporting diasporas, because they matter. This treatise makes a case for meaningful diaspora engagement by countries of the Global South, of which Zimbabwe is one.

The term diaspora describes a group of people living outside their country of ancestry, origin, or affinity, though they maintain close links with it. As descendants of migrants or migrants, their sense of belonging and identity have their genesis in their background and migration experience. Through their shared sense of identity and belonging, diasporas contribute and connect to their origin and destination countries. Global initiatives to support diasporas' contributions to sustainable development are expanding in both migrant sending and receiving countries. It is becoming increasingly and incandescently clear that many nation-states are now aware of the role of the diaspora in development (see, for instance). Owing to this awareness, woke states continue to seek ways through which they might enlarge or boost the financial resources and human capital that migrants contribute to their countries of origin (as shown here).

Inevitably, diasporas contribute mainly financial remittances though organisations like the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) believe there exists a huge untapped potential in terms of investments, promoting trade, humanitarian relief, and innovation and knowledge and technology transfers. The Migration Policy Institute concurs arguing that apart from their financial remittance contributions, diasporas contribute to national development in their countries of origin, for instance, as generous philanthropists, direct investors in emerging and critical industries, in the development of human capital, and as first movers in the development of critical sectors such as tourism. As first movers, diaspora entrepreneurs are fearless, and it is only through better support that they will be able to transfer innovative business strategies, technologies, and new skills. Not only do diasporas invest in new markets, they also open new businesses thereby acting as facilitators of future investments. They broker relations between government officials, suppliers, buyers, sellers, and other interested parties in their nation-states. In contrast to entrepreneurs devoid of any form of emotional attachment to any other nation-state, diasporas venture into their home countries' markets, often disregarding existing risks. A study by IOM involving Zimbabweans living in South Africa and the United Kingdom, for example, showed that these diasporas were willing to take part in skills exchanges and/or development-related activities in their country (these findings are shown here). My own study in Johannesburg confirmed these findings as my participants were involved in transnational activities that indicated their undying loyalty to Zimbabwe. They sent financial remittances through financial platforms such as Ecocash, E-wallet, and In addition, Zimbabweans in South Africa also engaged in frequent return visits to attend important family occasions such as weddings and funerals, bought groceries and medication for non-migrant family members, and built houses at home. An estimated four million Zimbabweans are outside the country. The Zimbabwean authorities should stop treating those in the diaspora as prodigals. Obviously, you will come across some of us who are highly politicised but that is not sufficient to exclude us from playing active roles in our socio-political and economic development as a country. To move forward, Zimbabwe needs all of us.

In view of the role diasporas play in national development, international agencies such as the United States Agency for International Development are known to partner with them to foster and deepen their development impact (see here). Others like the IOM mobilise, recognise, and include diasporas as a critical resource in national development owing to their commitment, expertise, and cultural knowledge of their country of ancestry or origin. For example, IOM is currently engaging with the Rwandan diaspora and is actively working with the Ministries of Education, Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Health, and Rwanda Polytechnic. The Rwandan diaspora project targets migrants living in Belgium and Germany who are skilled in the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) or Technical and Further Education (TAFE) in Australia and health professionals living in Belgium, France, Germany, The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom (more information is available here). Through its triple E strategy, IOM is typically immersed in engagement (outreach and map profiles of communities); enablement (creating conducive conditions to maximise diasporas' potential as agents of development and contributing to integration policies to facilitate social inclusion and obviate such ills as discrimination and xenophobia); and empowerment (transfer and mobilisation of expertise, knowledge, and skills).  

Since Agenda 2030 calls for the recognition of migrants' positive contributions to sustainable development and inclusive growth, the imperative for more positive narratives on migration, therefore, remains urgent. Migrants' developmental contributions to origin and host societies need to be highlighted. For the ICMPD, diaspora engagement forms an integral part of the migration-development nexus. The institution works with governments to help them design effective engagement programmes and policies. For instance, ICMPD helped create new diaspora action plans and strategies in Burundi, Ghana, Malawi, Paraguay, and Tajikistan. It also assisted diaspora programs in Austria and Georgia (see more here). Nonetheless, for efficacy to be realised, effective diaspora engagement requires new thinking, indeed, an integrated approach that facilitates interaction between different sectors and disciplines that have not collaborated before. As ICMPD observed, this entails "raising awareness on diaspora issues, holding multi-stakeholder consultations, and strengthening inter-agency cooperation and coordination". There must also be focus on diaspora engagement institutions (DEIs) that nation-states are developing to tackle migrant issues. As Michael E. Cummings and Alan Gamlen noted, "DEIs are more effective when they promote a stronger sense of home-country belonging and reciprocal giving among migrants".

In conclusion, international relationships across national frontiers can no longer be taken for granted. There is broad agreement that these relations contribute to national development and facilitate integration in receiving states. Migrants often demonstrate overriding loyalty to their countries of origin. This calls for bel-esprit individuals who can understand the relationships that migrant communities have with their home countries and who can institute intelligent and effective engagement. I put it to you!

Source - Mutsa Murenje, Queensland, Australia
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