Nick Mangwana View from the Diaspora
A nimble, adaptive, responsive and flawless bureaucratic machinery is needed, not only in the practice of immigration or tourism but in all Zimbabwe’s spheres of civic service delivery.
“Low hanging fruit” is one of Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi’s favourite metaphors.
He uses it to describe the value of tourism to Zimbabwe all the time.
If low hanging fruit means easily attainable targets not requiring a lot of effort, then this minister might be onto something here.
A clever hungry person always goes after the low hanging fruit first and only seeks the ladder to access those at the apex of the tree when those easily accessible fruits have all been picked.
The problem with low hanging fruit is that if it is not picked it rots first.
One of the key things to improving tourism is to have as little red tape as is possible when it comes to visitors applying for Visas.
When visiting Zimbabwe, countries are classified in mainly three categories.
Category A are those countries whose nationals do not require a Visa to visit Zimbabwe.
Category B are those countries whose nationals will pay at the port of entry to gain a Visa into Zimbabwe. Category C are those countries whose nationals would need to apply for Visas before travelling.
Interestingly there are a lot of countries in what is going to be known as Cat C hereinafter.
Included in this category are a lot of African countries, Middle Eastern and South Asian countries as well as European countries.
Since the advent of mass migration and when the complicated term Diaspora entered our word-stock Zimbabweans for whatever reasons have found intermarriage quite easy to embrace.
There is therefore a lot of families that have married into ethnic groups that fall into Cat C nationals. Whether it is flexibility or lack of cultural deterrents or just being open-minded, there is tendency to try a lot of different things (including strange meats) Zimbabweans have shown a penchant for marrying liberally.
The problem starts when that Zimbabwean tries to bring that alien and their children to Zimbabwe for family visits, ethnic tourism or whatever other reason.
It is at this point that one will discover that Zimbabwe has adopted a new Visa system. Visas are no longer applied for at Zimbabwean Embassies. All Cat C visitors to Zimbabwe are supposed to apply for visas online at www.evisa.gov.zw.
The e-visa system is a very noble idea in principle, the only caveat is that it has to work. So, does it? Hell no. One goes through the site well, register, get login details; etc. Once granted these one is just supposed to log in and complete the application.
This system was rolled out in order to simplify the process and make it easily accessible as well as save that journey to the embassy for consular services.
But like all ill-thought through, ill-planned and ill-managed systems, it does the exact opposite.
It has become a pain in a delicate part of the anatomy for Zimbabwe’s visitors.
Firstly, the site is rarely accessible. Something to do with bandwidth not being available and other technical mumbo jumbo the visitor is least interested in.
Secondly, on the very rare occasions when it is available it is lethargic, languor-inducing and just comatose. The enduring potential tourist will persevere with it miraculously finish the process.
Finally they submit the application. Bang! It just vanishes into a dark cyberspace. No confirmation, no acknowledgement, nothing back. Not even a message to say your application is being processed. No email is sent back. Nothing.
The applicant then resorts to Google to seek the HQ number. Buy a phone card or whatever else expensive venture one does to make an international call. The civil servant who believes they should be paid a bonus at the end of the year does not pick up the phone.
The phone rings off the hook and one can spend the whole day in this exercise in futility.
Then the next thing is the frustrated tourist now revved up and wants to vent. An angry call is placed to the embassy. There the frustrations come out, sometimes in unprintable expletives.
The embassy staff is clueless.
They were taken out of the equation without any consultation and have not been given access to the system as well. They refer the applicant back to Harare. Out of desperation, if there is a Zanu-PF chapter in that country, say Zanu-PF-UK then another call is made there and all sorts of stereotypes come out.
The nonsense they read. The bungling they hear about. The exaggerations and gross misinterpretations.
But hang on, they have just lived the experience.
The Zanu-PF chapter brings them no joy as well. They are told that the issue will be raised with their principals. They tweet about it and use pejorative hashtags on Zimbabwe.
Henceforth, whenever they see something about visiting Zimbabwe they put in nasty reviews and kaput, the low hanging fruit has just rotted.
Zimbabwe cannot afford to tie its low hanging fruit to bureaucratic bungling.
A soulless and tired bureaucratic red tape can only be a bane for Zimbabwe’s economic progress and an insult to the national dignity.
Those writing negative things about Zimbabwe are already more than those highlighting the positives.
But it would be a disservice to the country to wrap oneself is a wool ball of deceit and preach an “it is well message” when clearly nothing is.
Somewhere, somehow someone is messing up their job. There is a need to remind that person that their messing up their job has far reaching consequences for the whole economic system of Zimbabwe.
One should never under-estimate the power of the word of mouth. Countries have been destroyed by rumour mongers.
But with the advent of the internet, globalisation and social media, reputations are easily destroyed and bad ones easily proliferated. Everyone should work together to restore Zimbabwe’s.
Zim-Asset identifies technology as a key driver to the attainment of sustainable socio-economic progress. This type of clumsy implementation of a key national project cannot not be allowed to happen.
Immigration is the face of a country. When South Africa was hosting the World Cup, a flawless immigration control was one of the key things they implemented. They realised that obstacles to a desire to visit a country would be a blight to their reputation.
Zimbabwe’s current Visa application process has become a barrier to economic progress.
A cursed bottle neck to what should be the country’s core competence. The system should strengthen the economy rather than be an albatross on the country’s neck.
Promoting tourism through an efficient immigration practice is a smart and easy way to create employment. There is enough empirical evidence to suggest a causal link between a good immigration practice and a developed tourism practice.
A developed tourism practice has an amplified value of employment and the economic growth through the supply chain in what is called the multiplier effect.
In December 2014, a large number of visitors cancelled the tickets they had booked to Zimbabwe. They were going to visit Zimbabwe’s premier resorts. Some also intended to take members of the family in Zimbabwe along. There are three types of tourism that suffered just as a result of the ineptitude of the Department of Immigration in Zimbabwe.
The Domestic Tourism suffered because the domestic tourist who was going to visit the resort and boost the economy as well as inspire a neighbour, colleague or another relative to aspire to do the same was thwarted. The Diaspora tourism was affected because the individual in the Diaspora who moved up the social ladder by emigrating and can now afford to visit parts of Zimbabwe which he could not in the past who also now have a family they want to show-off to the beauty of their motherland was impeded.
Then the International Tourism through the frustrated tag-along spouse who now holds a negative view of the country they married into and now believe everything they read about in The Telegraph or seen on BBC and himself has been converted into a purveyor of bad tidings.
Sometimes Zimbabweans are their own worst enemies. The country cannot afford a one step forward and three backwards approach.
A nimble, adaptive, responsive and flawless bureaucratic machine is needed.
Not only in the practice of immigration or tourism but in all Zimbabwe’s spheres of civic service delivery.
Zimbabwe’s potential to become an economic giant is turning into a banal cliché until and unless every Zimbabwean starts putting their minds into what they are doing and apply themselves diligently to the work at hand.
The self-defeating implementation of sound policies has gone on for way too long.
The country cannot afford to continue to shoot itself in the foot and being the author of its own tragic misfortune.