The launch of the Development Foundation for Zimbabwe (DFZ)

OF LATE I have been feeling very much like one of the Chilean miners before the rescue. I am trying desperately to hold onto something that was very present with the trapped miners all those 77 days underground.

My favourite tale within that miraculous story is about a woman giving birth to a daughter during the time that the husband was still down in the pits – unsure if he would ever come out alive. Now wife and husband had initially agreed to name the baby Carolina but without consulting each other they both arrived at a new name: Esparanza (Hope).

And so it was with feeling of esparanza that I found myself at the launch of a new initiative called the Development Foundation for Zimbabwe (DFZ) on Friday 29th October at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Rosebank, Johannesburg. One of the speakers at the launch, Deprose Muchena of Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (OSISA), captured the essence of my current preoccupation – history, memory, democracy and development – when he stated: "The past is our heritage, the present our challenge and the future our responsibility". He spoke of this in the context of a need for renewal of hope and self-belief and how a remittance economy could play a major role in financing Zimbabwe’s development.

Having seen the launch of many things over the past three decades (anyone remember Health for All by 2000?) and having had to deal with my own severe case of schizophrenia over Zimbabwe, I quizzed Dr Alex Magaisa, one of the trustees of the DFZ:

Who is Alex Magaisa ?

First and foremost I am just an ordinary Zimbabwean intent on contributing to the economic recovery and development of our country. I have worked at the University Warwick – where I also did my Masters and Doctoral studies, the University of Nottingham and I am presently based at Kent Law School, The University of Kent. My main area of teaching and research is company and financial services law. I have also worked in financial services regulation, having spent three years at the Jersey Financial Services Commission (JFSC), the financial services regulator in Jersey, the international finance centre based in the Channel Islands. I have had so much to say about Zimbabwe in recent years and write regularly in the media – all for the purpose of contributing to the marketplace of ideas.

I am a firm believer in ideas – I believe we should use our faculties more to generate ideas and employ ourselves fully to implement those ideas. I am a keen advocate for the realisation of the potential and opportunities presented by the African Diaspora for the continent’s development. I have been around the world and read a few things but at heart I remain a rural boy whose fondest memories and motivation stems from the time I spent in the countryside. There I saw and lived with people who were by and large selfless, who helped each other and who despite our limited resources, we managed to get by. I go back often and when I do, it is the most fantastic feeling I experience because I know I will be among people who have genuine care, hard workers who inspire me greatly. I would like to do something for them – to make their circumstances better.

Please breakdown for me your vision statement: "The vision of the DFZ is to foster, encourage and facilitate the building of an informed and organised Diaspora to become a key stakeholder in the development of Zimbabwe."

The DFZ views the Diaspora as a key resource for development but we recognise that the Diaspora needs to be organised and more informed about opportunities in the country. We refuse to accept the view that the Diaspora represents a loss to the country. Rather, the Diaspora shows the competitiveness of Zimbabwe’s human capital on the global landscape and the challenge is to find the best ways to harness the competitiveness for the country’s benefit. To play a positive role, the Diaspora needs to be recognised and avenues must be explored to ensure the goal is achieved. The DFZ is hosting a series of conferences in the coming year which will bring together Zimbabwean opinion leaders that represent key political formations and social sectors, both from within Zimbabwe and the Diaspora, business leaders and Zimbabweans in the Diaspora. The aim is to allow all these to deliberate in frank and open discussion about concerns and hopes for the regeneration of the country’s economy. The first in this series of conferences takes place in Victoria Falls from the 16th to the 18th of December 2010.

Zimbabweans in the Diaspora view their role in their country’s development as one that transcends sending remittances used for household upkeep. The DFZ will also look into activities that will encourage the Diaspora to find innovative ways of participating in national development by investing in various sectors and helping influence economic policies that support economic recovery.

Why the focus on the Diaspora?

The sheer numbers under consideration demand that serious attention be paid to Zimbabweans in the Diaspora. Available data estimates the population of Zimbabweans resident outside the country to be between 3 to 4.5 million. This group is therefore impossible to ignore. The Zimbabwean Diaspora has been shown to be willing to contribute towards processes such as constitution making; increased investment; the promotion of transparent channels to remit transfers; national healing and reconciliation; and the recapitalisation of the private and public sector through human capital development.

The Zimbabwean Diaspora is a unique human resource with a wealth of skills, and a qualified work force able and willing to contribute to current efforts. We must also recognise that we are not alone – many countries across the world have their people living abroad, as the Diaspora and many have started to recognise the invaluable role of the Diaspora in national development. Examples include The Philippines, India, Ghana, etc. Therefore as a country we sit back and ignore the Diaspora to our own detriment. After all, much of this human capital benefited from investment in education, training and health by the country’s taxpayers and they recognise their collective responsibility to give back to the place they call home.

Is there any latent tension between the Diaspora and the political formations in Zimbabwe?

There has been some tension between the Diaspora and politicians but we at DFZ believe there is an increasing desire by all parties to re-engage for the good of the country. Discussions that will take place in the coming months, we believe, will help build trust and dismantle prejudices that may exist between all parties. It is therefore anticipated that the platforms created by the DFZ will encourage the Zimbabwean Diaspora , politicians and business leaders to participate in this process of national building in a forthright and constructive manner. The key, in our view, is to place the national interest uppermost on the agenda and to get everyone to realise that not everyone is interested in politics but that most people are keen to contribute in many ways.

What will this initiative do that has not been tried before?

We believe this initiative will facilitate a more inclusive discussion on Zimbabwe’s reconstruction by bringing together various sectors and interested parties. It will create a more broad based dialogue between organised sectors of the Diaspora, government, the private business sector and civil society. The dialogue will reassert ownership of the country’s development agenda by all Zimbabweans through specific inclusion of Zimbabwe’s Diaspora communities. We are seeking to create a more efficient platform to channel the Diaspora towards developmental agenda in Zimbabwe. We realise there is a huge reservoir of willingness but the channels have so far been limited or not operating to full efficiency and we want to complement those efforts.

What are your short-term and medium-term plans for Diaspora engagement in Zimbabwe?

In the short term we intend to facilitate dialogue and build trust. It is our intention to engage in conversation with all stakeholders, on how Zimbabweans abroad could be strategically mobilised to play defined roles in economic and social development of the country. In the medium term we have a series of initiatives which we will be working on hopefully with the support and buy in of government to encourage Diaspora participation, skills transfer and other investment initiatives that will help grow the economy.

How would you respond to the usual hysterical charge that a formation like yours is foreign-funded and is focused on regime change?

The DFZ is not a political formation and any talk of the organisation focusing on regime change would be unfortunate and misplaced. We know that politics has dominated discourse on Zimbabwe but it is important to recognise that there are many more people out there who have been dissuaded from participating in development issues simply because they fear being tainted by the politics of the day. This is a loss to the country and we are saying we need to create non-political platforms where people can participate in key development issues without fear or prejudice. The organisation was set up and is being run by Zimbabweans whose only desire is to see the country realise its economic potential. We believe there is recognition by the government, private sector civic society and the Diaspora that the time has come to pull together instead of pinning hopes solely on foreign investment. It has becoming clear that developing countries such as Zimbabwe should look to its nationals based in foreign lands. Our trustees have no political agenda whatsoever. There are many other channels to participate in politics but the DFZ is not one of them.

Implicit in your vision and mission statements is a feeling that the current transition is irreversible. If this is correct, why do you believe so?

The DFZ as I mentioned earlier, is not political and we do not believe it is fair to imply that we have commented on the status of the transition in Zimbabwe. We admire and applaud efforts by political parties in Zimbabwe to bring stability. All we want to do as an organisation is to ensure that the Diaspora is included within the national recovery plan. We wish Zimbabwe well and would like to contribute to its development and are setting up this platform to harness the potential that resides in the Diaspora. That is our a dream, a dream that we hold to dearly and hope will be realised not necessarily for our sake but for the benefit of future generations, too.

There is a line in my favourite film of all time, The Shawshank Redemption. It says, "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." And from my favourite book, The Alchemist; "When you really want something, the whole universe conspires in helping you to achieve it".

We want the DFZ to work and we want development for Zimbabwe. We continue to hope and believe it is possible.

//ENDS – Chris – (chris@digitalartsafrica.org)