Nationals of every country in the world are scattered all over the globe. This is testimony to the fact that man is different from other animal species. Throughout the ages, man has been able to move, willingly and unwillingly, as explorers, bonded labor or as evangelists. They were able to adapt and evolve depending on the destination. This evolution was through language, culture and sometimes even physical appearance. Examples of economic/ trade migrations are of early explorers from Europe opening up new regions for trade such as Africa, China, India and the subcontinent. Others were explorers/traders who shipped millions of African and Arab slaves to all corners of the world. Others led expeditions of discovery, like Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama who opened up continents like North America for occupation and the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of Africa respectively.
Finally, migrations due to wars, famine and religious persecution are still a primary source of huge human migration in modern times. In differing degrees therefore, every country has a diaspora to speak of. In the past 50 years Zambia has seen a growing outflow of nationals to various countries in the world. These have been mainly in pursuit of education and economic prospects for a better life. Because we were never at war, these migrants can be categorized as follows:
- Those who went to study/ train and never came back.
- Those that got educated here and left to find jobs befitting their higher qualifications.
- Those who took advantage of employment opportunities like the shortage of nurses in UK or a demand for teachers and doctors in countries such as Botswana and Swaziland.
- Winners of green card lotteries go to America but also took advantage of friendly immigration rules there.
- Many more decided to try and make it somewhere else and are still trying.
South Africa is the biggest economy in Southern Africa and the rest of the continent.
From history to this day, South Africa remains the melting pot of migrants from the immediate vicinity north, east and west. Since its independence in 1994 South Africa has continued to receive both political and economic migrants from as far away as Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda etc.
The decision to leave your country and settle in another is usually driven by personal reasons. People wind up their lives at home, advise their extended families of their plans and leave. They don’t even have to tell their home countries that they are not coming back. Others stay on and on after their initial reason for leaving is over. Others still come back and forth but maintaining a fixed abode in the guest country, work and raise children there. They still come home regularly to visit family. Since travel has become easier we are seeing many in this category who come and go and belong quite comfortably to both sides.
In our 50 years of independence students seeking higher and specialized education have been foremost in this movement. Children are sent abroad to go study at various ages, mainly at a tertiary and university level. After completion of their education and training some decided to find work and get some work experience. The temptation is high because once one acquires an good qualification; the chances of finding a job are high. So they stay to work, invariably they settle down and start a family of their own.
Among those who leave for employment reasons, their children often disconnect with the country of origin except through their parents. They consider themselves part of their adopted country and eventually find work and settle down.
The diaspora issue therefore is not so simple. On the surface, there are a few passport-carrying nationals who intend to come back home one day. However, they do not speak for their children; even if these children were born in Zambia. The children assimilate into the environments where they go to school and college, and feel comfortable making an economic contribution in that environment once they are eligible to work. These children are far removed from our country and our reality. The fact still remains, those that want to come back can do so without hindrance. They are free to come back and make a contribution without expecting special favors.
In my humble view, anyone in the diaspora who is a national has every right to return if they so decide. They do not need anyone’s permission to return. If they have children born elsewhere, that are underage, they can assume the nationality of their parents until they are old enough to choose. If they are married or have foreign spouses, there are procedures for such arrangements to facilitate entry and residence.
These people should be commended because they took a risk, uprooted themselves and their families to go to a far-away place to seek better conditions for themselves. It is such people that our country needs to come and help us learn from them. They have been exposed to an environment where everything is possible, dreams are realized, technology enables most things and the sky is literally the limit.
The only promise that government can make is to create an enabling environment for entrepreneurship.
For the diaspora to work for us, we have to be very clear whom we are targeting. I am of the belief that every national who has been away from this country, even as long as 30 years, is free to return. They do not have to negotiate with anybody. They just pack their bags and head home. Many have acquired skills that they can put to work to support themselves. Many may have accumulated savings, which they can invest in real estate and other assets. Many of them have traceable extended families and friends whose networks they can use to get connected again.
The only promise that government can make is to create an enabling environment for entrepreneurship. So far some things are in place. Registration of a company takes less than a week when all the documentation is in place. Financial institutions have made a lot of progress in supporting local businesses. Some sectors like energy, transport and ICT are now wide open for people to participate.
Mining is another area where a local, in partnership with foreign investors, can exploit. The stock exchange has been in existence for more than 20 years. It is still small but there are opportunities for portfolio investment. The regulatory environment has also improved, making foreign investment safer than it has ever been. Real estate development has also come up in recent years. Through banks or other structured entities, one can purchase a house and invest in real estate projects safely while you live miles away.
The diaspora need not despair that they are coming back to nothing. The world is now well connected. Even physical travel to access rural areas is faster and more comfortable than it has ever been. Facilities like private schools and medical services are better than when they left. There is plenty of virgin land available to those that may have the resources to develop industries.
The one thing we don’t have much of is jobs, but this shortage is not unique to home. The UK, South Africa and Europe in general have seen a slowdown in job creation; so much so that host countries, which hitherto were welcoming, have started to discriminate in favor of nationals first. So those intending to come home will surely find a similar situation of jobs shortages even for university and college graduates. There is scope, however, for entrepreneurship opportunities, especially in the field of technology. Young people who have acquired some unique skills, this is a good time to consider coming to make a contribution. The environment is ripe for exploitation. The government is alive to the needs of young people and are facilitating through positive policies and recognition. There are many organizations also looking at youth and their needs to help them get a decent footing in life.
Working for life in some cushy organization, even when one has high qualifications, is not easy to come by. The trend is for youth to learn to do things for themselves through entrepreneurship endeavors and in this area there is support.