I have relatives living and working outside Zimbabwe. Some have moved fairly recently after securing work permits. Others have been away from home for over a decade. They visit when they can, sending gifts and money when they can’t.
My family is by no means the exception. Exact figures are hard to come by, but estimates suggest that there are approximately four million Zimbabweans living and working outside the country. They live, work and study mainly in South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Botswana and Australia. The departure of so many Zimbabweans – an exodus accelerated by economic deterioration – affected all aspects of society. Grandparents have watched their grandchildren grow up through Whatsapp massages and phone calls. Spouses have lived countries apart, grieving children and parents unable to repatriate the bodies of their loved ones. People in the diaspora have supported families, built homes, helped start businesses and provided much needed financial relief for the people they left at home.
However, life outside Zimbabwe is not easy. There’s this idea that people who managed to leave are living it up wherever they are, enjoying a good financially stable life. True, some have built successful careers and integrated themselves into the communities they found in foreign lands. But many others did not find paradise beyond Zimbabwe’s borders. Many struggled to secure work, and when they did, it paid peanuts. Many live in cramped isolated conditions, far removed from the warmth and comfort of the family home they grew up in. They’ve had to hold their tongues when confronted with discrimination, constantly reminded that the land they live in is not their own.
How does this relate to the upcoming elections?
General elections are scheduled to take place this year, with the Presidency and both houses of Parliament up for election. The importance of these elections cannot be overstated. For the first time in five years, Zimbabweans have the chance to vote and decide who can best fulfil the wishes and demands of the people. And the past five years have been hard:
- Cash shortages and bond notes.
- $15billion missing.
- A typhoid and cholera outbreak in the space of a year.
- A revitalised activism movement encapsulated in movements such as #ThisFlag and #Tajamuka.
- A military ‘intervention’ that led to the resignation of Robert Mugabe.
Throughout all this, Zimbabweans outside the country haven’t lost touch. They’ve organised solidarity marches, held formal discussions on the way forward and how best they can contribute, and continued sending money home. True, they may not deal with the daily struggle of living in Zimbabwe, but to think that everything that happens there doesn’t affect them is just plain wrong. The very reason that they had to leave is because of those struggles. They did not happily walk out of the country just because they wanted to, and given the opportunity, many would want to come back.
So why does the diaspora deserve the right to vote?
Citizens being able to vote even when outside the country is not a new practise. As of 2006, 115 countries have provisions for citizens outside the country to vote. While specifics differ from country to country, the general understanding is that the right to vote shouldn’t be revoked just because you’re not physically in the country. Physical distance doesn’t mean emotional and mental separation: many Zimbabweans in the diaspora want to come home, but for that to happen, political and economic reforms are necessary. And one way of achieving those is through exercising the right to vote.
Now such a process won’t be easy: the logistics behind voter registration, ballot papers and counting votes are a major issue that will require efficiency and strategic planning. However, they’re not impossible, especially if there’s a desire to include the diaspora in the voting process. As cliché as it is, when there’s a will, there’s a way.
I’m sure the people reading this know someone who left the country. Or maybe you’re the one reading this from a foreign land. Wherever you are, whoever you know, what matters ultimately is that you are Zimbabwean. Your right to vote in crucial elections is not limited or subject to change, it is definite. And if we are serious about creating a new and inclusive Zimbabwe, we need to include everyone in the process.
Header image sourced from WikiCommons.