Mozambique, Diaspora Vote: Lessons For Zimbabwe

Mozambique, Diaspora Vote: Lessons For Zimbabwe

By Andrew Kunambura

Mozambique recently voted in an election won by FRELIMO.

A FEW years ago, Mozambique was one of the most ridiculed southern African countries. Following years of a devastating civil war, its economy was failing and the country’s citizens ventured out to other countries, particularly Zimbabwe and South Africa for jobs. Some Mozambican citizens permanently settled in Zimbabwe.

Fast track to now, and the tables have turned and roles have reversed. Mozambique is experiencing an economic boom, spurred by exploitation of its natural resources while its neighbour, Zimbabwe, is experiencing serious economic challenges. The well-documented effect has been that the latter has, of late, been sending its citizens to other countries, even to Mozambique but most commonly to South Africa.

The two countries — Zimbabwe and Mozambique — are so inter-related that developments in either country affect the other. Mozambique’s presidential elections recently renewed the fierce Diaspora vote debate in Zimbabwe.  Should Zimbabweans in the Diaspora be allowed to vote? This has been a daunting question for the powers-that-be. While Zimbabwe has slammed the door on its citizens living abroad, many other African countries are increasingly including provisions in their constitutions and legal statutes extending the right to vote to members of the Diaspora in national elections while in their host countries.

Mozambique has a lot to teach Zimbabwe in this regard. Maputo has for long been allowing its citizens living in other countries to vote in national plebiscites and in last week’s polls, it set up a total of 11 polling stations in Zimbabwe in elections also observed by Harare. Mozambicans in South Africa were also allowed to vote in the elections won by the candidate from the ruling FRELIMO party, Filipe Nyusi.

 The Zimbabwean government, as Finance and Economic Development Minister, Patrick Chinamasa has shown in his 2014 national budget, acknowledges the immense economic contribution by its citizens living and working in other countries and encourages them to invest in their home country. Still the country has paid a deaf ear to calls by Zimbabweans in the Diaspora to participate in national elections.

What it is afraid of, no one knows. But everyone, including those in power, knows that the estimated over two million people out in the Diaspora deserve to be voting. Botswana is also going that route while there is a fierce debate currently in Nigeria over the issue.  Nigeria holds its presidential elections next year.

Arguments for Diaspora vote are a result of the emerging consensus that those living in foreign countries hold greater potential to contribute to the development of those nations.  As is evident from emerging economies, with appropriate policy frameworks the Diaspora can be an effective force in the development process.

Beyond remittances to support relatives, the Zimbabwean citizens abroad could contribute through investment in productive activities that support economic growth and job creation and can be tapped to contribute to policy dialogue as well as into the transfer of knowledge and skills. Some countries like Ghana have even gone beyond tapping into simple Diaspora economic support and now include their citizens living abroad in commissions and management boards of state institutions.

Given the immense contribution to their home country, it is quite justified that members of the Diaspora have the right to participate in electoral processes in their country and it follows therefore that they should not be disenfranchised. While the ruling party, ZANU-PF, is determined not to give them the vote, opposing parties say denying citizens living in other countries the right to vote is unconstitutional and therefore a violation of one of the most fundamental human rights.

Section 155 of the Zimbabwean Constitution states that every Zimbabwean citizen has the right to vote and that it is the State’s responsibility to facilitate for that. Yet, the recently amended Electoral Act has no provision for that. MDC-T spokesman, Douglas Mwonzora, who is a lawyer by profession and was instrumental in the development of the country’s new charter, said there was no basis at all to deny those in the Diaspora their right to vote. “Our Constitution says every Zimbabwean must be able to vote, not every Zimbabwean in Zimbabwe. There is need to urgently address the legal aspect to it,” he said.

“If Mozambique has done it, why can’t we? It is only a matter of political will. The government should put mechanisms to ensure that its citizens are able to participate not only in economic development of the country, but also in elections. We should by now be talking about modalities of how they can participate in national elections, not whether or not they should vote,” said ZAPU spokesperson, Mjobisa Noko.

For a number of countries, the debate has progressed beyond whether this community should vote but to the logistics of implementing voting.  Political analyst, Rashweat Mukundu, said: “What is evident is that the government, which is largely responsible for the existence of such a vast community, is very much afraid that a Diaspora vote could tip electoral outcomes. Whatever the case, at any rate, the right to vote essentially means that Zimbabweans abroad must be given a voice to determine how their home countries are governed and the surest way of doing so is to give them their vote.”

“Sadly, Zimbabwean elections have never really been about people’s choices but mere confirmation and legitimising the political elite, hence the restrictions. There is a huge mistrust between the Zimbabwean political leadership and the citizens, hence the denial of that particular basic right,” Mukundu added.

Another political commentator, Alexander Rusero, said giving the Diasporas the right to vote would mean they shoulder the responsibility of supporting the operations of the governments they would help elect.  This, he said, would also empower the government to collect taxes from them.

“The citizens dwelling in other countries do have the right to vote and determine how they are governed, but they also have a responsibility to pay for the operation of their governments. Rights must come with responsibilities. The debate then should progress beyond implementing voting to logistics of taxing the Diaspora such as allowing for deductions for taxes paid in other jurisdictions,” he said.

 The right to vote from outside the country is reserved only for people who are in the service of the state. Clearly, this kind of selectivity — based on political and military office — strips some deserving individuals of the ability to exercise their right to vote.

Such disenfranchisement is hidden behind the veneer of resource shortages, as well as lack of information on the whereabouts of citizens that are in the Diaspora. This is because of a lack of willingness on the part of the authorities that organise elections and procedures that will ensure the fulfillment of the right to vote.