By Zvisineyi Chiromo
Remittances have plummeted, migrant workers have lost their jobs, visas cancelled. Covid-19 will reveal to many Zimbabweans in the diaspora that home, which seemed no longer an option, may be the only one left.
The global economy is exposed and the truth is, countries are struggling to stabilize. Downsizing and layoffs are snowballing. The coronavirus pandemic is changing regional migration as economies scramble to employ their own citizens.
It has opened wide the opportunities that for years have been held by Zimbabweans as the loyal workers of the south. The ones who will give their all for the overwhelming solace of being in a functioning economy.
As a result, nations will first fight for their own. South Africa has already made this clear by committing to repatriate migrant Zimbabwean workers back home. The few job opportunities meant for the youth are already saturated by older employees who can’t retire because there is no pension. The self-employment market will explode.
How will people buffer their homes, businesses, jobs and schools from this influx? In the past, during times of national crisis, diaspora workers have sent more money home. Now many have nothing to send, they can barely cushion themselves.
With nurses facing dire conditions in the UK, hospitals being closed, retired nurses being recalled and heightening their risk of succumbing, 2020 may cut remittances by the 23% estimated by the World Bank.
America faces its own excessive challenges. President Trump still pursues laws that don’t favor immigrants. Covid-19 unemployment is now at an estimated 21% and these figures come from legally filed records. How about Zimbabwean workers who do not enjoy the benefits of legal stay?
South Africa is the number one cross-border trading, casual and formal employment destination. In short, the country is in for another shock to its collapsed economy.
The pledges by international donors, the US, Japan and the World Bank are relief related and won’t go far in supporting the hunger and health crisis. The pledged ZWL $18billion stimulus package is a wait and see as no one knows how it will be funded nor its distribution method.
The government has exhausted its false appeals for finance because of unmet promises for political reforms. International financiers can no longer take the risk of funds being diverted to elite pockets. The only aid will come from nations who have something to gain.
With rising internal population pressure, solutions will have to be found from within.
The reality on the ground
The April lockdown has done two things. The first is reducing the informal sector trading and spending the economy revolves around so cutting off incomes. The second is easing the spending pressure on families. People are so used to a broken, dysfunctional economy, they readjusted accordingly.
Spending reduced on transport, fuel and school fees and since mobile money transactions are the order of the day, there was no need for physical funds. Electricity was available in many neighborhoods possibly because of the ease on the supply load. For some, life became more bearable because of all this.
As life gets back to normal save for restricted cross border travel, can the influx of returning residents translate into them assimilating into the dysfunctional status quo? Or can it provide an opportunity to push for political and electoral reforms.
Ironically, the finance minister in his April 2nd letter to the IMF in return for bailout of the current humanitarian crisis pledged what citizens have been demanding. Electoral reforms, a market-related exchange rate, central bank to stop government lending, bearing down on corruption and aligning and implementing laws to the 2013 constitution.
Through his letter, the government accepted the need for overhaul. If citizens get out of their comfort zone of adjusting to a broken economy, reforms may be imminent. It only takes looking at African counterparts that share similar characteristics to see how populations who harness their collective voice can push for change.
Since 2017, Angola and Ethiopia saw transitions of power, in 2017 and 2018 respectively. Intense internal pressures to reform governance led to transfers of leadership as did Zimbabwe in 2018. The difference is their immediate opening up of political space and in Ethiopia’s case a change of regime.
They were successful because they accepted that their economies had to be liberalized, opposition included in decision making, private and civil sectors embraced and above all citizens needs addressed without fear of punishment.
Current regime change tensions in Angola and political unrest in Ethiopia aside, the active economic policies are in force giving opportunities where there were none. These nations grow because there is a playing field to do so. Party and leadership transitions continue.
For Zimbabwe, because there are those who still fund the unfair economic advantage of the few, unrelenting pressure from citizens may be the only way the government will accept its failings and reform the country.
Zvisineyi Chiromo is a Zimbabwean based in the diaspora.