Diaspora investments and informality

12 May, 2019 - 00:05 0 Views
Diaspora investments and informality

The Sunday News

Francis Mupazviriho

Continued from last week

WITH the depreciating local currency which was severely losing value from a hyper-inflationary era, Zimbabweans in the diaspora easily built houses back at home and accumulated all manner of material resources, in typical human nature.

Aside from the materialistic preoccupations, remittances were being sent back home. These sustained families. Children were sent to school and this was quite commendable.  While remittances remain key in terms of diaspora engagements back home, there is however, a redefinition of contribution to the new mantle of an investor, however, varying in terms of capital injection and capacity.

While investments have remained a hugely corporate affair and of state assisted development, which brings technology transfer and creates jobs, there is an agreement however, of the emerging sources of funds, albeit at a smaller and often individualised level, as is the case generally across the developing world!

While this remains the case in terms of investments back at home, there is an undeniable reality of diasporans who have done extremely well in their host nations to the post of employing hundreds and even at times thousands of nationals in their host nations. This writer has one such brother who left Zimbabwe some 15 years ago. Despite  having requisite academic credentials for a lofty job at a computing firm, he trekked down south for a painting job, in a common story which most Zimbabweans can relate with.

He however, found his act in South Africa and today he is a big employer there. He sits down with the who is who of the South African government. He is a big investor there and philanthropist. And then there is another relative who has set up a number of business entities in Mozambique, among many other places. Every Zimbabwean family out there can relate with such.

Beyond the material preoccupations of these notable stories of reasonable success found in diaspora capitals, it becomes important to locate the agency which these professionals bring to Zimbabwe’s growth pursuit. Their contribution has to be measured beyond figures of remittances and other arithmetic value to national growth. We have to ask ourselves about the jobs being created back at home and their quality.

While many success stories have been recorded of entities set up in the diaspora by Zimbabweans, there have been difficulties in replicating the same organisational capabilities back at home. Most diaspora run entities do not have the professional organisational capabilities. 

From face value this could be due to the social and economic conditions prevailing in Zimbabwe and the complexities which have come with running a business. This aside however, the bulk of the business entities funded by the diaspora have been regarded simply as “projects”.

This is a common word in Zimbabwe, whether at home or abroad. A project is a side fixture which one conducts to augment measly earnings from a formal job. Call it tapping from both worlds; keeping the formal job for security but conducting other activities to earn more. But the organisation and running of projects owned by members of the diaspora have been severely affected back home.

Those with greater capital have started ventures in mining, transport and tourism. While bearing the formal characteristics of a business, most have however, exhibited social links in terms of organisation. Most of these entities are essentially run by relatives on behalf of the benefactor who is abroad. They rely on daily phone calls and instant messaging to check on how the entity is performing.

Often, for most entities it is difficult to track how they are performing financially, who they are employing and many other such questions which ordinarily come with any business. Knowingly or otherwise, the bulk of these establishments have circumvented the numerous costs of formality, especially regarding labour contracts, commercial licensing and numerous other administrative rules.

It is trite to note that even despite a requisite financial backing, most such establishments qualify to fit the description of “informal sector entities”, notwithstanding the veneer of organisation from face value. What this has meant is the cumulative contribution to the nation has often been limited especially in terms of employment creation. The organisational structure and personnel across the hierarchy remains the social circle of bloodline and friendship.

Going forward, there is no doubt that establishments need serious organisational capabilities for them to reach full potential. There is also need to ride on the business forums across different capitals in the world and re-look at collective pooling of resources back home.

With the headlining ease of doing business reforms, there is also need to ensure a prioritisation of the diaspora as well, if we are to line up impactful investments back at home in our resolve to depart from the evident social limitations which have defined the bulk of most diaspora funded units.

With the crusading talk about decent jobs, there is a call for the diaspora to be instigators of quality employment, regardless of the size of the entity, ensuring social security for the employees, good working environments, reasonable earnings and many other such fundamental aspects.

 – Francis Mupazviriho writes in his personal capacity. He can be followed @FMupah on Twitter.

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