HARARE // Thomas Madondoro left Zimbabwe for Toronto in 2004 seeking a better life. He had trained as a journalist at the respected Harare Polytechnic, from which he graduated in 1999, and then worked for three local newspapers, but the economic crisis and a difficult media environment chased him away. At 32, he now holds a graduate certificate in Canadian journalism for internationally trained writers and a bachelor's degree in geography from York University.
Six years after he left Zimbabwe, his country is calling him back through the Zimbabwe Human Capital Initiative (ZHCI), a programme that seeks to harness the skills found in the diaspora. "The initiative is very good," said Mr Madondoro by e-mail from Toronto. "The idea of setting up a job bank specifically targeting Zimbabweans in the diaspora provides valuable intelligence that is needed to succeed. The site will provide individuals with information they need to advance their careers. Companies will be able to hire highly qualified staff."
A website provides a platform for skilled Zimbabweans to create profiles that can be used by potential local employers. It also provides information on investment opportunities. Job listings are available on the website, www.zimbabwehumancapital.org, for architects, engineers, doctors, nurses, radiographers, university lecturers, surveyors and other occupations. Prospective employers range from the government and private companies to civic bodies and foreign embassies.
Between three million and four million Zimbabweans live abroad, according to a UN Development Programme (UNDP) report, "The potential contribution of the Zimbabwean Diaspora to economic recovery", published in May. Most of them left the country at the onset of the economic and political crisis in 2000 and settled in South Africa, Britain, Canada, Australia, the United States and New Zealand. The International Fund for Agricultural Development reported that in 2007 Zimbabwe received US$361 million (Dh1.3 billion) in remittances, excluding in-kind transfers from people working abroad. This represented 7.2 per cent of the country's 2007 gross domestic product.
But their departure created a human resource deficit, more pronounced now as the government struggles to rebuild the economy. Washington Mbizvo, permanent secretary in the ministry of higher and tertiary education, said diaspora Zimbabweans have potential to help rebuild their country. "Countries like India, Israel and others in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean have strong diaspora communities, which have for years played key roles in the growth of their economies. We have millions abroad whose skills and investments can transform our country if properly harnessed."
Gilbert Muponda wants the government to do more to persuade exiles to return. He said efforts are uncoordinated, suggesting that the setting up of a ministry of diaspora affairs could help refocus the initiative. Non-resident Zimbabweans "represent a whole generation of exported Zimbabweans who can use their newly acquired skills, networks, ideas and access to resources to rebuild Zimbabwe and rebrand it.
"The starting point would obviously be a skills audit and outreach programme" that would assess people's skills and their ability to help the country rebuild, he wrote on Zimbabwe Telegraph, an online publication he owns and runs from Canada. The UNDP document says diaspora remittances can play a major short-term role in supporting households and alleviating poverty but longer-term recovery will depend on the return of human capital and skills.
In Brisbane, Australia, 29-year-old Viola Chari, a former teacher now a nurse, wants to return to Zimbabwe, but she would like to see the economy recover first. "It is very difficult to move again unless you are sure you are making the right decision and there is no choice. Home is best, but home must take care of you." @Email:email@example.com