Thursday, November 08, 2007

Zimbabwean economics is what we need

Zim-Moza visa scrap giant step for Sadc
By Caesar Zvayi

BEFORE the Berlin Conference of November 1884 to February 1885, Africa was one large territory in which people roamed freely between ancient kingdoms. It was this unfettered movement that culminated in the Bantu migration, the largest in human history, that occurred about 1 000 years ago and was manifest in the southward migration of indigenous Africans who gradually settled in southern Africa, present-day Sadc.

But when white settlers convened in Berlin at the behest of the First Germany Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, Africa, with the exception of present day Liberia and Ethiopia, was partitioned into colonies shared between seven imperial powers Great Britain, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and Portugal.

The present political boundaries mooted in Berlin, however, emerged 30 years after the Conference, drawn by Europeans for Europeans with scant regard for African realities.

Prior to the Berlin Conference, few of these political boundaries existed; those that did were centred on settler territories, like the one that protected Basutoland (present day Lesotho) from Boer encroachment around Transvaal and the enclave of Walvis Bay.

In the wake of the Berlin Conference, the European powers made bilateral treaties with each other and drew boundaries to define their various spheres of influence. These are the borders we recognise as national boundaries today, frontiers that are not of our own making but are in effect inherited colonial creations. Boundaries that were drawn not to serve Africa but to facilitate its plunder by invaders, boundaries drawn without regard to African nationalities or clans as they divided whole communities into different countries.

A case in point is in Eastern Zimbabwe where the Tangwena chieftainship’s jurisdiction straddles parts of Zimbabwe and Mozambique. For instance, Chief Rekayi Tangwena had four headmen, two in Zimbabwe and the other two in Mozambique and both headmen facilitated President Mugabe’s crossing into Mozambique in 1975.

To this day, across many border areas in Africa, whole communities share languages, customs, history and traditions, and with intermarriages, have since strengthened their historical ties. Similar cases occur along Zimbabwe’s border with Botswana where the Bangwato and Bakalaka ba ka Nswazwi peoples in Zimbabwe trace their bloodlines to Botswana, and some have been repatriated to their ancestral homes.

What is regrettable, however, is that the sketching of the pillagers who convened in Berlin has survived Africa’s transition from colonialism to independence and the entire post-colonial period stretching from March 2 1956, the day Mohamed V made a triumphal entry into Rabat, to this day.

Since the present political boundaries were drawn to serve colonial interests, mainly through the divide and rule stratagem, today they present numerous problems to post-independent states, all of which impede trade, development and progress on the continent.

The genocide in Rwanda and Burundi can be atrributed, in part, to the partitioning of the then Ruanda-Urundi.

The fight between Nigeria and Cameroon over the Bakassi Peninsula can be traced to the ignorance of those who drew the present political boundaries who separated clans, families, and communities at the stroke of a pen.

It is with this in mind that the recent scrapping of visa requirements for citizens of Zimbabwe and Mozambique is providential as it is the first step in removing colonially imposed restrictions to travel within Sadc.

What makes the scrapping of the visa even more significant is that it comes at a time entrenched colonial interests have declared war on Zimbabwe, and as part of that war have embarked on a campaign of falsehoods meant to foster xenophobia for Zimbabweans in neighbouring states.

Reports abound that Zimbabweans ‘‘fleeing hunger and repression’’ are migrating en masse into neighbouring countries where they reportedly make life difficult for the citizens, either through sheer numbers, superior education and skills or for the lumpen elements, crime.

That Mozambique has seen through the lies, where citizens of some states, fortunately not the governments, have chosen to be xenophobic should be applauded.

It is important to note that the majority of Zimbabweans who go into neighbouring countries do not go there to settle, but to sell their wares and buy some commodities in short supply. Those who settle will either be professionals recruited for their skills or the unskilled after menial jobs, a development not unique to Zimbabwe as it has been happening throughout the region since the days of Wenela.

In fact, without the patronage of Zimbabwean traders and consumers border towns like Mussina in South Africa or Francistown in Botswana would have shrunk by now, but actually have booming retail sectors because of Zimbabwean consumers.

Earlier this year, Fin24, a South African news website revealed that 18 percent or 540 000 of the three million visitors to South Africa last year were from Zimbabwe, and they pumped in a massive R2,2 billion into the South African economy, particularly, the retail sector. In fact a look at key portfolios in Sadc will show that Zimbabweans hold most of the posts due to their superior skills and education, and this is a microcosm of the situation in some countries in the region.

In Sadc, only Mozambique and South Africa retained a visa regime on Zimbabwe, ironically these are countries that should not have such restrictions. Mozambique and South Africa benefited from unrestricted access to Zimbabwe during the trying times in their history, the same way Zimbabwe benefited during the liberation struggle. Mozambicans freely travelled to and from Zimbabwe, with some even settling during the Renamo insurgency.

While for South Africans, at the height of the struggle against apartheid, Zimbabwe’s borders were open and some ANC members actually used Zimbabwean passports to travel the world.

The visa regime Mozambique and South Africa had on Zimbabwe has been sticking out like a sore thumb since the official opening of the Giriyondo Tourist Access Facility in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park on August 16 2006.

There; immediately after the signing ceremony by Presidents Mugabe, Thabo Mbeki and Armando Guebuzza; a 15-kilometre strip of fence was symbolically pulled down to show that animals will move freely throughout the mega-park covering the three countries.

The GLTP that incorporates the Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe, Kruger National Park (South Africa) and Limpopo National Park (Mozambique), is the largest eco-tourism project in the world covering 35 000 square kilometres, roughly the size of Israel.

The question to be asked is: If animals can now move freely between our countries what does that make of us if we can do no better for our people? This is a question the South African home affairs ministry should grapple with since they now bear the distinction of being the only country in Sadc with a visa regime on Zimbabwe.

It is, however, poignant that Sadc is working towards a uni-visa system, which will remove barriers to movement. Sadc can not afford to do less given the example set by other blocs on the continent.

In West Africa, the 16 member Economic Community of West African States not only scrapped visas but also does not even require passports for citizens travelling within the community, as national IDs are sufficient. ECOWAS members include Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.

In East Africa, the East African Community made up of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania now issues an East African Passport to eligible citizens, the passports which are recognised only by the three countries and are used for travel between those countries.

National passports are required for travel outside the EAC. Though holders of national passports issued by EAC member states do not require visas, work permits are required.

Even the former imperial powers, which imposed these artificial borders on Africans, have long recognised the ties between them and that the borders are nothing more than lines on a map as they have removed barriers to movement in the European Union.

Citizens of the European Economic Area; the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway; freely travel and work in any EU country without a passport let alone a visa, a standard compliant national ID card is sufficient. The same rights are also accorded citizens of Switzerland although they remain separate from the EEA.

In the Middle East, Lebanese and Syrian citizens do not require passports to move back and forth, their national IDs are adequate. In Asia the same obtains for Indians, Nepalese and Bhutanese travelling between those three countries. So what is wrong with Sadc? Why is the bloc taking so long to realise that the boundaries being turned into barriers are not an African creation?

Thankfully, Zimbabwe and Mozambique have shown the way and Sadc’s proposed uni-visa shows Sadc is not far behind others.

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