Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Posts Tagged ‘Zim diaspora’

Once-colonizing Britain gets a taste of ‘colonization’ and surprise, doesn’t like it

Posted by CM on October 24, 2009

It’s fascinating to watch the uproar in the UK over the wisdom of giving a platform on a BBC TV program to Nick Griffin, leader of the controversial British National Party.

Griffin and the BNP are not afraid to flaunt their anti-immigrant, pro-‘indigenous white British’ basic platform. The furore has been on whether allowing Griffin on to a popular BBC interview program was simply in line with accommodating all viewpoints and with free speech, or whether doing so encouraged hate speech.

There seems little doubt that while the BNP may still be a fringe party with no representation in the British parliament, it has definitely struck a sympathetic nerve in a section of British society that feels inundated by immigrants from Asia and Africa. Many white Britons who would never admit it publicly may well agree with Griffin quips such as that London ‘is no longer part of Britain. There is not much support for me there because the place is dominated by ethnic minorities. There is an ethnic minority that supports me: the English. But there’s not many of them left. London is no longer a city my grandparents would recognise. It is changed beyond all recognition. Many of the ancestral Londoners have left over the last 20 years because they can no longer call it home.’

Griffin’s opponents react with outrage to such comments and point out that London’s increasingly multi-cultural nature is one of it’s strengths, and that the immigrants whose numbers there have been growing for decades have given as much or more to the society as they are perceived to take from it. All this may be true, but I also have no trouble at all understanding the misgivings of ‘indigenous white Britons’ to the speed and scale of the changes that have been caused by the influx in recent decades of immigrants, legal and otherwise, from ‘strange’ cultures.

Compounding the tensions is the fact that the nature of British political-correctness, perhaps influenced by sensitivity to charges of discrimination and racism from Britian’s colonial era, is such that even new and illegal immigrants to that country can claim societal ‘rights’ which would not be expected or granted in most other societies. One result of this is that some groups of immigrants there seem to feel less of an obligation to fit into the mores of the society than would be the case in other countries. So instead of feeling a need to fit into the ‘British way of life,’ many of the immigrants instead demand that their host society go out of its way to accommodate their cultural, religious and other practices. I can well understand how many Britons feel that this politically-correct, bend-over-backwards accommodativeness has gone too far, and that in sections of their society they feel increasingly like the strangers rather than the hosts/natives.

Yet a lot of this is colonial chickens coming home to roost. Many years ago during what used to be called a ‘race riot’ by immigrants protesting some ill-treatment or other, to the question of why the immigrants were coming into a Briton where their reception was then at best mixed and sometimes hostile, replied, “We are here because you were there.”

What she meant was that the links that were now drawing many of the new immigrants to the UK were formed during the heydays of Britain’s colonizing mission, when it dominated and ‘owned’ a good chunk of the world. What the protester was in effect saying was that in a way the tables were being turned and the once-colonizing British had to put up with the waves of immigration as one consequence of their once having ‘ruled the world.’ To different extents, other former colonial powers like France, Portugal and Italy are facing the same issue of large numbers of people from their former colonies regarding their capitals as magnets for achieving life goals which it is thought are difficult to impossible to achieve at home.

There is obviously indisputable truth to “we are here because you were there,” although the fact of that truth is hardly comfort to a Briton who feels that ‘the natives’ (of Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, etc) are ‘taking over’ places like London.

I don’t know whether Griffin and his BNP have an official position on ‘The Zimbabwe Crisis.’ But it is a pretty safe bet to guess that they are nostalgic for Rhodesia and are sympathetic to ex-Rhodesians like the white farmers who have borne the brunt of Robert Mugabe’s fury. Yet one irony is that Griffins’s message of representing what he says are the ignored interests of white Britons is very similar to that of Mugabe’s ‘Zimbabwe for the black Zimbabweans’ message. Yet the British right wing loathes Mugabe for his treatment of Zimbabwe’s white farmers in the name of black empowerment and of correcting the ills of the colonial era.

Another irony of the resentment of that section of white Britain at the ‘colonization’ of places like London by African/Asians/Middle Easterners/etc is that there are many ways in which the British colonization of the ancestral homes of today’s immigrants was similar. Griffin speaks for the white Britain that is worried not just about the numbers of immigrants, but about how they often stick to and propagate aspects of their culture more than they learn and take on the ‘British culture.’ Yet there was rarely ever any question of British colonialists feeling the need to learn the languages of ‘native’ peoples or bend to their cultures, let alone adopt them. As a matter of course the natives simply had to learn the language, culture, religion, etc of the mighty colonizer Britain, case closed. In this regard then, the new African/Asian/Middle Eastern/etc ‘colonizers’ of the British are much more benign: at least they speak English, many of them have taken on European religions and so forth. So the new colonizers are being much more accommodating of their British ‘subjects’ than the once-colonizing British were of theirs!

It will be interesting to see how the British debate on immgration progresses, and to observe how the BNP influences it. But it seems clear from a historical point of view that what the uneasy-at-immigration Britons are experiencing is a version of “what goes around, comes around.”

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Digging beneath the surface of Zimbabwe’s “diaspora syndrome”

Posted by CM on November 11, 2007

The levels of unprofessionalism to which The Herald has sunk makes me tend to dismiss many of its opinion pieces as government propaganda. But an article by Stephen T. Maimbodei on October 2 about the whole recent phenomenon of a large Zimbabwean diaspora had many good points to cause all of us, at home and abroad, to think about our situation:

Zimbabwe is losing a valuable and highly skilled human resource base. It is difficult to ascertain how many Zimbabweans are in the Diaspora as economic migrants. What are their attitudes about home, especially those who left the country and applied for political asylum, wherever they are scattered the world over? Was it worth it? How does Zimbabwe, the real home, compare with their new homes? Maybe my musings about motherland and the search for a Zimbabwean identity will say something.

Those of us who … remember the “been-to” syndrome that was prevalent among people who had studied in Western countries, especially the UK and the US. In West Africa, it is called the “when-we’s” syndrome. In former Portuguese colonies, they are called assimilados.

The term “been-to” was coined because people would always hear persons who had been overseas saying, “When we were in London (or whichever Western place), we used to…In French-speaking Africa, it was Paris, and in Lusophone Africa, Lisbon. “Been-to” also referred to someone who had gone to a far-off land, a land with better opportunities in all spheres of life…It also meant that the person’s preferred language of communication was English, and not the vernaculars.

The pull … the search for “greener pastures” has meant that many of Africa’s sons and daughters are willing to be economic migrants in Western countries by any means possible. Almost every month, you hear and read tragic stories of young men from West Africa who risk their lives, trying to illegally enter Europe through Spain. The millions of dollars in foreign exchange they spend trying to be illegal immigrants is mind boggling.

This writer … realises that missionaries … to Africa colonised it, pillaged and plundered, and enabled the construction of the fantastic infrastructures that we all go for.

The irony is that the “when-we’s” syndrome never referred to people who had been in developing countries such as China or India. My father, who worked as a migrant worker in Malawi and South Africa, was never called a “been-to.”

“Been-to” was seen as a mark of achievement, success and prosperity. It commanded a lot of respect for the educational qualifications attained in those far-flung places were supposed to be superior to those obtained from local institutions.

The syndrome affected many of us.

It was also sometimes easy to see the “been-to’s” because of the inter-racial and/cultural marriages, especially in a Rhodesia where inter-racial marriages were legally prohibited.The “when-we’s” syndrome was also accompanied by the “diploma disease” where pieces of academic papers from overseas institutions were considered more important than productivity. Even amongst themselves, the college or university one attended in those Western countries also mattered. It was common to hear people claiming that those who had studied in the US had phony degrees.

The “when-we’s” syndrome has now taken a new look. It is now the Diaspora syndrome. It is a syndrome that looks good on the outside, but when one digs deeper; there is so much dirt and rot underneath.

At the peak of the MDC heat wave, many Zimbabweans went to Western countries, claiming to be asylum seekers, when in actual fact they are just economic migrants.

They claimed torture and harassment from Zanu-PF and the government. That these so-called refugees had to go through the rigorous processes of getting passports and visas, and then claim political asylum, are some of the twists and turns of the matter for Zimbabwe in the new millennium.

However, the price some of them are paying is immense for family values, as most of their families have been thrown to the dogs. Is it a wonder that we have so many dysfunctional families among people whose dollar power is so strong? A majority of them are unable to return to Zimbabwe. Some of them died in their “new” homes, and their remains are now interred in those far-off places, being buried with very few friends and relatives present to bid them farewell.

Is it worth it?

The glorification of the Diaspora and condescension of homes that give us succour are ironies that mean that we have mindsets that need deprogramming. And some minds need to be installed with totally new programmes, programmes that should realise that when we go into the Diaspora, we are following the pillaged and plundered national assets.

We go over to make them refined products that will only be sent back to us with labels “Made in the UK”, etc, and not made “Made in Zimbabwe.” But they will be beyond the reach of ordinary people. Look at the gold necklace, earrings and the diamond ring you are wearing, and you will know that it brought very little value, let alone wealth to Zimbabwe.

It is a syndrome that has outlived its usefulness. More than ever, a lot of people, especially among the young generation, would rather be living in the glitzy cities and towns of the Western world than in Africa, even if it means doing menial jobs.

Diaspora, which has replaced the “been-to” syndrome, is now so rife, and the worst part about this is that whereas the “been-to’s” of the past did not have immediate economic benefits for their families and themselves, it is now a different kettle of fish. Today’s “been-to” or Diasporan is bringing immense economic benefits to their families.

In Zimbabwe’s harsh economic environment, you hear many claiming that if it were not of the family members and relatives in the Diaspora, they would be suffering more than they are doing right now. Diasporans are now the new buyers and owners of property, and they are doing it at unprecedented levels. For a nation which is going through such an economic crunch to have roads littered with the latest vehicles from all over the world, most of them fuel-guzzling 4 x 4s, is a wonder.

Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation is good news to their ears. The parallel economy they have created is an institution that they would do not want to see disappearing. Modern information technologies make it easy for them to peg the hard currency at any level they want.

As if the colonial propaganda and brainwashing were not enough, the “been-to” or Diaspora mentality has created a class of people who do not have confidence in themselves, let alone confidence in their capacity to transform their conditions at a national level. It is a mentality that has created the derogatory terms of such as zvaanaMuseyamwa, meaning products and services offered by indigenous people. It is a mindset where 27 after independence you hear people always saying: Dai kwakanga kuchine varungu zvinhu hazvaimbodai. (If whites were still running the show, goods and services would not degenerate like this.)

You also hear people bragging that they are now British, Australian, US and/or South African citizens. It is their right, but if the Rhodesians were comfortable with dual citizenship, there was a place they always knew was home, no matter what.

Almost 10 years since the economic migration started, Zimbabwe still has to benefit from these migrants, for economic migrants in countries such as India and the Philippines contribute substantial amounts to the national GDP since they make their foreign exchange remittances using formal channels.

As a caveat, it is Zimbabwe, and Zimbabwe only, where issues of national security seem to have little significance since we do not care where eventually the hard-earned US dollar, pound sterling or rand will end up.

Socially and culturally, there are attempts to decolonise the minds, but to what effect? But for how long will we continue to search for a Zimbabwean or African identity, especially at a time when capitalism seems to be rearing its ugly head through the much-touted globalisation mantra? Africa has been independent for more than five decades now. Transforming ourselves to suit international norms is not a problem, but we cannot be a people that always look up to others to define our identity and destiny.

Our social and cultural norms are littered with Western templates. Our clothing industry has been reduced to nought. The beauty care and fashion business for black women the world over, for example, is pouring in billions of dollars of foreign currency into foreign industries, while basics such as food, health care, housing, water and sanitation are neglected beyond any measure of understanding. So is the entertainment industry.

The domino effect of the “been-to” syndrome is so overwhelming that it has not escaped the elderly generation. So often, you hear cross-border shoppers always wanting to compare Zimbabwe with neighbouring South Africa, economically in particular. True, South Africa has an advanced infrastructure compared to most African countries, and it is the leading economy on the continent, but who owns and controls that economy?

The Diaspora effect also opened windows of opportunity of travel for most elderly parents of people living in the Diaspora. It is a very commendable thing that the elderly are getting to travel and be exposed to other cultures and viewpoints.

However, the colonial mentality seems to be a curse that will live with us for a very long time to come. As a people based on an oral culture, we like to talk. The street corner Press has always been our major source of information. Writing and reading are alien to us. If this is the case, what do these children in the Diaspora tell their elderly parents about their “new homes” vis-à-vis Zimbabwe, for one would expect them to return from these visits wiser and better teachers of our young generation?

This reminds me of Walter Rodney’s book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. The African psyche needs emancipation and redemption. For, although globalisation is being force-fed on most developing nations, there are marks of our identity that should never be traded for anything.

Some of it was over the top, such as the insinuation that Zimbabweans ignore formal channels of sending money home out of a lack of patriotism. He rather conveniently ignores the little matter of Zimbabwean formal channel exchange rates that are a fraction of the street rate! No one who battles for their dollar in the diaspora is going to be willing to lose a cent by exchanging it at a far less than its real value, a universal selfishness imperative that is far stronger than more abstract ones like “patriotism,” regardless of how one defines this word in today’s bitterly politically fractured Zimbabwe.

I got a little uptight about “As a people based on an oral culture, we like to talk. The street corner Press has always been our major source of information. Writing and reading are alien to us.” Not because it isn’t true, but because Maimbodei seemed to almost celebrate how “writing and reading are alien to us.” As long as they remain so, we will be stuck even further behind the rest of the world than we are now as a people! Changing this should be an important part of the “reprogramming” he talks about, but I accept that this is not the theme of his article. I just get alarmed at any suggestion of comfortably wallowing in accepting factors, cultural or otherwise, that put Africans at such a competitive disadvantage in the world as it is structured today.

But this is nitpicking on my part, these are all points more appropriate for another time. The fact of the matter is that Maimbodei has done a good job of digging deep to analyse our collective psychological state of mind in regards to an important phenomenon of our reality today.

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