The place of intellectualism is quite pronounced in international affairs much as is mired in defined controversies often emanating from society’s built perceptions.
In mainstream literature of international affairs, the place of intellectualism is relationally linked to foreign policy, war, democracy, terrorism and at times even the media, which is the interlocutor of the intellectuals perceptions that are packaged as news to the society.
For Zimbabwe it is quite important to locate the intellectual identities, which have been built especially in the diaspora.
We now have a segmented and assertive crop of our diaspora dotted across the world. For Zimbabwe the most impressionable of this lot, is often those with advanced degrees in the West and professional experiences across metropolises.
In their posturing they remain keen to developments at home like the rest. However, they share their thoughts at every turn at times unlike the olden academicians who remained ensconced at the university forever.
Amongst some of these officials are those with strong academic profiles and others who are purely professionals.
There is an identifying social stratification, which has defined this lot, as intellectuals at times fitting even elite tag built from their professional lives.
This assertive subgroup of professionals abroad comprises of lawyers, journalists, academics, columnists and bureaucratic elites at the apex of regional and international organisations and of course those working for the donor community dealing with issues ranging from gender equality, climate change, child protection, health and so on.
While our diaspora has other media shy personalities like teachers, doctors, engineers and so on, it is the group composing of some top bureaucrats and their like-minded colleagues, which has been impressionable in mainstream and social media especially Twitter.
With most having worked hard to climb the professional ladders in the West and being venerated, they have often bounced back at home as the much vaunted technocrats, consultants and quite often coming with the deific Dr/Professorial titles widely acquired from Western academic institutions.
When they post on social media they seek to demystify “complex” issues by giving their opinions basing on abstract academic ideas. In their social media profiles their tweets are venerated to all ends of the world, at times crowning themselves as opinion makers.
With their blue verified badge on Twitter, their narrative easily gravitates as news, to salivating journalists prying the threads of these personalities. Their oomph is measures in re-tweets, number of comments and other defining nodes of social media.
For a number, their adroitness to articulate issues gives them the niche including back at home especially after an electoral season. Their acquired social networks give a strategic advantage to national efforts of re-engagement in particular. Whenever national questions emerge they give their strong positions to issues.
They are unlike the old academics who remained ensconced to the university walls and only revolved their thoughts in academic journals. With their assertiveness on social media, their names have been venerated. In times of elections especially, their crescendos often reach the zenith and often getting the ringing re-endorsements from the corridors of power, as the much-vaunted intellectuals.
Regardless of the reason explaining the involvement in the public life back at home, there is no doubt however that these trends having bridged the divide between our professionals at home and abroad.
At their bases, they have become permanent features on international news channels often posing as experts, analysts and even representatives of their social and political leanings.
The revolutionised platforms of communication, which have been brought by the Internet has been integral to articulating their ideas. Before they show up at the British Broadcasting Corporation, Al-Jazeera or even the South African Broadcasting Corporation, especially during election times, they make announcements on social media to the reception of their thousands of followers, among them journalists who have the responsibility to write news.
With Zimbabwe’s re-engagement drive, which has been defining the country’s foreign policy overtures, these intellectual identities have found sanctuary or rather a resonation to contribute back at home while riding on the crest of their venerated professional credentials, quite impressive most of the times.
Even now whenever there is talk of impending appointments, we often see a number of names being thrown across the social media streets, quite often with the veneration of the intellectual tag “tested” in both the public and private sectors, in the developed world.
The opportunities presented by real time communication have worked immensely for this crop, unlike previous foreign-based professionals who returned back at home especially at independence.
This writer’s late father who had studied in London, United Kingdom and came back a few years into independence joining the civil service as a teacher and later to the much vaunted ministry, a feat which paid off years later with a timely diplomatic posting to China, at the behest of the “Look East Policy”, however short-lived to a mere three years at Zimbabwe’s mission in Beijing, is a typical example.
Today we see a good number of our professionals at powerful institutions taking up strategic appointments of the state. Whenever there are national appointments, their names are often thrown around including on social media platforms where their names are illuminated.
This trend of conscripting the intellectual identities has been running across Africa with considerations being extended to nationals abroad and often with key experiences at organisations defining global diplomacy and business.
While this has been commendable, it has however been saddening that societal perceptions have largely remained stuck in the past in the process of talent acquisition. Previously, the role of these foreign-based professionals with intellectual leanings was largely a case of being “for” or “against” the establishment.
Apart from that, it is equally quite common to hear some being labelled as “apologists”, that is a term which has been effected to those perceived to be in support of the government. Those who would qualify as pragmatists or rather those who have had Damascean moments in their worldview of the Zimbabwean society have been branded as “opportunists” or “sell-outs” especially if they had pronounced opposing positions.
Evidently, while the intellectual breed has found social capital in terms of involvement back at home, there have been apparent fractured perceptions regarding diaspora involvement, towards national affairs. For a good cause, that is possibly a serious indictment.
Our foreign policy has pronounced the need for re-engagement efforts coming against the backdrop of the tags of “friends” and “enemies” which had characterised our external engagements. The efforts towards diaspora involvement are no doubt built on the same approach, the conscription of the sons and daughters to positions back at home. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.
When one looks at the domain of international relations now, there is a continuing reminder of the need to harness all the contributions of the country’s professionals across the different sectors. It has been evident that all countries are now seeing the diaspora as a key constituency to national efforts. This is why we see overtures towards the diaspora targeting everyone, not least the intellectual identities alone.
Looking at the rising profile especially of our professionals having worked abroad at key institutions, there is no doubt that we shall be seeing the trend of their direct involvement to the national affairs.
While the Zimbabwean diaspora has different social identities, it is the case of the identified intellectuals, which fundamentally defines the emerging social capital (by the individuals and the state) towards salvaging contributions towards national efforts of re-engagement.
How Zimbabwe navigates itself with the bridging gap borne out of conscripting its professions in the diaspora, to positions back at home is thus a fundamentally interesting question whose import is to be told in the fullness of time especially under the re-engagement drive and similarly pronounced programmes.
* Francis Mupazviriho can be contacted at <[email protected]>.