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Towards a more constructive analysis of forced migration : the case of Zimbabwean migrants in Zambia

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par Aline Mandrilly
IEP Bordeaux - Master Politique et developpement en Afrique et dans les Pays du Sud 2008

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Bitcoin is a swarm of cyber hornets serving the goddess of wisdom, feeding on the fire of truth, exponentially growing ever smarter, faster, and stronger behind a wall of encrypted energy

Johnny Clegg

Song inspired by a famous speech made by Mugabe

«Blair, keep your England and let me keep my Zimbabwe!"

World Summit in Johannesburg, 2002



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I. The regional impacts of the crisis in Zimbabwe: the example of Zambia

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a. The Zimbabwe crisis: its origins and aspects, and the consequences for the region

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b. The regional impacts of the crisis: a legal and political imbroglio

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II. An important range of consequences : from negative to constructive impacts of Zimbabwean forced migrants

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a. Impacts of Zimbabwean forced migrants in Zambia: negative consequences and benefits for the host country

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b. Zimbabwean migrants' direct constructive impacts on Zimbabwe

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DRC Democratic Republic of Congo

IMF International Monetary Fund

NGO Non Governmental Organization

SADC Southern African Development Community

UN United Nations

UNAIDS United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS

UNHCR United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

UNICEF United Nations Children's Fund

WHO World Health Organization

ZANU-PF Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front

ZIC Zambia Investment Centre


This essay is a continuity of a research I started last year on the Zimbabwe situation and its impacts. Indeed, last year, I participated in a research on the impacts of the displacement of Zimbabweans on the eradication of poverty in Malawi, during a four-month training in an NGO dealing with human rights. For this research, I got the opportunity to make interviews with people in contact with Zimbabwean refugees and I was able to have a better understanding of the Zimbabwean context of economic, social and political crisis, as well as the regional impact it may have.

I understood that it was not only Zimbabwe which was suffering from the crisis, but also the neighbouring countries which have to deal with a certain number of Zimbabwean migrants on their ground. Through this essay, I would like to deepen the issue of their regional impact, trying to highlight the positive aspects of forced migration, for the host country as well as the country of origin, beyond the negative impacts, which are often emphasized. This essay will contribute to a greater understanding of the implications arising from the forced migration of those affected by the economic and political crisis in Zimbabwe.

Indeed, forced migrations are embodied by emergency situations, but it seems necessary to replace them in a longer-term context, more global, in order to overcome an only pessimistic vision of forced migration. Migrations issues are generally dealt from a perspective of state fragilization, economic, social and political instability, local violence, sanitary crisis, as well as poverty catalyst for the host country but also for the country of origin (such as brain drain). The goal of this essay is to look beyond the negative aspects of forced migration, to highlight its positive aspects. The links between migration and economic development or social and political change can not be hidden. Benefits and drawbacks arise from forced migration for both the host country and the country of origin.

Beyond the evident negative consequences of forced migration, in which measures can Zimbabwean migrants have a positive role to play, as much in the host country as in the country of origin?

The first part of this essay will deal with the reality of the Zimbabwe crisis and its negative impacts on the neighbouring countries. In my second part, I will focus on the place and role of forced migration on the economic development of the host country as well as the country of origin. I decided to focus on Zambia, as this country has a special history, being a country rather politically secure, despite being in a region full of conflicts. However, Zambia, has been repeatedly affected by this regional instability, for it has received many millions of refugees, after every important conflict. Zambia has a generous policy towards refugees, as it offers local integration for refugees, as well as an help for a return in the country of origin. Yet, Zambia has a different approach towards Zimbabwean migrants, because they are not considered as refugees, but as economic migrants.

The Zambian government does not want to question this issue, as it will mean to recognize the crisis in Zimbabwe, and thus challenge the capacities of President Mugabe to rule. In South Africa, the government as almost the same position towards Zimbabwean migrants, which are deported massively, instead of being regularized. My hypothesis is built on the capacity of migrants to organize themselves to adapt to the host country, in order to create a certain kind of dynamics for their country of origin.

Between two and three millions of Zimbabweans are said to be in exile abroad. No official figure is showed by the concerned countries, neither by international organizations, but it should concern around 25% of the total population of Zimbabwe, estimated at around thirteen millions. This population of forced migrants can not be put aside when dealing with the process of rebuilding Zimbabwe, especially after the last elections, hold on the 29th March 2008.

The information I found come from different sources. I followed the evolution of the crisis in Zimbabwe for the past few months, focusing principally on the events around the elections. My main sources are from research publications on the issues of forced migration and refugees. I also focused on the information published by the concerned countries or international organizations working with refugees population (the French Embassies, Zimbabwean, Zambian and South African newspapers, UNHCR, UNICEF...), as well as legal document concerning migrants (the Zambian Constitution, ratified international texts...). These last documents enabled me to understand the policy of the Zambian government towards Zimbabwean migrants and the Mugabe regime, so as to identify the issue of dealing with them on the Zambian ground.

Other sources come from activist media, independent actors from the state, especially networks of Zimbabweans abroad who created Internet websites to communicate and present evidence on the situation in Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe Exiles Forum). Some support groups also exist in countries hosting Zimbabweans (Crisis for Zimbabwe Coalition, Save Zimbabwe Campaign) and are present in Zambia. Various NGOs in Zambia have direct or indirect links with Zimbabweans, as well as international institutes or foundations which conducted surveys on the issues of refugees (Refugees International, Overseas Development Institute...), and some of them accepted to answer my questions concerning Zimbabwean migrant in Zambia.

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