Eric Bloch Column

Economic recovery hindered by brain drain

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By Eric Bloch

AMONGST the achievements in the Zimbabwean post-Independence era was the outstanding growth in levels of literacy, which in a period of less than 10 years rose from approximately 38% to approximately 88%. This was attained by the determination of government to enable all to receive a good and sound education.

The upward surge in literacy, with concomitant growth in overall educational standards reached by most Zimbabwean youth, opened the doors to tens of thousands per annum into tertiary educational institutions. Very commendably, government worked vigorously to maximise access to such institutions, expanding very considerably the polytechs and technical colleges and the then only local university, the University of Zimbabwe.

It also actively enabled the establishment of other universities and tertiary educational institutions.

Zimbabwe developed a wealth of highly educated and skilled persons as required by all sectors of the economy — industry, agriculture, mining, manufacturing, tourism, finance and services — and required to sustain and develop all of Zimbabwean society, including doctors, nurses, others with medical and related skills, teachers, public servants and many others.

Education and skills are amongst the greatest assets any country can possess, and a conduit to economic advancement and well-being. After the first 15 years of Independence, Zimbabwe appeared to be well-placed for major economic growth, the combination of its agricultural resources, mineral wealth, unique and abundant tourist attractions, technological infrastructure and much else being the catalysts which, fuelled by the educational and skills resources, would bring about that economic growth.

Unfortunately, the economy, which began to blossom between 1994 and 1997, began to wither in late 1997, when government allowed political ideologies and objectives, hunger for retention of power, and contempt for fundamental principles of democracy, justice, law and order, to override the needs of the populace for a stable and growing economy. It stubbornly rejected any and all well-founded and well-intentioned advice from the international community and from the captains of the economic sectors, wheresoever such advice was in conflict with its dogmas.

Steadily over the years 1998 to 2004 the economy shrivelled, bringing closure to many business, contractions of operations by most other enterprises, decimation of the tourism industry, almost total agricultural collapse and, as a result, a markedly lesser need for educated and skilled, let alone the unskilled.

Some decided to embark on self-imposed exile, because of their pronounced abhorrence for government’s policies and its authoritarian control of Zimbabwe. They found it intolerable and untenable to reside in a state which had no respect for the fundamentals of human rights (as recently evidenced by a report by the African Union which government strenuously tried to suppress at the recent AU meeting in Addis Ababa.

With over 80% of Zimbabwe’s employable population unemployed, nearly half the population barely surviving below the Poverty Datum Line, hundreds of thousands of Aids orphans, and many others debilitated and unable to sustain themselves, those who were fit and able departed Zimbabwe in order to gain employment elsewhere, yielding valuable foreign exchange which could provide financial support for dependants.

In addition, others, such as white commercial farmers, also departed for pastures further afield, for they were viciously deprived of their livelihoods, vilified and mentally and physically abused. Increasingly, the Zimbabwean economy declined, primarily as a direct consequence of government ‘s actions of economic destruction, alienation of international goodwill and support, fiscal mismanagement, and intentionally myopic oblivion to corruption. But the decline was exacerbated by the mass exodus by the majority of Zimbabwe’s skilled. Productivity diminished, technological awareness and ability decreased, investment became the exception instead of the rule, and economic viability was markedly destroyed.

However, this tragic circumstance has continued to worsen. Admittedly, the rate of economic decline was curtailed by the dynamic and resolute stance of the governor of the Reserve Bank, Gideon Gono. He determinedly applied constructive monetary policies (although some have been muted to accommodate political circumstance) with a result that the possibility of the contraction of the economy being halted was considered by some to exist. That was more recently reinforced by a belated implementation of long required fiscal policies and disciplines.

As pleasing as these changes are, as possible indicators of positive further changes in the future, they did not suffice to stem the flow of the skilled from Zimbabwe. The brain drain has continued apace, for economic needs still motivate the exodus of many. That brain drain is a further and intensifying economic constraint, greatly hindering the valiant attempts of the few (and, in particular, of Gono and of the acting Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Herbert Murerwa) to bring about an economic metamorphosis.

Zimbabwe has developed a critical lack of accountants, engineers, architects, trained industrialists, and many other vitally needed skills.And that lack is becoming greater. Remarks by the president that continued possession of some farms by whites is an anomaly and irregularity to be corrected, spurs fears of intensifying racism. So too do many of the diatribes by many of his ministers and especially by the Minister of Fiction, Fable and Myth, being targeted against minority racial groups. Recurrent modifications of the Citizenship Act underscore the contempt for those minorities, and for justice and equity.

Recently, more and more of the remaining skilled in Zimbabwe have been motivated to leave Zimbabwe. They do so out of fear of total collapse of the health services due to the very pronounced numbers of doctors, nurses, radiologists and radiographers, physiotherapists, anaesthetists, surgeons and others of the medical professions as they have taken up employment in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

That fear is experienced by whites, Asians and blacks alike, resulting in mass departures by people of all races. In the last few months, the fears of the collapse of health services have been compounded by fears of sharply declining educational resources.

Tertiary institutions have been struggling for some time to obtain a sufficiency of professors, lecturers and other academics with requisite knowledge and skills. And now the Minister of Education, Sport and Culture is determinedly destroying primary and secondary schools. He has a shrinking pool of capable teachers to staff fully the government schools and his stance against independent schools is clearly driven by a wish todestroy their independence and subject them to his total control.

Not only has he prevented them from raising essential revenues, necessary if standards are to be maintained, but he has insinuated racial discrimination, devoid of foundation, and has unhesitatingly assured the schools’ representatives of his increasing interference and control, until the schools are wholly subjugated to him. As a result parents of thousands of pupils are, irrespective of their race, leaving Zimbabwe or intend to do so, so as to assure their children’s education.

The Zimbabwean economy is the victim, and the minister can justifiably be identified as yet another major contributor to economic collapse, and increased poverty and misery. Unless the brain drain is reversed, the Zimbabwean economy cannot recover.