HomeOpinionEric Bloch:Reversing the brain drain

Eric Bloch:Reversing the brain drain

PRIME Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s office has issued a Government Work Programme (GWP), stated as having been approved by cabinet. It sets out stated governmental intents, and critical targets, to be addressed and attained in order to achieve economic recovery, and focusing upon attendant and allied sociological issues.

Although the GWP is said to have been approved by cabinet, recent statements by the president in respect of the mining industry, including threats to dissociate from the Kimberley Process in respect of diamonds, and scathingly attacking foreign investors in that sector, and equally confrontational statements by Indigenisation minister Saviour Kasukuwere and by Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa, and others, casts doubt upon the credibility of that cabinet approval.

Be that as it may be, the GWP is very commendable, and if pursued with conviction, would be significant in bringing about a very long-awaited Zimbabwean metamorphosis.  The programme extensively identifies the prevailing economic constraints, and recognises the policies and measures needing special and urgent attention for that transformation to occur.

Of the innumerable issues that the GWP prescribed for urgent attention is that Zimbabwe desperately needs to reverse the intense brain drain that has persisted for more than a decade.  The programme notes that “many qualified professionals left for the diaspora because of the rapid and radical erosion of their salaries.  However, economic revival is a pre-condition for the attraction of experts and professionals.  To this end, the GWP makes provision for providing incentives and opportunities for the return and relocation of skilled and professional staff.  It is essential that the country attracts and retains qualified staff in the service professions as well as the rest of the public service.  Thus the GWP will seek to offer incentives and other favourable conditions of service for the return and retention of skilled personnel in the diaspora.”

In reality, the attraction and retention of the skilled is a two-way issue.  Economic recovery and stability is a prerequisite for that to occur, but similarly it is a prerequisite for achievement of that recovery and stability that such skills be a component of bringing that about (which comes first, the chicken or the egg?).  There needs to be a progressive growth in the availability of the skilled, with the development of economic well-being accelerating as that growth intensifies, and as that availability grows, so too will the economic recovery.

The hard fact is that no economy can be viable and resilient without a constant and consistent foundation of the economically skilled.  Those skills must be very varied, including technological, marketing and merchandising, product development, administration and management, ICT, quality control, and much, much else.  Moreover, they must be supplemented and supported by skilled sociological services to the economically skilled, their employees, their families, and the population as a whole.  The very limited present availability of those diversified skills in Zimbabwe today is one of the major contributors to the prevailing distraught state of the economy.

Although absolute statistics do not exist as to the magnitude of the brain drain that has afflicted Zimbabwe and its economy, authoritative estimates assess that approximately four million Zimbabweans live beyond its borders, representing more than a quarter of its population, and at least a third (if not more!) of the employable population.

Of course, not each and every one that has departed was economically skilled, but undoubtedly a majority of them were.  They ranged from experienced agricultural workers, to trained and experienced artisans, managers, accountants, engineers, architects, pharmacists, healthcare providers, educationists, and many, many more.

With extremely rare exception, almost all departed Zimbabwe because of the deteriorating economic circumstances, and the massively escalating decline in the sociological environment. 
Almost all sought livelihoods elsewhere, in order to support not only themselves, but their families and dependents back home, and to assure themselves of access to education and healthcare for themselves and their families.

Equally, almost all had the declared, genuine intent to return to Zimbabwe once the country had full restoration of economic wellbeing and sociological services.  But, as time went by, most have sunk new roots.  They have experienced career development and advancement, married, had children, and gained much else, with a result that, despite their patriotic love for their home country, they will never return, other than on brief visits.  In the main, only those who are unemployed, those who are victims of xenophobic attacks, and those deported due to non-legal presence in the countries to which they had departed, will return. 
Therefore, to reverse the brain drain, Zimbabwe’s course of action requires:
l Rapid creation of an environment of economic growth and stability to an extent that will deter continuation of exodus of the skilled and retention of the limited number of the skilled still in Zimbabwe. This must be strongly reinforced by rapid restoration of primary, secondary and tertiary education, and of health services, to meet the needs of the skilled and their families;

l Urgent and emphatic attention to
remedying and reversing the immense infrastructural deficiencies in Zimbabwe, with especial emphasis upon assured, continuous availability of electricity, water and telecommunications, for the recurrent lack thereof is a discomfort of such magnitude as to be a major motivant to seek to live in alternative surrounds;

l Realignment of Zimbabwean direct and indirect taxation to levels consistent with, or below, that prevailing in other countries in the region, for the magnitude of Zimbabwean taxation is yet another contributing
reason for many to seek livelihoods elsewhere;

l Restoration, unequivocally, of absolute law and order, inclusive of total respect for human  and property rights, and of complete adherence to the principles and practices of democratic rule, for these are all environmental
prerequisites of most, the absence of which
being an immense inducement to live elsewhere;
l Major concessions on indirect taxation on imports of personal possessions (including motor vehicles, electrical goods, furniture, and the like) by returning Zimbabweans;
l Extensive recourse to expatriate services until such time as a new and sufficient Zimbabwean skills’ base has been developed, and to such services in order to accelerate the training of Zimbabweans to acquire the skills presently desperately needed.
If the GWP pursues such courses of action, dynamically and unreservedly, then progressively the brain drain will be reversed.

 

By Eric Bloch

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