By Tariro Chivige
OFFICIAL data on the number of Zimbabweans living outside of the country is currently unavailable but it is projected that over four million Zimbabweans in the diaspora.
Zimbabwe is now considered to have one of the highest per capita rates of net migration in the world with an estimated rate of -8,15/thousand population in 2020.
The country is now ranked as one of the top 10 migrant-sending countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Migrants from Zimbabwe are a diverse combination of people of all ages that include professionals, semi-skilled and unskilled workers, documented and undocumented migrants dispersed in countries in the region as well as far-flung countries in America, Europe and Australia.
For many years now, Zimbabwe has recorded a mass exodus of its productive population to other countries. This has mainly been attributed to the search for employment given the lack of employment opportunities in the country.
Though the official unemployment rate in the country is considered to be low, reality is that the majority of the people in the country are not formally if not employed at all.
The bulk of the people are in the informal economy, which is characterised by low wages, poor working conditions, little or no social security and representation thus leaving them vulnerable to the harsh economic environment in the country.
The current state of the Zimbabwean economy has prompted most young people to leave the country in search for a better life.
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This has caused a massive brain drain in the country as the qualified, educated young people are quick to search for work in foreign countries with the hope of making a better life for themselves and gain work experience.
Zimbabwe, in recent years has been investing in its higher educational sector. This has seen more universities, both public and private and even vocational training centres being established to try and increase its pool of professional people.
However, the country has not been reaping from its investment. The country has been educating its citizens who generally end up seeking work in foreign nations as they find it more desirable, either because of higher living standards, better wages, or both. Essentially, once educated, many young people feel they can live a better life elsewhere.
Proportionately, some professions have small numbers of people who have emigrated, but these migrants are highly skilled and therefore critical to Zimbabwe’s development agenda.
The departure of these young skilled professionals is a major loss, not only to Zimbabwean companies, but also to the general public. The health sector has in quite recently been one of the most affected sectors that have been affected by the departure of its young professionals.
Most health professionals have left the country in search of better opportunities and this has left a wide gap that the government is failing to fill.
This brain drain of health workers presents a serious threat to the provision of quality healthcare and the achievement of the health-related Sustainable Development Goals in Zimbabwe.
The effects of this loss of professionals have already been felt in the country as public health institutions are barely functioning due to low levels of skilled health care practitioners.
Recent analysis of the emigration trend has shown that almost all sectors of the economy are being affected by this massive brain drain.
Even unskilled labour is now relocating to neighbouring countries, at times illegally. This emigration can make it difficult for our country to maintain a high intellectual standard, as many of our educated and most intelligent people leave.
Educated and experienced people are key to creating a more educated and professional society. Such a society aids in the economic development of the country as it is likely to influence innovations and improvements of systems in the different sectors of the economy.
Brain drain does not show damaging results right away, rather, it takes time to produce any significant economic effects. Some young emigrants are leaving to work in countries where research and development (R&D) is actively done and supported.
There are approximately over 20 000 scientists and engineers in Zimbabwe. There are now more Zimbabwean-born scientists and engineers working in the diaspora than there are in Zimbabwe.
Such Zimbabweans if provided a conducive working environment in the country can really take Zimbabwe’s technology to the world arena and really put our country on the world economic map.
Another negative impact is that Zimbabwe is likely to develop slower due to the continued loss of its talented and skilful citizens. This also leads our country to suffer from economic loss, which reduces development even further and the production of more talented people.
With this suffering economy, there will also be a reduced quality of life for the rest of the population. In one side of the argument against brain drain, it was concluded that the loss of the skilful people, with their migration from their country, would affect those who decided to continue to reside in that country.
Without growth and the improvement that could have been provided by the skilful and educated people who left, the country then can no longer attempt to compete globally and is left isolated from the rest of the world.
This isolation can slow development and progress even further and cause a nation to grow even poorer.
This massive exodus of young people calls for quick widespread national policy responses as this has the potential of massively crippling the Zimbabwean economy sooner rather than later.
This phenomenon if not solved quickly is likely to continue unbated and its effects will clearly be seen even in generations to come, both socially and economically.
Whatever driving force is behind the pulling of Zimbabweans appear to be massive and quite attractive. This needs to be dealt with.
Enacting necessary economic reforms that make staying at home attractive and rewarding educated Zimbabweans can arrest the brain drain problem.
The main thrust of public policies in Zimbabwe should be driven by objectives of domestic equity, efficiency, and economic growth rather than becoming hostage to the threatening waves of emigration.
Furthermore, Zimbabwe should work more to stay a competitive and desirable place to work. Another way the country can try to retain professionals is by creating job opportunities requiring higher education. Otherwise, workers will go elsewhere.
With that being said, they should keep an eye on their educated young citizens and enact policies that will make them want to stay and contribute to the local economy.
- Chivige is an independent economist. These weekly New Perspectives articles, published in the Zimbabwe Independent, are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance & Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe (CGI Zimbabwe). — kadenge,[email protected] or mobile: +263 772 382 852.