Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who held power for 37 years, left behind a complex legacy. Despite his controversial rule, one area where he excelled was in education. A former schoolteacher and holder of seven university degrees, Mugabe allocated a significant portion of the country’s budget to education, making Zimbabwe one of the most literate nations on the African continent.
However, the irony lies in the fact that, despite its impressive literacy rates, Zimbabwe has struggled to harness the full potential of its educated population. More than two decades of economic mismanagement and disputed elections have prompted a mass exodus of citizens. Many Zimbabweans have risen to prominent positions in South African companies and frequently feature in the executive ranks of international non-profit organisations and multilateral institutions.
Despite this, the situation has deteriorated further since yet another flawed election in August. The country’s teachers, bankers, nurses, accountants, engineers, and information technology workers are leaving in increasing numbers, with the UK being a preferred destination. Several factors contribute to this growing exodus.
Firstly, the Zimbabwean dollar’s value has plummeted, rendering it almost worthless. Salaries barely cover the cost of transportation, let alone the basic needs of families. This financial instability is a significant push factor driving skilled professionals abroad.
Secondly, the political and economic outlook appears bleak, with little hope for positive change. The government’s perceived lack of commitment to reform and address the country’s challenges further drives professionals away.
The Zimbabwe Teachers Association estimates that approximately 3,600 teachers are leaving the country every year, leading to concerns about the quality of education and human resource capacity in the nation. Health and social care professionals are also seeking opportunities abroad, with a nearly fivefold increase in the number of visas awarded to the UK in this sector within a year.
Zimbabwe’s greatest export is no longer its agricultural or industrial products; it’s rapidly becoming its own human capital. This unintended consequence is a stark indictment of the leadership of Emmerson Mnangagwa, who succeeded Mugabe after a coup in 2017.
As educated Zimbabweans continue to emigrate in search of opportunities and stability, the nation faces the challenge of retaining its intellectual wealth and skilled workforce. Brain drain has significant implications for the country’s development, and efforts are needed to create an environment that encourages professionals to stay, invest, and contribute to their homeland’s progress.