As Zimbabwe heads to the polls, scientists feel excluded

As Zimbabwe heads to the polls, scientists feel excluded

By Munyaradzi Makoni

Diaspora researchers say they are overlooked but admit they should engage more with politicians

As Zimbabwe prepares for a general election on 23 August, Zimbabwean scientists across the globe criticise politicians for failing to recognise their contribution to the country’s development.

They also tell Research Professional News that there needs to be more constructive engagement between scientists and politicians in Zimbabwe.

Gertrude Gwenzi, a social work researcher at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa and chairperson of Zimbabwe Research Network, says research is not well understood in Zimbabwe, including among political groups.

“If political parties are going to represent our needs as researchers, they [have to] show an understanding of research and its critical role in development first,” she says.

Science-policy gap

Tatenda Zinyemba, a health economic researcher based at the United Nations University-Maastricht University in the Netherlands, thinks there is a misconception in Zimbabwe that researchers are removed from politics.

But funding is often directed along political lines, she adds. Politicians tell researchers to “work on what we tell you to work on, and you will get the funding”.

Solomon Gwerevende, a PhD candidate in applied ethnomusicology at Dublin University in Ireland, says funding is a chronic concern in the country.

“Our universities are right now funding political rallies, but if you ask for money to attend a conference they will tell you it’s not there,” he says.

The scientists have varied opinions about the Zimbabwean government’s willingness—or not—to listen to scientists. Gwenzi says that if research findings implicate or contradict the government they will be ignored.

Edmond Sanganyado, assistant professor in environmental forensics at Northumbria University in the UK, wrote a policy brief last year proposing ways for Zimbabwe to leverage science and technology for development. But he says he received no response when he sent it to the country’s government and leading political parties between September 2022 and February this year.

Dialogue needed

Some of the expat scientists who engaged with Research Professional News did not know that Zimbabwe has identified national research priorities. Others say this ignorance indicated a lack of reciprocity on the part of scientists who want the government to listen to them.

“The researchers are not listening to policymakers. Why then should researchers expect the policymakers to listen to them and use their work?” says Noreen Mdege, a health sciences professor at the University of York in the UK.

Sanganyado, who is also the president of the Zimbabwe Young Academy of Sciences, agrees that this is problematic. “Researchers are silent in the matter around policy for science but demand to be listened to when it comes to science policy,” he says.

Prince Zimuto, a legal consultant in South Africa, says Zimbabwean researchers do not seem to understand how the government works and how to influence those in power without portraying scientists as superior.

“There is a need to create a relationship with those in power.”

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