[HARARE] Zimbabwe's new minister of science and technology development has pledged to address the dire state of the country's research institutions and take steps to slow scientific brain drain.
Heneri Amos Murima Dzinotyiweyi, a 58-year-old former mathematics lecturer and university dean, was nominated for the post by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai as part of the new bipartisan government of national unity. He was sworn in last week (February 13).
''There are two major challenges we need to address immediately,'' Dzinotyiweyi told SciDev.Net in an exclusive interview laying out his plans.
''We have non-functional institutions, having hardly any capacity, barely running. This includes schools, universities, research institutes. Our immediate desire is that these institutions begin working.''
One way of remedying this, he suggests, would be to pay scientists in a currency stronger than the Zimbabwean dollar, which suffers from hyper-inflation. ''The local currency is completely corrupt, so we are trying to see if scientists can be paid in a hard currency such as the US dollar or the South African rand. That would help immediately,'' he says.
The other priority is to reverse the brain drain, says Dzinotyiweyi, a member of the Movement for Democratic Change party, which was blocked from power by months of stalemate after winning last year's elections.
''Zimbabwe has lost enormous scientific manpower. We need to use the diaspora, those Zimbabweans who are anxious to contribute back home. We want them to participate meaningfully even if they are out of the country — although of course in the long run, we would like them to return to the country,'' he says.
Dzinotyiweyi, a founding member of the three-year-old Zimbabwe Academy of Sciences, said he hoped to use the academy's international contacts to establish links with Zimbabwean researchers now living elsewhere.
One of Dzinotyiweyi's first actions was to call for the release of his colleague Roy Bennett, the designated deputy minister of agriculture, who appeared in court today (17 February) on charges of terrorism, banditry and sabotage after being arrested by police shortly before the swearing-in ceremony on 13 February, after he returned from exile in South Africa.
''I need Roy Bennett to work with me so we can revive agricultural research, which has traditionally been a strength in Zimbabwean science, in order to improve the rural economy,'' Dzinotyiweyi says.
Dzinotyiweyi was dean of the University of Zimbabwe from 1991 to 2000 and in the mid 1990s worked on study of science and technology across the 14-state Southern African Development Community.
He returned to his post as professor of mathematics prior to his resignation to stand in the March 2008 elections. He has continued to assist his university department on a voluntary basis after being elected as a member of parliament, although he — like all the winning opposition candidates — was blocked by the ruling party from taking up his seat until September 2008, when parliament began to resume its functions.
Dzinotyiweyi's constituency is the high-density, impoverished Budiriro suburb of Harare, which suffered the country's first outbreak of cholera following the collapse of water treatment plants in August 2008. He says that he is already working closely with his opposition party colleague Henry Madzorera — a medical doctor who has been appointed minister of health — in tackling the cholera epidemic.
Dzinotyiweyi faces a major challenge, given rampant inflation and economic and infrastructural collapse in the country.
But he remains optimistic. ''This arrangement of an all-inclusive government requires all of us to educate each other on the importance of a fair, free and functional society,'' he says.
He added that he has no intention at present of investigating his controversial predecessor, Olivia Muchena of the ZANU-PF party.
Muchena faced murder charges in relation to the disappearance of her constituency's opposition candidate, but the charges were dropped after the judge left the country. She has been kept in cabinet by President Robert Mugabe as minister of women's affairs, gender and community development.
''Right now my position is to learn the job, what it involves, to learn what is being done so far, what programmes are being done, how they are being handled," says Dzinotyiwei.
Zimbabwean scientists who have fled the country to live abroad are invited to contact Dzinotyiweyi at [email protected]