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Country analysis > Zimbabwe Last update: 2008-12-17  



An Analysis of the Cause and Effect of the Brain Drain in Zimbabwe

Directed by Professor C J Chetsanga
Director General, SIRDC

Project Manager, T B Muchenje
Technology Management Division, SIRDC

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Executive Summary

Since the early 1990s, a small number of Zimbabwe's valuable human resources has been leaving the country in search of "greener pastures" in the region and the world over. During the last four years, this brain drain trend has escalated in magnitude to levels that have serious implications for the country's capacity to deliver on the sustainable development front.

From our investigation, the reasons why people are leaving Zimbabwe appear to be diverse, ranging from professional to economical. There are also pull and push factors. Some of the reasons for the departures stem from poor execution of capacity building and domestic policies, which result in imbalances between labour supply and demand. These imbalances are now being acutely accentuated by the impact of the brain drain.

To effectively reduce the magnitude of the brain drain requires an in-depth understanding of the problem. It also calls for Zimbabwe together with the Diaspora countries to reach a mutual agreement on how to reduce "the pull and push factors" triggering the desire by our people to leave for Europe, North America and the region. This is a long term solution. To adequately deal with the negative impact of the brain drain on Zimbabwe, it was felt effective that the strategies for managing the brain drain problem be based on established facts, data and information. For this reason SIRDC was commissioned to undertake this study with the objective of establishing what the causes of the brain drain are and identify the measures required to reduce or stop, or even reverse the brain drain problem in Zimbabwe. The study methodology included the use of interviews, questionnaires and reliable secondary sources.

Below is a summary of some of the major findings, conclusions and recommendations of the study. Although we are aware that there are probably larger numbers of Zimbabweans in the Diaspora, the figures given in this report are based on the findings of this study.

Findings of the Study:
  1. The study was able to establish that there are 479 348 Zimbabweans in the Diaspora although the study team is aware that there is a large number of Diasporans that it could not contact. The Diaspora destinations of a majority of Zimbabweans are the United Kingdom, Botswana and South Africa.

  2. The highest proportion of respondents to the questionnaire were from Mashonaland (26.7%) while Manicaland contributed the least proportion of the respondents (15.1%).

  3. The study shows that most of the respondents held bachelors degrees, followed by those who were polytech graduates. About a 20% held masters degrees, while 5% held Ph.D degree.

  4. The Health and teaching professions are the most affected, while accountants constitute a significant proportion (16.9%) of the total number of Zimbabweans in the Diaspora.

  5. More than half of the respondents emigrated due to work related factors. About a quarter had emigrated due to the need to attend school in their new country of abode. A tenth gave marriage/relationship factors as the reason for emigrating, while 8% mentioned political factors.

  6. The most common work-related reasons for emigrating given by 34.5% of the respondents, were the low salaries in Zimbabwe, followed by the exchange rate mentioned by 32.5%, while 29% gave better career advancement opportunities as a reason for emigrating.

  7. The majority of the respondents (62.5%) intended to return to Zimbabwe. About a quarter of the respondents were not sure whether they would return to Zimbabwe or not.

  8. All those in the clergy expressed a desire to come back to Zimbabwe after 5 years. Half of the farmers would like to come back within 2 years. Half of the nurses would like to return after 5 years, while 37.5% of engineers would like to return within 2 years.

  9. Nearly half of the respondents in the middle age group clusters of 30-39 and 40-49 were not sure about when they were going to return home. About 40% and 33% of the young (20-29 years) and old (50 + years) respondents respectively, expressed a desire to return to Zimbabwe within the next two years. Less than a third of respondents in all age groups indicated a desire to return to Zimbabwe within 3 to 5 years.

  10. Finally, the study also shows an increasing trend in the number of people leaving Zimbabwe. The trend exhibited by the curve suggests that the process has not yet leveled off.

From the results of this study, the following conclusions can be drawn:

  1. The brain drain in Zimbabwe is based on the global phenomenon associated with man's quest for better opportunities in life. Its ongoing increase has evoked widespread calls for policy responses. If the Zimbabwe government does not do something to make staying at home more attractive and rewarding, the brain drain will continue unabated. The driving force seems to be as powerful as the force pulling professionals and others away from Zimbabwe. These two forces appear to be operating with mutual reinforcement.

  2. At the social level, Zimbabweans in the Diaspora indicated that they suffer discrimination and often find themselves relegated to third class citizenship. Most Zimbabweans in the Diaspora informed the study team that they were not happy to leave Zimbabwe, but were forced to do so by economic factors.

  3. Proportionately, some professions have small numbers of people who have emigrated, but these emigrants are highly skilled and therefore critical to Zimbabwe's development agenda. The experience of Zimbabwean companies has been that most of the people they are losing to job offers elsewhere, were the highest paid in the company. Their departure was therefore a major loss not only to Zimbabwean companies, but also as tax payers to the Zimbabwe government.

  4. Some emigrants are leaving to work in countries where research and development (R&D) is actively done with the latest generation of equipment and support is guaranteed. There are about 20,000 scientists and engineers in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe still needs more scientists. There are now more Zimbabwean-born scientists and engineers working in the Diaspora than there are in Zimbabwe. One reason for there being fewer scientists left in Zimbabwe is that government and private-sector spending on R&D is only about 0.2 percent of the gross national product. This is one of the lowest percentages of funding for R&D support in the world. Instead, a minimum of one percent of Zimbabwean gross national product should be spent on scientific and technological development.

  5. An examination of the professions of those who are leaving the country shows that a sizable share is made up of teachers and nurses. Indeed, according to the survey, the health care sector is the most affected. Many are leaving because health care and education spending cuts have denied them reasonable salary levels in Zimbabwe.

  6. Erecting legal barriers to the emigration of educated professionals will only encourage illegal emigration and discourage bright Zimbabweans from seeking to better themselves through overseas education in the first place. Enacting necessary economic reforms that make staying at home attractive and rewarding for educated Zimbabweans can arrest the brain drain problem. There is no alternative to this option if the brain drain is to be arrested.

  7. Even if brain drain is a valid concern, 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.

From the observations made in this study, we wish to make the following recommendations.

  1. On the basis of the data assembled during the study, it is possible to have a reliable database of Zimbabwean professionals in the Diaspora by profession, field of study, competencies and experience. These data will enable the Zimbabwean Government, Universities and institutes of higher learning, hospitals and the private sector to attempt to lure back this array of expertise

  2. There is an urgent need to win back the confidence of the large community of Zimbabweans of good will who are in the Diaspora. They felt abandoned when no clear provision was made for them to vote during the March 2002 Presidential election.

  3. The demand for qualified and skilled manpower for national development has become a critical global issue. It is compelling to both the rich and the poor countries across the continental divide to develop policies and strategies to satisfy their human resource demands.

  4. Since other countries are competing with Zimbabwe for similar qualified human resources, a potentially rewarding solution might be to formulate a skills export and import policy that promotes and provides the framework for the training of human resources in Zimbabwe for the labour markets of both target countries and Zimbabwe.

  5. Both governments and private sectors should show a commitment to solving the brain drain problem in Zimbabwe and jointly play a pivotal role in formulating national policies to utilise the skills and other resources of Zimbabweans in the Diaspora for the development in Zimbabwe.

  6. The increase in the activities of the parallel foreign currency exchange market, needs to be eliminated. It is important to establish a sustainably effective exchange rate mechanism that will remove the distortions that are endemic in the country's current economic system.

  7. In order to build on the findings of the present study, the Government of Zimbabwe should launch a comprehensive National Human Resources Survey (NHRS) to ascertain the current human resource base and employment situation in all the sectors of the economy to enable them to make informed projections of future human resources requirements for the country.

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