Mugabe announces lifting of academic appointment freeze

President Robert Mugabe last week announced the lifting of a six-year freeze on recruitments at universities during a graduation ceremony of Lupane State University, or LSU, in Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland North Province at which an honorary doctorate in agricultural sciences was conferred on him.

Motivated by falling revenues and a mammoth public sector wage bill, the government imposed a freeze on recruitment and promotion of employees in the civil service in 2011. Critical staff shortages in the health sector, however, prompted the government to announce earlier this year it would start recruiting doctors and nurses.

The freeze on academic appointments caused staff shortages at universities and worsened the brain drain. It was also feared that the situation could have an adverse effect on reforms in the higher education sector aimed at introducing new STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – courses.

Conferring the doctorate – the institution’s first honorary doctorate in the faculty of agricultural sciences – LSU Vice-chancellor Professor Pardon Kuipa thanked Mugabe for lifting the freeze, saying it was critical to broadening the academic space.

The lift is to take place with immediate effect and will affect all programmes approved by the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education, according to Mugabe.

Kuipa also said the institution was grateful to Mugabe for implementing the agrarian reform that saw white-owned farms being seized to resettle blacks – a strategy that is blamed by the opposition for the collapse of the country’s economy.

Kuipa said the degree could not have come at a better time “considering the bumper harvest the nation realised in the 2016-17 agricultural season”.

He said the agrarian reform had altered the land ownership pattern in favour of previously marginalised indigenous Zimbabweans.

“Surely there is no better empowerment and ownership of the economy than this, hence our collective consensus as a university that this prestigious academic distinction should be bestowed on none other than yourself, Your Excellency.”

Local media reports quoted Zimbabwean opposition party representatives criticising the conferment of the honorary degree.

“Mugabe has trashed and destroyed the agricultural sector in Zimbabwe. It's a gross absurdity to grant him the dubious honour of outstanding work in promoting agriculture in Zimbabwe,” said Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai, or MDC-T, national spokesperson Obert Gutu.

The Transform Zimbabwe party spokesperson Sungai Mazando said it was sad that universities in the country had joined the “bootlicking bandwagon”.

“There is nothing outstanding about turning the country from a bread basket to a basket case, perpetually importing maize and wheat,” he said.

Mugabe has earned seven degrees and holds several honorary degrees and doctorates from international universities. In 2007, the University of Edinburgh withdrew the degree awarded to him in 1984. This was followed in 2008 by the withdrawal of the law degree awarded by the University of Massachusetts Amherst to Mugabe in 1986.

At the time, Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba said Mugabe would not lose sleep over the revocations and in any case had plenty of degrees, earned by him or bestowed upon him.

"If anything, Western universities improved their international profile by associating with the president," Charamba said.

Writing in his blog in August, MDC senior official and economic advisor to former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Eddie Cross said even though Zimbabwe had some of the most educated leaders, including President Mugabe at independence in 1980, the country had become a failure.

“Zimbabwe is the prime example of failure, in every way. In 1980, we took over a small but quite sophisticated and diversified economy and virtually no debt. Our leadership was the most qualified ever to take control of a country with 17 PhD graduates in our first cabinet – and these academic qualifications were not bought over the counter but earned in great universities like Princeton in the USA,” he wrote.

“We inherited a country which seemed to have everything – a good climate, rich soils, good basic education and a sound, honest administration.

“But today, unlike China, Zimbabwe has gone backwards and has the poorest population in Africa outside of perhaps Somalia. Our social statistics are littered with world records – not of achievement but of failure.”