President announces further boost to national research

Zimbabwe’s new president has announced that his government will enact a law establishing a research institute that will contribute towards the economic growth that will turn the country into a middle-income nation by 2030.

The announcement on Tuesday during Emmerson Mnangagwa's first address to parliament after winning the presidential election held on 30 July, follows his earlier undertaking to commit 1% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) to research and development.

With a renewed mandate to run the country, Mnangagwa retained Professor Amon Murwira as the country’s Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Minister in his new-look cabinet.

New cabinet

Among those ministers dropped was Dr Christopher Mushohwe, formerly minister of state for government scholarships in the Office of the President and Cabinet. That ministry has been downgraded to a department.

In his parliamentary address, Mnangagwa said research must provide home-grown solutions aimed at growing the economy.

“The bill to establish the Institute of Education Research, Innovation and Development will be tabled to align with the programme on value addition and import substitution strategies,” he said.

The message on research follows comments by Murwira about the value of research in transforming the country, delivered shortly before the elections, at the All Stakeholder Workshop on Developing an Institutional Framework for Internationalisation of Higher and Tertiary Education in Zimbabwe.

The minister said he was concerned that research in Zimbabwe and most African countries still lags behind the rest of the world in generating new scientific knowledge that could easily transform their economies.

Murwira said research must benefit the public and the nation to prevent a scenario where researchers are dismissed as being removed from the real world due to research work which is not tailored to the needs of the people.

He said construction of innovation hubs has started at six universities to foster the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship.

1% of GDP to research and development

Speaking recently during the launch of the country’s first innovation hub established at the state-run Midlands State University, Mnangagwa said his government will allocate 1% of the country’s GDP to research and development.

“Research must not be an end in itself or remain in archived journals, theses and documents in our libraries. It must speak to our problems, be relevant, usable, practical, and transform our lives to advance our lives and economic development. Research and development must further speak to our aspirations to modernise our agriculture, mining, manufacturing, tourism, health and education sectors, among others,” he said.

“There is need for institutions of higher learning to create an enabling environment which develops and inclines our youths towards scientific strategies and solutions in line with our national aspirations as well as Southern African Development Community and African Union guiding principles.

“My government is fully committed to the development of science and technology by ensuring that 1% of our gross domestic product is channelled towards research and development. It is time to promote independence of thought. Let those with talent, who can innovate and provide smart solutions, be recognised and accordingly rewarded,” he said.

A handful of countries in Africa have committed to spending not less than 1% of their GDP on research, including Malawi, Uganda, South Africa (not yet achieved) and Ghana.

According to UNESCO, global spending on R&D has reached a record high of almost US$1.7 trillion. “About 10 countries account for 80% of spending. As part of the Sustainable Development Goals, countries have pledged to substantially increase public and private R&D spending as well as the number of researchers by 2030.”