ICU for Zim’s science agenda

Science takes time. But Zimbabwe’s new minister of science and technology development has only been in the job for about a month.

Heneri Amos Murima Dzinotyiweyi, a 58-year-old former mathematics lecturer and university dean, was nominated for the post by Prime Minister and Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai as part of the shaky new bipartisan government of national unity.

One of Dzinotyiweyi’s first actions was to call for the release of his colleague Roy Bennett, the designated deputy minister of agriculture, who faces charges of terrorism, banditry and sabotage after being arrested by police shortly 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, to improve the rural economy,” Dzinotyiweyi says.

Dzinotyiweyi knows he faces two major challenges. ”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, will be to pay scientists in a currency stronger than the Zimbabwean dollar. ”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.

”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, says he hopes to use the academy’s international contacts to establish links with Zimbabwean researchers now living elsewhere. Robin Crewe of the Academy of Science of South Africa said at the African Science Communication Conference that the academy might be able to assist in the process.

Dzinotyiweyi was dean of the University of Zimbabwe from 1991 to 2000 and in the mid 1990s worked on a 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 compete 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. Like all the winning opposition candidates, he was blocked by the ruling party from taking up his seat for months.

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 is working closely with MDC colleague Henry Madzorera — a medical doctor who has been appointed minister of health — to tackle the cholera epidemic.

He says 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. —www.SciDev.Net

Zimbabwean scientists can contact Dzinotyiweyi via the sub-Saharan Africa section of the Science and Development Network website at www.scidev.net

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Christina Scott
Guest Author

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