Mugabe plans to detain key talent

May 13, 2005

The Zimbabwean Government is considering conscripting graduates into the civil service to stem a brain drain that has stripped the country of skills since political instability and economic collapse began five years ago.

And the national youth service programme, widely criticised for creating brutal pro-Government "green bomber" paramilitary forces, is to be compulsory for all students in schools and higher education.

Some 3.4 million Zimbabweans - more than a quarter of the population - have left in recent years, an advisory board to the central bank in Harare estimated last year. Most are living abroad illegally - including 800,000 of the 1.1 million in Britain.

In 2003, a study of the escalating brain drain found that most of the almost 500,000 expatriate Zimbabweans who were contacted had undergraduate degrees and one in five held masters degrees. A large proportion of those who had left Zimbabwe were doctors, teachers and nurses.

Many professionals had left, the study added, because they felt that working in Zimbabwe had become "synonymous with supporting the current Government and not the people".

A shrinking economy had also "forced some professors, lecturers, medical doctors and scientists to operate minibuses, taxicabs or operate beer parlours. It is a form of internal brain drain to have many architects, accountants and pharmacists underemployed".

President Robert Mugabe is examining a plan to bond graduates in fields hit by skills shortages to government institutions to stop them leaving the country for better jobs elsewhere.

A state-controlled newspaper, The Sunday Mail , wrote: "The Government will soon compel professionals trained using state resources in universities, polytechnics and colleges to work in the civil service for some time before they can be allowed to join the private sector or legally work in other countries."

Health, law and engineering graduates are most likely to be affected.

Zimbabwe, faced with the HIV/Aids pandemic and other health issues, has an acute shortage of doctors.

State radio reported Savior Kasukuwere, the Deputy Youth Minister, as saying that the Government was determined to introduce national service for all young Zimbabweans to subject them to "proper orientation".

Since 2001, some 11,000 youths of between 15 and 20 years of age have passed through national youth service camps, which critics claim have been producing the "green bomber" militia that have spearheaded political intimidation and violence against opposition supporters. Graduates from the camps are given preference when applying for government jobs and admission to universities.

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