The Zimbabwean economy has experienced an economic downturn and political unrest over the past decades resulting in a desperate situation for the country. The hyperinflation period of 2004 to 2009 saw salaries being eroded and prices of basic commodities becoming out of reach for the common man. A lot of industries shut down resulting in unemployment levels of around 95% and widespread poverty. These dire living conditions forced a lot of highly educated and experienced individuals to run away from the country in search of greener pastures. According to Docquier (2009), the term “brain drain” refers to the international transfer of human capital resources, and it applies mainly to the migration of highly educated individuals from developing to developed countries. The movement of skilled professionals from a developing country to developed countries is defined as brain drain. Brain drain greatly impacts the growth and development of developing countries as it robs these nations of their skilled labor that is necessary for growth.
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There are various causes of brain drain and these can be categorized as either pull or push factors. The push factors are those that force people to leave their country to distant or foreign lands in search of greener pastures. The main causes of the migration of Zimbabwean people to South Africa, Australia, the UK, and the USA were the political instability in the economy, hyperinflation during the period 2004 to 2009 that saw savings, pensions, and salaries being eroded. During that period a lot of companies shut down resulting in job losses and increase poverty. The health sector quickly deteriorated, leaving the citizens of Zimbabwe with nowhere to get medical attention. The first groups of people to leave the country for the UK and South Africa were teachers and nurses as they had skills that were highly in demand in those countries in the early 2000s. According to Mbiba (2004), estimates of the numbers of Zimbabweans in the UK ranged from just below 200,000 to 1.2 million making them one of the largest groups of asylum seekers in the UK, and the fourth largest foreign nationality in the UK nursing workforce. Pull factors can be defined as those that attract, draw or lure immigrants to the country of destination. The main reasons for Zimbabweans moving to the US or South Africa were higher-paying jobs, political stability, good healthcare system, modernized education system, a better quality of living and job security to mention a few.
The migration of highly skilled professionals has had both a positive and negative impact on the economy, social and cultural aspects of Zimbabwe and the country of destination. The nation of Zimbabwe lost human capital in which it had invested in through education and training for which it is not compensated for by the countries to which the individuals migrate to. The primary and tertiary education of Zimbabwe is heavily subsidized by the Government. Most individuals have been migrating soon after graduating and will not make any effort in compensating the government by working in Zimbabwe. It is other countries that benefit from government-subsidized education. The Herald (2010) states that Zimbabwe suffered a net loss because it funded the education and training of professionals who precisely at the moment, they start their professional programmers, decide to emigrate. Boyo (2013) observed that with the growing aging population, those nations like Canada and the United States enjoy the gains of filling labor shortages without paying the cost of educating them.
The migration of professionals to other counties has greatly impacted our social and cultural fabric. Brain drain as resulted in social detachments within our society. Children are forced to grow up without parents as parents cannot afford to migrate the children to foreign lands with them. The children that are born in the diaspora grow up without knowing their relatives, culture or native languages. These children are born in a world that does not fully accept them and re-isolated from a world they belong to and they grow up without knowing who they are.
Other effects of brain drain also include shortages of skilled workers in Zimbabwe such as nurses and doctors in public hospitals. This has resulted in private health becoming very expensive due to increased demand. Brain drain has resulted in a decline in the quality of service delivery in the public healthcare sector of Zimbabwe. A severe problem for the health system has been the exodus of Zimbabwe's doctors, nurses, and other professionals (The Lancet, 2008). The remittances that are made by these professionals do not compensate the Zimbabwean governments' contribution towards education and training for the individuals.
There are also positives to the brain drain and these include monetary and social remittances, circular migration, networking, skills, experience, and access to better education facilities. Brain drain allows or allows the skilled and unemployed individuals in Zimbabwe to migrate to developed countries in search of better-paying jobs enabling them to take care of their families. The migration of highly skilled individuals reduces unemployment levels in Zimbabwe that is more than 90%. The brain drain equips people with international skills and experience that will make them competitive on the global market. These skills will also be important for rebuilding Zimbabwe in the future upon return to the country.
A study by Bracking and Sachikonye (2007) estimated that 50 percent of the Zimbabwean
population receives remittances. Zimbabwe diaspora remittances averaged $1,9 billion for the years 2016 and 2018 (All Africa, 2018). This represents 25% of the 2019 $8 billion budget. People in the diaspora also remit in the form of goods and services. The negative impact of remittances is that it creates over-dependency on the recipients of the remittance and inhibits economic growth in Zimbabwe. Remittances have the effect of distorting the exchange rates, impacting the export market and making Zimbabwe uncompetitive in the region. Due to increased exports into the Zimbabwe market, this caused local businesses to shut down due to a decrease in demand for local goods that were more expensive than imports.
The migration of skilled labor has resulted in the breaking up of families as it is very expensive for the entire family to migrate. In Zimbabwe you have families being raised by a single parent. Children from intact homes are better-taken care of and get all the support necessary for growth. According to Azuka Obike Uchenna (2013), children from single-parent homes are most likely to suffer from deprivations and denials of some rights and opportunities. Migration to developed countries resulted in separations, divorces or one parent starting a new family in the country of destination.
Zimbabwe remains underdeveloped despite boasting of high literacy rates and the best education system in Africa due to the brain drain. According to Moyo (2018) the Literacy rates in Zimbabwe as per a survey conducted by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat) from 16-23 August 2017, were 94%. The South Africa literacy rate is 89% but is more developed than Zimbabwe and is growing at a faster rate than Zimbabwe. This is all due to brain drain, were the literate, educated and experienced Zimbabweans are deserting the country in search of greener pastures. The voices of those that remain are not heard as they are not seen as equals by the politicians, business people, and other leaders. Zimbabwe continues to face problems such as poverty, lack of technological advancements and fewer opportunities. According to Romero (2013), the brain drain effect refers to the fall in the stock of human capital that follows skilled migration. Zimbabwe the suffering economy due to brain drain will also suffer from reduced quality of life for the remaining population.
The brain drain effect has had both a negative and positive impact on Zimbabwe economically and socially. Some may argue that Zimbabwe has benefited from the movement of its people to developed countries. I see the brain drain as only benefiting the individuals who managed to get jobs abroad and not the entire country. In the long term, the country will be worse than it is right now as there are no people to assist/contribute to the development of the country. The migration of professionals needs to be managed property for the country to reap benefits from its investment in its citizens. For the current situation to improve and for the government to attract its experienced and educated citizens back to the country a lot needs to be done. Firstly, the political situation needs to improve significantly as there is no rule of law in Zimbabwe. The government rules with an iron fist and whatever they say goes making it difficult and uncompetitive for local and foreign businesses. The local industry needs to be resuscitated by investing in technology and fighting corruption in the country.