Zimbabwean scientists fight to preserve national academy

From Nature:

Xu Lingui/Xinhua/ZUMAPRESS.com

Students attending their graduation ceremony at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare in 2013.

Following years of chronic funding shortages and political neglect, the Zimbabwe Academy of Science (ZAS) is on its knees and has made a plea for support from the large Zimbabwean diaspora.

The academy has historically survived on donations and membership fees, but this is no longer sustainable, said ZAS head Christopher Mutambirwa at a meeting of Zimbabwean expatriates in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 14 September. According to Mutambirwa, who is a former environmental scientist at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare, the academy has fewer than 100 fellows, and the country’s economic distress means that fewer than 15 members now even pay their fees.

The aim of the meeting — initiated by the Academy of Science of South Africa and which included ZAS members and Zimbabwean academics in South Africa — was to find ways to support Zimbabwean research.

Among the most drastic solutions proposed were to move the ZAS’s headquarters (currently in the Tropical Resources Ecology Centre at the University of Zimbabwe) to Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, or to make the academy a ‘virtual’ entity — without a permanent office or administrative staff. The ZAS has already had to let go its sole full-time employee.

Zimbabwe has a strong agriculture sector, with tobacco and cotton among its main exports. Traditionally, much of the country’s research has come from ties between the country’s universities and the agriculture industry.

The economy took a negative turn after 2000, when the government of President Robert Mugabe — who has been in power since 1987 and is now 92 — fast-tracked a programme of land expropriations and agricultural productivity plummeted. The resulting economic and political turmoil, with a long-term decline in gross domestic product and bouts of hyperinflation, has caused millions to leave …

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