LOCAL Government minister and President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s confidante July Moyo made an interesting revelation at the official opening of an incubation hub at Midlands State University that presents institutions of higher learning with an opportunity to spearhead the development of the Zimbabwean economy from its current depraved state.
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“The President always carries around a small book titled Israel, the Start-Up Nation. So if you really want to understand his thinking, then read that book,” said Moyo.
The book in question speaks of how Israel, a nation with a population of about 8,5 million people, surrounded by enemy countries ready to attack and so small that it appears vulnerable, has become a high technology start-up nation producing globally competitive and cutting edge innovations.
Reading through the book, one comes to the understanding that Mnangagwa is a firm believer in the development of Zimbabwe through the use of locally available human capital and natural resources.
The development of Israel and of any country for that matter is largely dependent on the quality of the technological and academic ingenuity of its citizenry.
If the President’s vision to see the Zimbabwean economy grow in the same pattern as that of Israel is to be fulfilled, then the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development has a pivotal role to play in ensuring that institutions under its ambit are producing graduates with the right skills and knowledge in tandem with local industry needs and global trends.
Higher Education minister Amon Murwira, who has been on record calling on institutions of higher learning not to train to merely support the needs of industry, but instead lead industry into new, revolutionary and ground-breaking technologies is saying all the right words.
Verbal commitment to the rescusitation of local industry using local human capital is one thing while engaging local research centres, universities, polytechnics and training centres in the production of technologies usable by industry is another.
Of note are the strides taken by Kwekwe Polytechnic in promoting import substitution by manufacturing over 200 machines operational in various companies and industries around Zimbabwe, prompting the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries to pledge to partner polytechnics in retooling local industries.
Kwekwe Polytechnic acting principal Callisto Muzongondi assured industrialists and the industry ministry officials attending the Original Equipment Manufacturers Forum held at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair in April that institutions of higher learning had the capacity to manufacture technologies needed to resuscitate local industry.
Such commitment from the academia to the development of the economy through the manufacture of usable machines is very commendable. However, a more holistic government-driven approach is needed if meaningful growth and transformation is to be achieved.
The economic boom of Asian Tigers and Silicon Valley companies was based on knowledge and skills support from institutions of higher learning, a development approach that Zimbabwe can adopt. Inviting foreign direct investment is simply calling for technologies produced by other engineers and academics outside Zimbabwe, some of which may be inferior to ones found locally.
Research outputs at Research Council of Zimbabwe or the Higher Education Ministry run Research and Intellectual Outputs Science Engineering and Technology (RIO-SET) exhibitions, among other techno-expos in the country, show that Zimbabwe has enough knowledge, skills and expertise to develop the technologies to resuscitate its industry.
Zimbabwe has enough engineers, technicians, artisans, academics and reseachers to manufacture no less than 75% of the technologies needed to extract iron ore at Ziscosteel or asbestos at Mashava Mine.
Hence, the retooling of local industries lies not anywhere beyond the local institutions of higher learning.
Nonetheless, sentiments from industrialists are that using research solutions from local institutions of higher learning is too risky and may even lead to severe losses since the solutions may not have been tested beyond doubt, hence industrialists opt to simply import from reputable brands things that can be produced locally.
Zimbabwean academics, engineers and researchers need to go beyond the production of prototypes that industry distrusts to the production of usable technologies that are tested for quality and usable to support local production.
The Malaysian experience show how policy support from central government to capacitate local institutions of higher learning with the important role of manufacturing productive technologies can transform a third world economy into being a global economic powerhouse.
Malaysia’s rubber industry is now among the best in the world as a result of policy commitment, financial support and capacitation of local knowledge and scientific development — a country that not so long ago was grappling with similar challenges facing Zimbabwe today.
Zimbabwe has over the years invested heavily in education and it is only prudent that it reaps from its investment. Policymakers in education have to capacitate institutions of higher learning with the resources necessary for manufacturing, testing and commercialisation of technologies usable in various productive sectors of the economy.