Sifelani Tsiko — The signing of memoranda of understanding between Zimbabwean and Belarusian universities this week offers a great platform to propel and bolster real scientific, technological and innovation change in a developing country such as Zimbabwe.
Such joint efforts are not only important for accelerating scientific advances, but for strengthening ties between nations.
Convening the higher education communities in both countries is a critical step towards addressing the technological gap between developed and developing countries.
Western countries have not been too keen to share their scientific, technological and innovation achievements with developing countries such as Zimbabwe, which have been disadvantaged by the imposition of sanctions for the past two decades.
Universities here have had no meaningful opportunity to embark in collaborative research and sharing research resources with major universities in the West.
Sanctions have vastly reduced opportunities for local universities to participate in large-scale collaborative research projects in science and technology.
Zimbabwe, through its re-engagement drive, is moving aggressively to reduce its dependence on the West in many areas, including trade, education, investment and others.
Growing ties between Zimbabwe and Belarus have widened opportunities for the country to beat the scourge of sanctions not only in trade and commerce, but in higher education as well.
Higher education is seen as an area of stability among many other areas of sharp contention. It is an area that can help accelerate scientific advances for Zimbabwe as well as strengthening ties with eastern European countries such as Belarus.
Co-operation on science, technology and innovation must be effective and go hand in hand with trade and investment agreements.
Science, technology and innovation must be a critical part of trade and investment agreements between developed economies and less developed ones.
Zimbabwe and Belarus signed a string of deals in various areas of mutual interest. Higher education was also part of it.
Zimbabwean universities and Belarusian universities through the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development and the Belarusian Ministry of Education signed agreements for student exchange programmes, staff development and research collaboration.
Belarus universities can help transfer competencies and knowledge in the fields of agriculture, energy, industrial production, science and technology, environmental management, climate change and numerous other fields.
Under the agreement, there are 10 participating universities that include six Zimbabwe State universities — University of Zimbabwe, Chinhoyi University of Technology, Zimbabwe Open University, Lupane State University, Harare Institute of Technology and National University of Science and Technology and four top Belarusian universities — Belarusian State University, Belarusian National Technical University, Belarusian State Technological University and Minsk State University.
Belarus education minister Andrei Ivanets said co-operation between universities of the two countries “Will soon become a plant that bears many fruits.”
“When our Presidents met, they both said that there are a lot of steps that have been made to secure our co-operation and it started with the shipment of machinery and equipment, it started with co-operation in the agricultural sector. But that was just the first step,” he said.
“The next step is to prepare the professionals, the workers and the specialists who will work in all sectors of the economy.
“That is why I thank the distinguished Deputy Minister of Higher Education for the opportunity to sign several memorandum of understanding with our leading universities that will help our brotherly nation to level up the education system to prepare the professionals they need for future development”.
Mobilising and sharing science, technology and innovations will be critical for Zimbabwe’s economic recovery and the realisation of the 2030 agenda.
Zimbabwe’s higher education sector has been grappling with poor financing and the need to strengthen institutional capacity and a production system that fosters the creation of capacities or innovation.
Building ties with Belarus universities will enable Zimbabwe to incorporate technology in production processes and ensure technology transfer from more developed countries to less developed ones.
“It means we have a lot to learn from them, there will be exchange programmes for our students.
“There will be staff development programmes for our lecturers, there will be co-operation in science and innovation,” said Deputy Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development, Raymore Machingura.
For universities from both countries, co-operation offers the chance to enhance university life through promoting scientific and intellectual collaboration, increasing the diversity of their faculty and students as well as developing cultural exchanges.
The signing of agreements between universities from the two countries offers scope to expand research, develop key staff competencies and a chance to reshape the Belarus-Africa policy.
Belarus offers more hope for Zimbabwe, still standing firm in the wake of sanctions imposed by the West.
Many higher education institutions, primarily those from the US, UK and European Union had already temporarily frozen their traditional contacts with Zimbabwean partners or reduced co-operation.
China, Russia, Belarus, India, Malaysia, the UAE and other countries are fresh air to Zimbabwe’s higher education sector — seeking new partners to bolster the country’s science, technology and innovation drive.
Sanctions are forcing Zimbabwean universities to change their vectors of academic co-operation, paying particular attention to expanding collaboration with universities from the post-Soviet space, as well as those from China, India, Malaysia, UAE and others.
The ongoing conflict in Ukraine and unprecedented sanctions imposed on Russia has made co-operation between western institutions and Russia and Belarus almost impossible.
In the meantime, the continuing deterioration of relations with the West is forcing many leading Russian and Belarusian universities to shift their activities and attention in the direction of Asia, Africa, Middle East and Latin America.
Zimbabwean institutions, in a country facing sanctions, must now pay particular attention to strengthen co-operation with higher education institutions in Belarus, Russia and China. Senegalese poet, politician and cultural theorist — Léopold Sédar Senghor’s message about the impossibility of isolating individual countries and continents still rings true today.
“People cannot remain in their own corner. Africa needs Russia and Russia needs Africa,” he once remarked.
And, for Zimbabwe today, despite the ruinous effect of sanctions, the country cannot remain in its own corner. It needs friends, it needs allies and any friendly nation to realise its own dreams.
Africa needs Belarus and Belarus needs Africa, just to borrow Senghor’s words.