When you go to the field as a student, the air of expectation is almost suffocating. Everyone comes to the meeting thinking you have something to donate. When they realize you are a student and that your work can reach policy makers and development agents, they see you as a conduit for taking their problems to the top. A new role is therefore being crafted for the researcher in Zimbabwe – ‘Be our ambassador’. It’s not an easy role but one that is possible. The era of incestuous research is gone. We need research that identifies with the struggling smallholder farmer, research that helps the farmer to sustainably and gainfully till his piece of land and keep his small herd of livestock with few local resources.
However, it is still possible to do research in Zimbabwe. The farmers still co-operate well with researchers, as long as the research has relevance to their livelihoods strategies. And we need that research to go on because that research is critical for directing the way in which development projects are implemented in rural areas. When the current political dust is settled and Zimbabwe once more has a clear vision on the way forward, the research findings will be one of the pillars upon which the reconstruction of Zimbabwe will stand. Ken Giller and his team should be complemented on their endeavours.
The tragedy in Zimbabwe and the international community is the fixation on, and almost hypnotic obsession with President Robert Mugabe to the detriment of research and development efforts. Under the current circumstances, we cannot avoid a glance at the president but the sooner we look away the better: it reminds us of our duty to re-build the country when President Mugabe is gone through resignation, retirement or the natural and biological cessation of life. This applies to both the skilled Zimbabweans and students who are in and outside the country, as well as to those with the funds to spend on educating a Zimbabwean student.