Zimbabwe asks Britain to fund schooling of one million children

As funds run out to bankroll Zimbabwe’s public school system, Robert Mugabe’s government turns to help from Britain in hope of financial aid to keep one million children in school


ZIMBABWE made a formal request last week to the Department for International Development (DFID) to cover the school fees of up to one million children in the country’s underfunded public school system.

The funding application would only cover one third of all elementary school children, as a government programme known as Basic Education Assistance Module (Beam) is supposed to subsidise any further shortcomings. However, hit by ever-increasing inflation, Zimbabwe’s government is finding itself unable meet its own expectations.

Other international donations, chiefly from EU countries, have until now paid for certain items such as text books, within the context of greater foreign aid. But the future of those donations is unclear as foreign aid in Zimbabwe is slowly drying up; many of the international financial assurances the impoverished country depends on ended after last August’s disputed landslide win of Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF – a development interpreted as a move away from democracy in Zimbabwe.

Britain had also previously financed the school fees of 300,000 school children annually for three years from 2010 to 2013 while a multi-party government was in power under a coalition arrangement with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The UK may yet reject Zimbabwe’s current application amid general cut backs in foreign aid payments under Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party and Liberal Democrat coalition government. Furthermore, there’s a push for more transparency in the UK as to where taxpayers’ money goes after revelations that government loans have previously funded several pariah states and unstable regimes, including Zimbabwe.

Despite President Robert Mugabe’s ongoing antagonistic rhetoric against the UK – the erstwhile colonial power in present-day Zimbabwe – the DFID says it will consider the application fairly. The fact that Zimbabwe has one of the most successful public school systems in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a literacy rate across the country of approximately 90 per cent, may help with the country’s application. But a corrupt schooling system run by parent committees, who decide who does and who doesn’t receive aid money, may well count against the otherwise promising track record. And with fresh threats against foreigners operating businesses in Zimbabwe to expropriate their properties for the sake of “Economic Empowerment”, securing funds may likely be off the table.

Robert Mugabe, a teacher himself by trade, helped to improve the literacy rate by supporting mandatory schooling as part of his career in politics. But he may hit a wall by not being able to secure foreign finance in as forceful a manner.

By Sertan Sanderson, 2014