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African University kicks up a storm after conferring two Presidents accused of crushing dissenting voices with honorary doctorates

Zambian President Edgar Lungu being conferred with an honorary doctorate in law for exceptional leadership and upholding the rule of law.
  • Over the weekend, the University awarded Zambian President Edgar Lungu and his Zimbabwean counterpart Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa with honorary doctorates in law for exceptional leadership and upholding the rule of law.
  • The Zambian university said it was a great achievement that three presidents, the late Zambian president Levy Patrick Mwanawasa who graduated in 1974, as well as President Lungu who graduated in 1981, and President Mnangagwa who graduated in 1976, had passed through its gates.
  • The awarding of the degrees to the two leaders, however, evoked backlash and sharp reactions from different quarters who felt the two presidents didn’t deserve the award more so an honorary doctorate for exceptional leadership and upholding the rule of law.

The University of Zambia (UNZA) decision to award honorary doctorates to two African presidents has triggered a backlash and strong condemnation.

Over the weekend, the University awarded Zambian President Edgar Lungu and his Zimbabwean counterpart Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa with honorary doctorates in law for exceptional leadership and upholding the rule of law.

The two presidents are also former students of the University where they both graduated from UNZA with LLB. The Zambian university said it was a great achievement that three presidents, the late Zambian president Levy Patrick Mwanawasa who graduated in 1974, as well as President Lungu who graduated in 1981, and President Mnangagwa who graduated in 1976, had passed through its gates.

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After he was honoured by UNZA, Lungu took to Facebook where he expressed his gratitude at being conferred with the honorary degree and vowed to improve quality of higher education in the country.

The awarding of the degrees to the two leaders, however, evoked backlash and sharp reactions from different quarters who felt the two presidents didn’t deserve the award more so an honorary doctorate for exceptional leadership and upholding the rule of law.

Civil rights activist Laura Miti said President Lungu must decline the good governance honorary doctorate if indeed the university is planning to confer him.

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“If there is ever a time one hopes a rumour making the rounds is fake news, it this story that the University of Zambia plans to award President Lungu with an honorary doctorate in good governance. Good governance Even he would refuse it, kaleza. They should give him one for encouraging health and fitness pela, if they must. These things must ring true” Miti said.

Zambia's media quoted University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers' Union (UNZALARU) Publicity Secretary Moffat Moyo as saying the decision was ill-conceived, ill-informed and lacked evidence for good governance.

The lecturers’ union said it felt that the timing and reasons advanced were inadequate.

"The union strongly advised against the conferring of the honorary degree, as such a move would bring negative publicity and impact to the university in the short and long term. The timing and reasons advanced were inadequate to satisfy the widespread indignation, ridicule and scorn the wider public would render. 

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The current mood in the nation suggested that the idea was ill-conceived, ill-informed and lacked evidence on the ground for good governance in general and inadequate support to higher education by the current regime in particular," said the union.

Dr Ricky Mukonza, a public management senior lecturer at South Africa's Tshwane University of Technology, said the awards are not deserved.

"There is no reasonable justification for UNZA to award the two leaders honorary doctorate degrees, worse still for good governance. This is because their stints in power have been marred by controversies on governance-related issues. 

Lungu has been in the headlines for crushing dissenting voices in Zambia. ED's [Mnangagwa’s] government stands accused of killing people in the aftermath of the 2018 elections as well as those who engaged in protests earlier in the year. Add to that the recent harassment of civil society activists. All this brings into question why the two leaders are receiving honorary degrees," he told University World News in an interview.

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Early this year, protests broke out in Zimbabwe over souring cost of living standards. Protesters barricaded roads and burned tyres in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, as anger over the worst economic crisis in a decade spilled onto the streets. Zimbawean police responded violently killing several people and arresting some 200 protesters.

However, Foreign Affairs Minister Joe Malanji said the decision by UNZA to confer Doctor of Laws degrees on the two Presidents who are former students of the institution will raise the profile of the University.

He told Reporters that Universities like Harvard boast of having produced many Presidents in the United States of America wondering why UNZA should not be proud to have produced three Presidents.

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