In February this year Speaker of the National Assembly of Zimbabwe attacked uneducated MPs for failing to make informed debates in the House.
“They come by popular vote,” he said. “The only requirement is that you should be over 18 and a registered voter. So, you get people who are so popular for some reason and come to Parliament but do not have the basic academic tools to understand some of the Bills.”
I use the Zimbabwean scenario as a foreword in the wake of Edgar Lungu’s recent appointment of Richwell Siamunene as Minister of Defence. When I learned he was a Grade 12 with a Business Management Certificate in Marketing and Food Processing, I, like many others, wondered if he has the intellectual acumen and perspicacity to head such a vital and sensitive ministry.
Let me first define the role of the Minister of Defence. He is the Chief Executive Officer of all the wings of the military. In many countries he is a de facto deputy commander-in-chief with authority, direction and control. In Zambia the Minister of Defence is a civilian and therefore not an integral part of the operational military chain of command. He is responsible for administrative, general budget matters, procurement of equipment and other military paraphernalia. He also represents the country at military fora.
It is a strong convention of many Zambians that the leader of the most powerful ministry must be an agile adaptive and educated thinker who can tackle acquisition and budgeting challenges and address the needs of our brave men and women in the military. Siamunene is not fully qualified for the undertaking, and so was Godfrey Mwamba when he served in the same capacity in the Sata regime.
Allow me to pose a couple of questions:
Could Lungu have picked a much more qualified MP? Is it really necessary to appoint qualified people to head ministries? If not, why are some ministries exceptional? Does all this matter, anyway?
Before I proceed, let me make it abundantly clear that I have written this article in my humble effort to enlighten my fellow countrymen and women, so we can rise like lions after slumber. It is not my intention to humiliate, dishonor, disrespect, or ridicule anyone. When I mention the name of a politician, I do so without malice. All Members of Parliament are voluntary public figures. The fact that they thrust themselves to the forefront of Zambian politics makes them susceptible to scrutiny. The public must know everything about them, including their academic qualifications.
That being said let me commend Lungu for crossing the aisle and picking a member of the opposition UPND to head the military, a rare feat in African politics. What becomes a matter of debate though is his choice. Just now the country is inundated with a plethora of reasons. They range from scarcity or phobia of the educated to the creation of sycophantic minions. Whatever the reason, the appointment is an indication that the Zambian education system is in a morass. It continues to churn out more Grade 12s than graduates.
Proof of this claim is contained in the World Bank Report of 2014. According to the report, approximately 8% of the Zambian youth (ages 15-24) complete secondary education and only 3% attend college or university. The remaining 92% is broken as follows: 5% no formal education, 50% attend primary school (34% incomplete + 16% complete), and 35% fail to complete secondary education. Simply put, 3% have college knowledge, some with a diploma or degree; 5% are Grade 12s who fail to go to college; the rest (92%) either have not been to school, dropped out or failed Grade 7, dropped out or failed Grade 9, failed Grade 12 or left before graduation.
The above data shows that we live in a country in which the greater part is preponderantly uneducated or moderately educated. There simply are not enough educated people to go around.
This sparseness explains why gifted and talented individuals with no college education use their popularity, charm, and charisma to find their way to the pinnacle of Zambian politics. In our parliament they make the bulk.
According to the composition on the National Assembly of Zambia website, Grade 12 MPs, some with post-secondary certificates include Obvious Mwaliteta (Kafue), Geoffrey Mwamba (Kasama), Musenge Mwenya (Chimwemwe), Patrick Mucheleka (Lubansenshi), Greyford Monde (Itezhi-Tezhi), Clive Miyanda (Mapatizya), Carlos Antonio (Kaoma), Levy Chabala (Kankoyo), Moses Chishimba (Kamfinsa), Misheck Mutelo (Lukulu West), Annie Munshya (Lufwanyama), Stephen Chungu (Luanshya), Boyd Hamusonde (Nangoma), James Kapyanga (Kabwe Central), Olive Mulomba (Magoye), and Davis Mwango (Kanchibiya).
Others are: Humphrey Mwanza (Solwezi West), Davis Mwilu (Chipili), Levy Ngoma (Sinda), Poniso Njeulu (Sinjembela), Stephen Katuka (Mwinilunga), Dorothy Kasunga (Kabushi), Abel Sichula (Nakonde), Chomba Sikazwe (Mpulungu), Sianga Siyanya (Sesheke), Forrie Tembo (Nyimba), John Kufuna (Mufulira), Josphine Limata (Luampa), Rogers Lyambai (Mangango), Moona Lubezhi (Namwala), Mushili Allan Malama (Chitambo), Sichone Malozo (Isoka), Mutinta Mazoka (Pemba), Peter Phiri (Mkaika), and Richwell Siamunene (Sinazongwe).
It is difficult to compile a full list because some MPs confuse a “certificate of attendance” with a diploma or deliberately choose the latter to imply they have been to college. For those who do not know, in Zambia a “certificate of attendance” is granted to a participant in short courses, seminars, workshops, and tutorials. A “diploma,” on the other hand, is a certificate issued by an educational institution (college or university) usually after a two-year course.
Without a diploma the afore-mentioned honorable men and women and many others in this category are barely educated. In parliament, they have a problem to fully grasp the government’s lingua franca contained in some of the Bills. They do not understand the intricacies of politics, fathom basic development concepts, and process long-term effects of every piece of legislation. They therefore cannot debate the national budget and understand industrial complexities and how to solve them. It is also true that as leaders of parliamentary committees, they find it difficult to engage in critical thought, communicate effectively; organize, analyze, and evaluate information. Simply put, they are the defective ambience of parliament.
Sadly, since independence, Zambian presidents have picked from a crop of MPs of mostly inadequate education. Once in cabinet such men and women are charged with the responsibility of formulating the policy of Government. But because they lack the reasoning abilities to foster skills of value to Zambia, they have not taken us anywhere. While it is invidious to appoint only academically qualified MPs to all the ministries, it is imperative that the key ministries of Finance, Defence, Education, Foreign Affairs, Health, Justice, and Commerce are given the prerogative.
Let me end by putting the blame squarely on Lungu. He is not farsighted. As evidenced since he assumed power, he has not deemed education as incontestable in the advancement of Zambia. He has not created a think tank that can present an executable educational system that enriches the 92%, intellectualizes the 5%, and innovates the 3%; a think tank that creates an excellent networking that paves the way for a higher number of college and university graduates to parliament, and connects the rest of Zambians to global lighthouses.
Here is my advice to every Zambian: Don’t be a dead horse. Think of educating yourself, no matter your age. Let your aptitude tower over your attitude—knowledge over your ignorance, and innovation over your indolence.
By Field Ruwe