By Professor Kenneth Mwenda
Perhaps, my greatest weakness is to do things the difficult way because I do not believe in shortcuts. As a young man, I knew that even though I had graduated from Bar school (ZIALE) in Zambia as the best graduating student, joining a law firm would not give me much satisfaction intellectually. I, thus, chose a difficult path of earning a meagre salary of less than one-third of what my friends in law firms were getting, as I took up a competitive academic appointment at the University of Zambia. It was about personal sacrifice. And I was not discouraged at all. My goals were not about making money, but about enlightenment.
I then ended up at Oxford through another highly competitive and difficult route – the Rhodes Scholarship. Later, I was told by many Zambians abroad that it was almost impossible for an African boy, especially in my field, to teach at any British university. Again, I took the difficult path with no precedent from home to chart a new path for others to follow. I landed an academic position at the University of Warwick, one of the top ten (10) British universities. I was only twenty-six (26) years old. Thereafter, my intellectual curiosity continued to urge me to look into the United Nations system. At the same time, I wanted to continue with my academic career.
So, I took another difficult choice to aim for the best Law School in the USA, Yale Law School, through another highly competitive and prestigious scholarship. At the same time, I had heard that the Young Professionals Program (YPP) at the World Bank was arguably the most competitive and coveted route for a career at that institution. So, I aimed for both Yale Law School and the World Bank, and both doors opened. For some reason, I often found myself not on the easy path, but on a path less traversed by many. In Washington DC, I became the second black Zambian professional at the World Bank after Dr Shimwaayi Muntemba, an elderly lady who had taught at the University of Zamia before my time. For my generation (i.e. among Zambians), I was breaking new ground.
And so, even when it was clear that no Zambian had ever obtained a higher doctorate in any field, and that the award of a higher doctorate in law had never been conferred on anyone in the entire rich history of Rhodes University, I went for it. At 39 years only, I obtained my higher doctorate in law from Rhodes University. History was being written. We are arguably not more than 10 to 12 senior legal scholars from and within Commonwealth Africa who hold a higher doctorate in law. It was, and remains, Zambia’s first higher doctorate in any discipline.
I continued to write scholarly work in my free time, culminating in another distinguished award. Five years later, I obtained my second higher doctorate, breaking my own national record. This time around, it was in economic sciences from the University of Hull in the United Kingdom. Indeed, I had by then written what by any Zambian standard remains an unprecedented record of scholarly books and journal articles. Despite my young age, I was defying the odds and doing things. I also found myself holding concurrent academic appointments at leading universities in the USA and South Africa. It can be very demanding on one’s time, but like I said, my greatest weakness is perhaps in doing things the difficult way. To this day, I am not aware of any legal scholar who holds two higher doctorates in two different disciplines in any part of the English-speaking world (i.e. including Europe and elsewhere). Perhaps, my greatest weakness is to do things the difficult way.