Degree for President : To have or not to have, The Daily Mail, Kenneth Mwenda, Commentary :
That an individual’s formal university education alone is not, and must not be, the sole criterion for determining the individual’s leadership qualities is a settled view that requires no contest.
But to argue that illiteracy or semi-literacy, even in situations where such illiteracy or semi-literacy is devoid of wisdom and decency, are credible values that can propel an individual to the helm of political leadership is a totally misguided view.
If anything, the very constitutional argument imbedded in the Constitutions of many countries, stipulating that the Republican President should be at least of a certain age and should be a national of that particular country, does favour a certain kind of reverse discrimination against those individuals resident in a particular country that are below that constitutional age requirement and those that are not nationals of the said country, though having close ties to the country.
Against this background, to contest the merits of a proposal that the Republican Constitution should provide that a Republican President should have at least a university degree or some professional certification equivalent to a university Bachelors degree is a conundrum that is not free from illogical difficulties.
I am awake to the fact that some arguments have been advanced from certain quarters of society, postulating that championing such a proposal is tantamount to targeting a particular individual and thus discriminating against that individual.
To some extent, this view could be true, especially where the proposal is hijacked by opportunistic ‘politicisation.’
Sometimes, a well-meaning developmental goal can be hijacked by those with a self-interest political agenda. But then, what does experience teach us?
In Zambia’s political history, haven’t there been cases where individuals with decent academic credentials, and sometimes even PhDs from reputable international universities, after forming a political party, could not field a presidential candidate from amongst themselves partly because the majority of the party leadership was below the constitutional age requirement to contest the Republican Presidency?
But nobody ever cried foul that the Republican Constitution was discriminatory or should be amended to allow such young intellectuals to contest the Republican Presidency. Indeed, nobody complained that the age requirement in the Republican Constitution infringed the rights of these citizens.
It is therefore ironic that the issue of a university degree should appear so troublesome and burdensome to some. How different is this from the example of age restriction noted above? Even from a labour law or human resource management perspective, do we not see many companies spelling out specific job requirements for hiring, say, their chief executive officer or managing director?
Can we then challenge the constitutionality of these job adverts for specifying that the company is only looking for candidates who hold, inter alia, a university degree or a certain professional qualification that is equivalent to a university degree? Even in the public service, is it not acceptable practice that certain jobs require applicants to have attained a particular level education? By parity of reasoning, why all this fuss about the Republican Presidency?
Are people defending their own personal interests or what? And is presidency not just a job like any other job? Yes, presidents come and go. We have seen them come and go. So, what’s the big deal really? Even a priest must have some minimal levels of education no matter how well-anointed he or she is with the Holy Spirit.
Yet, nobody cries foul that there is discrimination against the already anointed when we send them to seminaries for years of training, with almost no prospect for a lucrative salary after they graduate.
By contrast, it is perfectly conceivable that there would be discrimination if the hiring of employees was done along tribal or ethnic lines because such criteria have no direct bearing, first, on an individual’s ability to perform effectively, and, secondly, on fostering meaningful competition to get the best candidate. It is in this vein that the use of educational levels as one of the basic requirements for an individual to aspire for public office should be embraced without hesitation.
This approach will help us identify and attract the right people into politics and positions of leadership. Experience alone, without grounded theory, is dangerous. There are some people who claim, and proudly too, to have many years of practical experience in doing the same thing over and over again, forgetting that they may have been doing that same thing wrongly much of their life.
Such human failings, predicated on robotic and dogmatic intuitions, are often a result of treating lightly, or paying insufficient attention to valuable and useful theories or ideas in a relevant discipline. Indeed, practice devoid of enlightenment is a good recipe for failure, as much as the carrying out of unintelligent repetitive tasks does not make one a genius.
There can be no substitute for erudition. Exceptions should only be permitted rarely, such as where an individual is of such unquestionable international stature, despite not having a formal university education. We have seen, for example, how Ghana has been heralded internationally as a success African story of good governance and economic growth.
President John Kufuor, an Oxford graduate, handed over the torch of leadership to Professor John Atta Mills, a former Associate Professor of Law at the University of Ghana Law Faculty. It was a peaceful transition, albeit the tightly contested presidential elections. But we are not saying Ghana is completely free of what obtains in many developing countries.
Ghana, like many West African countries, has experienced a troubled political past with routine military coups. But, in the modern age of technology, where a Republican President should be in a position to understand complex issues of globalisation that are so often juxtaposed between norms of international trade and finance as well as those of law and economics, surely we cannot remain glued to the old ways of tired politicians of the past.
A Republican President should not only have a reasonable understanding of quantitative analysis and logic, but he or she should also be computer literate so as to be able to send or receive email, including browsing the internet.
Indeed, a number of countries are moving away from the old era of mediocre leadership that was evidenced through military dictatorships, corrupt and compromised political leaderships, and the often less visionary governing classes. But then, as we have argued above, education alone is not enough. What about those wise elders in many an African traditional society, who presided over complex disputes, resolving these disputes without resort to theories of modern education, how did they succeed?
As a tool for effective leadership, education is only meaningfully functional if it is supported by qualities of high moral and ethical values. As noted above, education alone is not enough. So, then, how are we to determine an individual’s levels of ethical and moral standing?
A well-informed electorate in a society that is not easily susceptible to corruption can point us to some quality leadership. But, where hunger and poverty are overwhelming and have disenfranchised much of the electorate, some voters tend to be compromised. We are then left to look at what the Republican Constitution says.
As argued above, it is not discriminatory to enshrine in the Republican Constitution that a candidate for the Republican Presidency should have at least a university degree or some parallel professional qualification.
That said, we need to exercise caution here. There are a lot of diploma mills out there that award ‘fake’ degrees. Also, honorary degrees should never count as an earned degree. As a policy recommendation, the Supreme Court should be bestowed with powers to screen the eligibility of Presidential candidates in Zambia, consulting, where appropriate and necessary, any relevant institution in Zambia or abroad.
These include the University of Zambia, the Copperbelt University, the Law Association of Zambia, the Zambia Institute of Certified Accountants, the Medical Association of Zambia, the Institute of Directors, the Office of the President, the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Anti-Drug Commission, the Bank of Zambia, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Pensions and Insurance Authority, and any line ministry or regulatory body within Zambia or abroad, on the eligibility of the candidates.
We have to move away from the culture of politics of the stomach which is currently endemic in Zambia. And the idea here is not to try and fix any particular individuals, but rather to fix those socio-economic problems that are rooted in mediocre leadership!
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Defending Mulongotism ?
Kenneth Mwenda has an Op’ed in the Government owned and policed Daily Mail where he weighs in on the current question being considered by the NCC - “whether the President must have at least a university degree or not?”. In many respects it is an attempt to put a more intelligent face to Minister Mulongoti's earlier sentiments which we dismissed on When Mulongotism met sakism, and much of what Prof Mwenda talks about is covered in the exchanges therein. Without rehashing previous arguments, I would simply say that none of Mwenda’s new arguments move me as they do not address the two fundamental flaws with the degree qualification proposal: the measure assumes Zambians are foolish to balance educational qualifications and other skills, so they need to be prescribed minimums (irrational assumptions); and, it tries to repair a broken electoral system through artificial restrictions on political players (poor diagnosis). I also think Mwenda’s assessment is deeply flawed by trying to draw parallels between presidential offices and private sector CEO requirements - being President is a right that should be afforded to all Zambians, whilst firms are corporate private clubs that are free to impose restrictions as they see fit. I’ll step aside and leave readers to reach their own conclusions:
THEMES : law