VICTOR KALALANDA, Lusaka
THERE is a 23-year-old Zambian currently living a life ahead of his time. His story already reads like a wish. Just last year the fabulous billionaire Hubertus von Baumbach yearned to meet the young man in Germany. Naturally and wonderfully, Baumbach cherished his visitor, chatted at length over a cup of coffee, and showed him off like a coveted trophy to his family. Quite a sight it was.
Like everyone else back in Zambia, the quintessential German and affluent Baumbach wanted to see for himself who this daring young African really was, the Mainga Simoonga who once was a nondescript Gwembe village boy but now exudes the promise of a future world leader and lawyer.
Actually, Mainga was shaking hands with a German who is so great that some of his over 39,000 employees have never seen him before—they just hear and believe that he exists. However, he seems to have deserved the warm reception because his works in Zambia prove that he is like Britain’s former Prime Minister Winston Churchill who, having been born as a 7 months’ child, was said to be a “young man in a hurry”.
The events that have changed his life forever have all happened in an incredible space of three years, making him walk with destiny at once as a learned law student, a founder of a national students’ law journal, a vice-president of a university law association, an international legal researcher, a global intern, a leader of an NGO, a government worker, a bestselling author and a regular television guest, all in a big hurry.
It is not from without, for him as such, when he playfully remarks that “I have been on more planes than buses.”
Forceful of handshake but of ruggedly good looks, endowed with a resonant, orator’s voice, tall and endearing in demeanour, Mainga is a third-year law student at the University of Zambia (UNZA) Law School, the very former alma mater of President Edgar Lungu, late President Levy Mwanawasa, and Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Interestingly, his UNZA tale is such that in 2016 he would flunk a course that would see him go on part-time and repeat an entire academic year, as if he wasn’t the pupil that had always been the best at his former primary and secondary schools, and one who in Grade 12 scored seven points to break a record at Mkushi Copper Mine Secondary School since 1967.
That is the failure that marked his meteoric rise, for he learnt this: “People fail because they don’t realise the core areas of their life and focus their energies on them. I failed because of low commitment levels and an uncoordinated campus life.”
As an inauspicious year, 2016 led him to study never-endingly and simultaneously work round the clock to grow the Youth Care Motivators (YMC), a robust NGO he began with a friend, which seeks to help the Zambian society reduce incidence of teenage pregnancies, juvenile delinquency and human rights violations.
“As YMC vice-president, I draw together like-minded people with whom we can grow the organisation,” he states.
In the same year, the one-time UNZA Caritas president began work with the Ministry of Community Development and Social Welfare as a social welfare intern, in the hope of gaining insights into the life of underprivileged Zambians and thus see how his NGO could be of help.
Born and partly bred in Southern Province’s arid Gwembe Valley, the son of Alexander Simoonga and Mwaisi Phiri was determined to repeat the 2017 UNZA academic year and work day and night on the core areas of his life.
Such a presence of mind would in 2017 make him stand out in style at a legal writing and analysis training conducted by UNZA Law School in conjunction with Chibesakunda and Co. and a global pharmaceutical Boehringer Ingelheim from Germany.
“During the training, Boehringer Ingelheim offered a summer internship opportunity to law students who were participating, and more than 56 students applied. From these, four were shortlisted and I was one of them,” the law student recounts with a grin.
Of the four applicants, Mainga was the only one repeating a course, which meant he had the slimmest chances of landing the privilege.
But to everyone’s bewilderment, following an exacting Skype interview lasting 47 minutes, Mainga got the bite at the cherry as the best of the four to be the global Intern at the legal department of the headquarters of Boehringer Ingelheim in Germany, which is the second largest animal health pharmaceutical in the world.
The six-week internship entailed working at Boehringer Ingelheim with over 8,000 lawyers, a rare but full legal experience that exposed the young lawyer to different aspects of law that appeal to his legal interests and passions.
“It was the greatest experience of my life,” he muses.
“I had over 71 appointments with lawyers in the department in just three weeks!”
His arrival in Germany was given a presidential treatment, having been received and whisked off the airport by a chauffeur in a limousine like no other.
It was in Germany where he met the rich Baumbach, who is the current chairman of Boehringer Ingelheim, the 128-year-old pharmaceutical that has over 39,000 employees around the world.
The former Mkushi Secondary School deputy head boy and Debate Club president,tasted European culture while travelling through countries like Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France and Luxembourg, noting that though most Europeans are not religious, “they are very hard-working people. They are intrinsically motivated and they believe they own the future themselves. They hardly wait on government.”
Besides, Boehringer Ingelheim senior counsel, Anita Turpin, fondly says of Mainga: “He is courteous, self-assured, has great social skills and is a natural speaker and motivator. [He] genuinely strives to make a difference for his community.”
Upon returning from Germany, Mainga took up work as legal research intern at the Southern African Institute for Policy and Research (SAIPAR) in Lusaka, joining other young scholars from elite universities like Cornell, Harvard, Michigan, Oxford and Manchester, under the supervision of Dr Tinenenji Banda of UNZA Law School.
Last year, while serving at SAIPAR, the voracious reader was elected vice-president of the UNZA Law Association where, in an ambitious bid to make the institution nationally relevant, he pioneered the creation of the Zambia Law Students’ Journal, whose first edition is scheduled to be published next month.
Furthermore, in his service to the Ministry of Agriculture under the FISP as a co-supervisor, the best mooter in the quarter, finals of the ongoing Musa Dudhia National Moot Court Competition has been to countries like Malawi and Mozambique just to understand how the world works.
This month, moreover, the Michigan University legal research assistant published his book Deciding to be Great, a best-seller that has been fully endorsed by LAZ president Eddie Mwitwa and UNZA Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor Enala Mwase.
With a foreword by Professor Delayo Adadevoh, the book provokes one to dream big and learn from successful people who have gone ahead.
And since the book’s publication, Mainga regularly appears for interviews on television stations ranging from MUVI TV to ZNBC TV2, owing to his “decision to be great.”
He is inspiring so many young Zambians that his lawyer friend Haggai Mulenga says: “Many can learn from Mainga because he works very hard and achieves whatever he puts his mind to.”
This is Zambia’s young lawyer in a hurry who says that “I want to be relevant to society using my skills acquired through the legal profession and those things I am naturally good at to positively impact people’s lives,” adding that “the boundaries of life are mere creations of the mind”.
VICTOR KALALANDA, Lusaka