JACK ZIMBA, Lusaka
BEING born in the village to a single teenage mom is disadvantage enough for any child, but for Chibwe Mwelwa, it became his motivation to strive for a better life.
“The fact that I didn’t know my father made me work harder,” he says.
Today, the 47-year-old is a holder of two masters’ degrees and serves as president of the Zambia Institute of Purchasing and Supply, and has worked in a number of organisations in influential positions. His most recent appointment was to the Zesco board.
Currently, he works as procurement director for the Millennium Challenge, where he oversees procurement in a multi-million dollar drainage project in Lusaka.
Chibwe Darius Mwelwa was born on May 4, 1970 in Mwense district, and would spend the first few years of his life under the care of a grandmother in order to allow his young mother pursue her studies and career.
His mother, Charity Mwandu, was only 16 when she had him.
His grandfather, James Mwenso, was a wealthy businessman who owned a string of shops. He, however, died when Mr Mwelwa was only nine.
Mr Mwelwa describes his childhood as a little privileged.
“In the village, we had clothes which others did not have,” he says.
He comes from a closely-neat family with aunts and grandparents who took care of him and that somehow filled the void of having no father.
“It wasn’t something that bothered me a lot because my grandmother was very loving,” he says when asked about his absentee dad.
His mother also seemed to have stepped in to fill the gap.
“She is both my mother and my father,” he says about his mother.
But when he was a little older, Mr Mwelwa began to soul-search, and wanted to discover himself by knowing who his father was.
Mr Mwelwa only saw a picture of his father for the first time earlier this year.
His father, who is late now, was a politician called Gabriel Chilumba.
Mr Mwelwa speaks highly of two of his grandmothers – one of them inspired him to work hard in school while the other taught him discipline.
“My grandmother was a very devoted Christian and we literary grew up in church,” he says.
And that helped him to escape many of the evils associated with youth.
“I have never taken beer before, never been to a bar. I have never been a typical teenager,” he says.
Mr Mwelwa also says he was happy growing up in a village community where every child was everyone’s responsibility.
“It wasn’t toxic, there was no one smoking, no one drinking, you can’t even attempt to drink because if that shikulu sees you know you are in trouble,” he says.
And even as a child, he had developed a sense of community which drove him to help those who needed help. During humanism week, Chibwe would go and look for an old woman in the community and help her in the field.
Humanism was a philosophy propagated by former President Dr Kenneth Kaunda, which promoted love and care for one another.
Mr Mwelwa started his education at Kashiba Primary School in Mwense.
He was an A-list student who was later selected to attend Hillcrest Secondary School in Southern Province, where he graduated with a distinction.
His childhood dream was to become a medical doctor.
“I wanted to become a medical doctor. Actually, I used to call myself Dr Chibwe,” he says.
But by the time Mr Mwelwa was going to university, he had discarded his childhood dream of becoming a doctor.
“At that time, I began to realise that I really didn’t like the hospital,” he says.
He also, thought seven years was too long to be in medical school, and so he decided to study industrial engineering at the Copperbelt University.
But the mid-90s also came with mass closures of parastatal companies and job losses.
“When I was in third year, that is the time companies began to close, factories were closing and I was supposed to work in production,” he says.
When he went for his industrial attachment at Zesco, he was taken to stores and he developed keen interest in purchasing and supply. He made up his mind he was going to study purchasing and supply.
When he returned to CBU, he enrolled for a programme in purchasing and supply.
And in 2003 he enrolled for a master’s programme in procurement with the University of Glamorgan in the United Kingdom.
It was the same year that he met his wife, Zamiwe.
She sung in the choir in a church that Mr Mwelwa attended in Kitwe.
“She is a very strong girl, very nice girl,” he says.
In 2011, Mr Mwelwa obtained his master’s in business administration from the Edinburgh School of Business in Scotland.
He is currently pursuing his PhD with a university in South Africa.
“The moment I decided I was going to pursue purchasing, I decided I was going to take it to the top because that is one of my beliefs,” he says. “When I start doing something, I do it whole heartedly. I decided I really want to understand this field.”
One of his biggest motivations is fear of failure.
“I’m scared of failing and so I do extra things to ensure that I succeed in whatever I do,” he says.
Mr Mwelwa says his mother, who got married and had seven more children, also inspired him to study.
“My mother believes in education very strongly,” he says.
All seven siblings of Mr Mwelwa’s have attained university education to masters’ level in various fields.
“I was the first one and motivated the others to do the same,” says Mr Mwelwa.
Mr Mwelwa is a bookworm and apart from reading academic books, he loves to read history books.
“I read a lot. My wife says I have no social life,” he says.
He has to admit though that he is a bit anti-social.
Mr Mwelwa is passionate about passing his knowledge in procurement to young people and he sometimes lectures at university.
He says people still don’t appreciate procurement because they don’t understand his role of procurement.
“I believe that purchasing and supply is a very important profession; in fact without purchasing and supply you can’t develop, it is the driver of economic development,” he says.
He adds: “Show me any organisation making profits, and I will show you an organisation with a proper procurement team. Procurement drives the cost of doing business.”
But he admits it is also a field with many temptations.
“Procurement process is highly tempting, a lot of people fall from grace in that line because they are enticed by the end users but the moment you do that it will obscure your thinking you become compromised,” he says.
His secret is openness and detaching himself from the bidding process.
“I’m not emotionally involved with any contractor,” he says.
Mr Mwelwa says his life is also guided by the principle of fairness.
“I believe in fairness. It is so strong in me that sometimes it gets me into trouble. You need to treat every person fairly. I don’t like other animals being more equal than others. I believe that fairness is a virtue,” he says.
Mr Mwelwa also believes in telling the truth no matter how hard.
“I don’t beat about the bush about anything. I’m brutally truthful,” he says.
But that has caused him trouble a number of times.
“I’m actually learning a phenomenon called emotional intelligence not to be brutal with the truth. I think that as I take more responsibilities I’m becoming more tolerant,” he says.
Mr Mwelwa dreams of becoming a politician one day, driven by a desire to help people back in his village.
“Every time I go to my village, always think that that community needs help. They need some representation that will uplift their lives,” he says.
He considers himself a privileged village boy who discovered a better life in town.
“I find myself to be fortunate that I can come to town and earn some reasonable money and every time I go to my my village and I see how the people are suffering, it gives me the desire to go and work for them,” says Mr Mwelwa.