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Royson Mukwena: Professor par excellence

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II receives His Excellency the High Commissioner for Zambia, Professor Roy Mukwena, as he presented his credentials at Buckingham Palace in London.

MARTIN NKOLOMBA, Lusaka
IN THE 70s and 80s, it was a matter of national policy in Zambia for school-leavers to undergo Zambia National Service (ZNS) training, which many of

them would have happily ignored had they been given the chance.
The significance of the programme, orchestrated by the wing of the country’s defence force, was the production of a cadre of youth well prepared to cope with the dynamic exigencies of adult life and ensure they were responsible enough.
Receiving the training, which undeniably gifted them serious military and production skills, would help the school-leavers contribute to national development hugely depending on how they applied themselves.
But, probably, it occurred only to a slice of those swarms of school- leavers that they were rubbing shoulders with bigwigs that would leave indelible marks on the history of Zambia and the broader society.
One such example is Royson Mukwena, the executive director of the National Institute of Public Administration (NIPA), an ambassador and distinguished scholar.
Professor Mukwena was conscripted and sent to the service’s training camp in Mushili, Ndola, where he would meet peers such as Zambia Tourism Agency executive director Felix Chaila, High Court judge Albert Wood and Hapenga Kabeta, chief executive officer of the Zambia Institute of Chartered Accounts.
The professor is glad he underwent national service training.
“What impressed me the most is the survival skills that we learnt, initiative – where you’re taught how to survive with limited resources around you – and just the self-discipline,” he said.
As a matter of fact, ZNS had several camps dotted around the country and Mushili was just one of them.
The brief national service account demonstrates that, like numerous other people who have accomplished astounding things all over the world, Professor Mukwena has risen from humble beginnings. He went to the same schools as countless other children and even lived in the same neighbourhoods as them. But something makes him stand out as a colossus and luminary, having tremendously conquered his field and flying at dizzying and exclusive altitudes with such authority only depicted by an eagle.
Although his sociological background is quite common among Zambians, his feats are not. They are remarkable and extraordinary.
Apparently, Professor Mukwena has an enthusing and enriching narrative that offers a lot of hope, especially among young people fighting hard to make it someday.
He is not just an accomplished intellectual but also an ambassador.
Professor Mukwena was born on February 29, 1960 to Mr Alexander Mukwena, a post master, and Mrs Violet Mukwena on the outskirts of Livingstone, in Chief Mukuni’s area and was raised up in Dambwa South, a residential area in the tourist capital that is globally famous for being the home of the mighty Victoria Falls. He comes from a family of 11, of which he is second-born.
He started school at Christ the King Primary School in 1967 and completed grade seven in 1973 at Namatama Primary School.
The professor proceeded to St Marks Secondary School in Choma for his secondary school in 1974, after passing his grade seven exams with the proverbial flying colours before going to the University of Zambia (UNZA) – Ndola campus (now Copperbelt University (CBU) – in 1979.
He spent just one year there and transferred to the Great East Road campus, where he would graduate with a bachelor of arts in Public Administration with merit in 1983.
As with all exceptional students, Prof Mukwena would have numerous job opportunities. From 1983 to 1985, he worked as a graduate teaching assistant at UNZA in the Department of Political and Administrative Studies.
He then joined NIPA between 1985 and 1986 as a lecturer.
In 1986, he married Ruth Kanjanga Phiri, a school teacher and graduate of the University of Namibia (UNAM). He is a father of three; his first-born daughter Mashombotwa (lecturer at University of Lusaka), and sons Kanjanga (marketing officer at Telplus) and Mandandi (holds a bachelor of information science).
Professor Mukwena became a part-time tutor at UNZA from 1986 to 1988. Between 1987 and 1988, he worked for Zesco as a personnel officer. The soft-spoken professor could not stay long at the power utility, as his career in academics ‘ferociously’ beckoned.
Accordingly, he joined the university as a lecturer in 1988 after becoming its first graduate with a master’s degree in public administration.
He worked at UNZA for a number of years and then, in 1993, he was given a Swedish scholarship to do his doctorate at Manchester University.
Upon successfully obtaining his doctorate in 1998, he was offered employment at UNAM as senior lecturer. It seems scoring firsts is a major part of his life because even at this university abroad, he became the youngest professor at only 42.
While at UNAM, he caught the attention of late President Levy Mwanawasa who appointed him as Zambia’s ambassador to the Great Lakes region in 2005. In 2009, President Rupiah Banda also appointed the scholar as high commissioner to the United Kingdom (UK). The appointment also meant he would be Zambia’s ambassador to the Holy See, the Vatican.
He is highly appreciative that Government gave him the rare chance to serve as a diplomat.
“It [being a diplomat] gives you the opportunity to have that direct contribution to the development of the country. A lot of work is done at embassies – negotiations and discussions. You have to meet a lot of people and market your country.
“It is very satisfying to see companies you spoke to in [come to] your country. It’s a great honour that the opportunity was given to me,” the soft-spoken professor -cum-ambassador told this author.
One of the major achievements during his time in the foreign service was playing a part in the successful campaign for Zambia and Zimbabwe to co-host the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general meeting, which was successfully held in Livingstone and Victoria Falls town respectively in 2013. The campaign was co-ordinated from London.
He has authored a tiring list of books and journal articles. The most well-known of these is Zambia at 50. Prof Mukwena has successfully supervised several master’s degree and philosopher’s degree (PHD) students. He is also called upon by international universities to evaluate candidates for the position of professor.
After his posting in the UK, he joined the Organisation for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa, headquartered in Addis Ababa, as executive director in 2012.
Professor Mukwena came back to Zambia in 2013 and joined Mulungushi University as dean of the school of economics and director of research and postgraduate studies.
He has received several honours including the life-time achievement award from the UK Zambia Society in 2012.
With all this experience, he has come back to the institution that gave him his first employment, NIPA, which ranks among top institutions of higher learning in Zambia and southern Africa.
The institute is the only school of governance in the country, training government officials at all levels.
The professor says NIPA is headed by a professor just like any other university and that it has raised its standards higher to a level where its lecturers are now required to have a minimum of a master’s degree in any of the fields it offers.
Professor Mukwena says his vision is to make the institute a centre of excellence in teaching, research and consultancy in the region.
Since his coming back, NIPA has successfully launched six degree programmes, including business administration, public administration, computer science and public relations and is soon to launch some more, including one in economics.
He says NIPA will use its reputation as one of the oldest and most long-standing institutions, and a school of government to position itself higher among the different universities in Zambia and southern Africa.
Prof Mukwena says the institute needed someone who had the benefit of both worlds – that is, knowledge of the way Government operates as well as academics.
His story is an embodiment of values such as vision, hard work, consistency and focus. It is one of the most inspiring success stories to have emanated from the National Service training programme for school-leavers.

 


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