By Takura Zhangazha*
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degrees are viewed with great respect across the academic world and with general awe in Zimbabwe. Largely undertaken in fulfillment of demonstrating greater and intrinsic knowledge on an academic subject matter, this qualification is usually the professional terrain of those that would most probably pursue academic careers. Or as the ancient Greeks once put it, such qualifications are conferred on those who have a specific ‘love of wisdom’. It is also anticipated that those who acquire such ‘wisdom’ will continue being part of academic knowledge production in their chosen field of expertise.
In recent times, the PhD while retaining its lure for those Zimbabweans that are academically and intellectually minded has also now been keenly pursued by political elites, senior civil servants and security personnel.
The most publicly debated acquisition of this academic qualification by politically linked persons has been that of the First Lady, Grace Mugabe and her now erstwhile rival former Vice President, Joice Mujuru. Not just because they acquired these simultaneously (same graduation ceremony) but also because of the suspicions over the time it took the first lady to complete hers.
It turns out that there are a number of other politicians (across the political divide) and senior servicemen that have successfully completed their doctoral studies. The latest being that of Zimbabwe’s National Police Commissioner, Augustine Chihuri who recently had his doctoral graduation ceremony at Chinhoyi University of Technology. There were also previous media reports that the Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, General Chiwenga also acquired a PhD qualification from the University of Kwazulu Natal.
Not to mention a greater number of politicians and senior civil servants who are in the throes of acquiring similar qualifications or have already done so. Some via the arduous route of actually studying for them and others by way of being awarded honorary doctorates, in some cases controversially so.
The key question that emerges is why would Zimbabwe’s political elite be so keen on pursuing higher education while in office, even on a part time basis?
Given the cultural value Zimbabweans have historically placed on education and furthering it (even on a part time basis),it is arguably understandable that key decision makers in our society are keen on furthering their education.
There are however some points to ponder as to this unprecedented keen pursuit on their part. The first assumption an ordinary citizen can make is that perhaps these influential citizens are not too busy with their day time jobs of managing our society. And also that they are probably doing such a wonderful job of it, there is no need for us to expect them to concentrate solely on the task of governing us democratically.
For others there would be the realization that it is an onerous task running a government department, ministry or even holding a parliamentary seat while pursuing equally onerous academic qualifications. And they would therefore be curious as to how time that should be spent concentrating on government business is swapped for time in classroom lectures.
Were our country one that does not face a myriad of social, economic and political challenges, perhaps it would be excusable for our leaders to be acting like private citizens and pursuing PhD's out of professional necessity and personal career advancement. Where they are not professional civil servants proper, one however has a right to query their priorities in office or the extent to which the time they spend reading copious amounts of academic writings does not affect their performance in office.
What stands out is the fact that our government is not explaining this newfound academic fervor among its ranks. Particularly for what are essentially intensive three year study programmes.
Even if we assume that these influential persons are within their right to take time off their already busy schedules to pursue part time studies, one would hope that their future actions would be influenced positively by their newly acquired knowledge. In most cases it remains difficult to discern the policy changes informed by these laborious knowledge acquisition processes.
These PhD's are rarely reflected in word or action. In fact most often, there are no new streams of consciousness or paradigm shifts that are reflected in the political and policy realm in the wake of such qualifications. This is perhaps because they reflect more political ambition than substance, even if one does not need a PhD to be a politician. At least not at law.
But perhaps it may not be so much about organic acquisition of knowledge while on the job for these influential persons. These may be cases of having the time and money to pursue these studies. But more politically these are probably intentions at getting good old ‘recognition’ of personal achievement even after holding important policy office which should be achievement enough.
I don’t begrudge these colleagues for their personal achievements or the awarding universities for the publicity and money they get by it. However I am persuaded that we should also ask that our influential citizens’ ‘new’ knowledge be applied to their public office roles with greater evidence of the progressive thinking and ‘love of wisdom’ that it implies. Or else someone will begin the process of studying for a PhD on why Zimbabwean leaders are now pursuing PhDs.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com) He does not hold a PhD.