Well-placed sources at the University of Zambia have revealed that the institution plans to confer an honorary doctorate degree on President Edgar Lungu at the next graduation ceremony slated for June 21, 2019.

According to sources, who sought anonymity because they are not allowed to speak to the media, plans are also underway to confer a similar honour on Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

“The initial plan was to simply confer an honorary doctorate degree on President Lungu alone, but some expressed concern that the public and even the members of the university may question the move, so it was decided that the best thing would be to find a cover-up. After much deliberation, it was agreed that another honorary doctorate degree be given to Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa so that he can be used as a decoy to legitimise the award. As you probably know the Zimbabwean President, like President Lungu, has an LLB degree from UNZA,” said the source.

The source expressed concern that awarding honorary doctorates to undeserving individuals may damage the reputation of the university.

“As you probably know, honorary degrees are reserved for people who have made outstanding contributions in their chosen fields. These distinguished individuals are then recognised for their exceptional work covering a fascinating range of areas of achievement. There is usually a set of strict criteria that nominees should meet before they are awarded such rare honours. At UNZA, honorary degrees are awarded on the recommendation of an honorary degree committee established by the Senate of the institution. That committee consists of a five-person membership: two Senate members who are not members of the relevant schools, two external assessors who are experts in the relevant field and the university’s Deputy Registrar in charge of Academic Affairs. Ordinarily, the committee should present its recommendation to the Senate for ratification, but there are plans to skip this procedure for fear that Senate might reject the committee’s recommendation,” the source said.

“There have been very few honorary doctorates awarded by UNZA since 1974 when the first honour was bestowed on then president Kenneth Kaunda. In most cases, it has been to individuals who thoroughly merit the honour. Notable examples include Professor Lameck Goma and Honorable Robinson Nabulyato in 1984, Professor Elizabeth Colson in 1992 and most recently Jacob Zuma in December 2009. The Zuma one, as you know, was controversial and met with public opposition because it was seen as political, influenced by then president Rupiah Banda.”

Another source revealed that UNZA management was afraid of publicising the issue for fear of a backlash.

“The strategy is to keep everything under cover. Somehow, those doing it appear to feel that it does not make any sense at all to confer an honorary doctorate degree on President Edgar Lungu because there is little justification for it, especially now. It would really reflect poorly on UNZA if this plan came to pass. But it looks like we have ‘aLungu anikonde’ kind of people in charge who want to impress the President for some unknown reason. The problem is that if they proceed to confer these awards on Presidents Lungu and Mnangagwa without the approval or ratification of the University Senate, they can, in future, be withdrawn because they would have been issued irregularly. The fact that those responsible are afraid of bringing the matter before the Senate constitutes an acknowledgement that the nominees don’t deserve the awards. Otherwise why would one be afraid of convincing Senators to see the rationale of awarding the two nominees?” the source asked.

“It looks like this whole honorary thing is being forced on UNZA by some people at higher education or even State House itself because even if you contacted the Vice-Chancellor or Registrar today, l bet they won’t be willing to talk to you about it. They are probably embarrassed but don’t have the guts to say no to the politicians for fear of the consequences. The whole thing looks like it is an organised fraud”.

The source also criticised the timing of the planned awards.

“As you may know, President Lungu’s administration has been actively destructive towards UNZA and higher education in general. Cries for delayed payment of workers’ salaries at UNZA are now a scheduled anthem. I must pause here to note however that the Ministry of Finance has been given instructions to release the grant today (last week Friday) so that University workers start getting paid the week beginning 3rd June. As l speak with you now, the grant is with the Ministry of Higher Education for onward transmission to the University’s account. Of late, if you have noted, UNZA workers have been receiving their salaries for the month before around the 21st or 22nd of the following month. To silence them ahead of the graduation ceremony on 21st June, at which the conferring is to take place, an order was given that the grant be released unusually earlier than usual. I won’t be surprised if lecturers and other workers would be paid their June salaries before the graduation date, as part of buying their silence,” the source said.

“These overtures are however only masking the big problems at this university. Even the UNZA Vice-Chancellor Professor [Luke] Evuta Mumba has publicly complained that the institution is running on overdrafts because of negligence from the government. The government also recently scrapped student meal allowances and reduced the number of students it sponsors at UNZA, thereby adversely affecting the revenue base of an institution that is already limping financially. Then you have an irredeemable, totally indifferent and uncaring Minister of Higher Education who is fighting with the very people she is paid to serve. There are many other things that the government has done that really show total lack of commitment or concern towards the plight of the University of Zambia. To then proceed, in this climate, and confer an honorary doctorate on President Lungu, whose administration would surely be the highest level of lunacy. But it would appear that unless there is a late change of plan, we must get used to saying ‘His Excellency, Dr President Edgar Chagwa Lungu’.”

When contacted to get confirmation, Prof Mumba said he was not aware of such plans.

Meanwhile, an UNZA Alumni association has advertised an alumni dinner slated for June 22 at Mulungushi International Centre to be graced by President Lungu and President Mnangagwa.

Tickets are going for K950 per person.