The University of Zambia senate, Tuesday, approved plans to confer an honorary doctorate degree in law on President Edgar Lungu and his Zimbabwean counterpart Emmerson Mnangagwa.

According to UNZA officials who attended the meeting, but sought anonymity, 30 out of 50 members of the supreme academic authority of the university were present at the deliberations which were characterised by threats.

“The meeting started at 15:00hrs and was chaired by Acting Vice-Chancellor Prof Enala Mwase Tembo, who is standing in for Prof Luke Mumba who is on leave. She started the meeting by issuing threats, saying that senate deliberations are confidential and that anyone who leaks the decisions that would be made risked being punished. She added that the authorities were working on a code of conduct to deal with the would-be perpetrators”, disclosed the source.

The source added that after giving her warning, Prof Mwase asked the UNZA Registrar, Sitali Wamundila, to read out the relevant section from the Higher Education Act of 2013 that governs the award of honorary doctorate degrees.

‘Mr Wamundila read Section 36 (2) (f) which provides that ‘The senate shall award degrees and make other awards and distinctions of the higher education institution, except that honorary degrees shall be awarded on the recommendation of an honorary degree committee established by the Senate’. At this stage, a few senators raised preliminary issues. The first was Prof Macwani Macwani from the Institute of Social and Economic Research who asked the chairperson why the senate was convened when the recipients were already informed about the awards. Prof Macwani said she found it extremely irregular that even before the senate decided on the matter, the recipients had already been communicated to. Then the UNZALARU General Secretary Dr Kelvin Mambwe wondered if senate was being used as a rubber stamp for a fixed position. The Registrar struggled to explain before the Acting Vice-Chancellor, Prof Mwase, finally admitted that we were there to only ratify the recommendation. She said the purpose of the meeting was to approve the recommendation from the honorary degree committee that presidents Lungu and Mnangagwa be awarded with honorary doctorates in law. She added that no debate would be allowed on the subject owing to its sensitivity. Now that in itself is irregular because all reports from senate committees are subject to scrutiny before the final decision is made”, said the source.

Another source disclosed that Prof Mwase’s remarks drew criticism from a few senators who wondered why the meeting was called if the role of the senate was simply to rubber stamp the recommendation.

“Prof Mwase and Mr Wamundila claimed that according to the Act, the senate has no say on the matter except to approve or endorse the committee’s recommendation. The Dean of Law School, Prof Chuma Himonga, declared interest, saying she taught President Lungu, while Mnangagwa was her classmate. Dr Mambwe, on behalf of UNZALARU, disagreed with the cited interpretation, arguing that the word recommendation implies a discretion in the person or body to whom it is made to accept or reject the said recommendation. He also stated that the senate is allowed to have a mind of its own and even reject the committee’s recommendations if the nominees are not deserving of the awards. Dr Mambwe was however overruled by the Acting VC, who insisted that no debate shall take place and then invited the chairperson of the honorary degree committee to present the findings and recommendations on the two nominees”, revealed the source.

“Dr Mambwe then stood up to say that for posterity’s sake, he wanted to place it on record that UNZA lecturers disapprove and are strongly opposed to the move to confer honorary doctorates on Presidents Lungu and Mnangagwa because the lecturers think the two leaders don’t deserve the award. He asked the person who was taking the minutes to record the fact that UNZALARU does not support the award in case people want to know in the future who betrayed institutional trust and who defended it.”

The source further revealed that the chairperson of the honorary degrees committee, Prof. Kumar Baboo, then proceeded to outline the reasons why President Lungu deserved the award.

“Prof Baboo said President Lungu deserves an honorary doctorate in law because he has spearheaded the Link Zambia 8000 roads project; has brought back the One Zambia One Nation slogan; has presided over the 2016 constitutional amendment; has appointed Zambia’s first female vice-president; has streamlined the process for seeking compensation for the relatives of the Gabon Air Crash; has united the country through religion and culture; and is committed to upholding the rule of law and constitutionalism,” the source revealed.

“After these reasons, Prof Mwase asked for someone to propose and another person to second the recommendation that presidents Lungu and Mnangagwa be awarded the honorary doctorates in law. A loud silence followed, as senators kept looking at each other. Then Dr Sande Ngalande from Confucius Institute rose to support the proposal before Dr Lubinda Haabazoka, the Director of the Graduate School of Business who had just walked into the room a few minutes earlier, seconded it. At that point, Prof Mwase declared the meeting over, saying the senate has approved the award, to the total disbelief of many senators.”

A third source described the whole exercise as a sham, noting that many senators remained quiet throughout the meeting because they felt that the outcome was predetermined.

“It appears the meeting was called in response to fears that proceeding to award the honours to the recipients without the approval of senate would be irregular, as you guys reported. So it looks like the authorities just wanted something to minute so that they could claim that the senate has endorsed the awards, but the whole meeting was a sham, a farce I tell you. I have never seen anything like that before and mind you I have been in the senate for a very, very long time. You will note that out of embarrassment they have changed the name of the honorary degree from doctorate in good governance to doctorate of laws, but the reasons for the award remain the same”, said the source.

The committee that recommended that presidents Lungu and Mnangagwa be awarded honorary doctorates in law includes: Prof Baboo from School of Medicine, Prof Felix Masiye from Humanities and Social Sciences, Prof Austin Cheyeka from the School of Education, Prof Vernon Chinene from School of Agricultural Sciences and the Deputy Registrar in charge of Academic Affairs, Mr Rodgers Phiri.