As from yesterday, February 24, 2016, the First Lady of Malawi, Her Excellency Gertrude Mutharika, is now Dr. Gertrude Mutharika after the University of Malawi (UNIMA), – Polytechnic gave her an honorary Doctor of Philosophy (PHD) in Environmental Management at a graduation at Chancellor College in Zomba. The honor is coming as a direct result of her work of beautifying Malawi under her foundation, Beautify Malawi (BEAM), which aims at improving public cleanliness among Malawians. The foundation is now two years old.
The degree was basically given “For the sake of honor” as any honorary degree is. It acts as recognition of one’s dedication and achievements in a certain area of serving the public through his or her work. She is not the first to be accorded such an honorary degree. Thousands before her, and after her, will be accorded with such an honor for their various achievements.
But here in Malawi, the honorary degree thing is now going out of hand. Former President Joyce Banda also had an honorary degree given to her from a university in South Korea, and immediately she became ‘Dr’ Joyce Banda. Again, former President Bakili Muluzi, immediately after becoming president in 1994, he was accorded an honorary degree which moved him from being a ‘Mr.’ to a ‘Dr’. As if that is not enough, former President late Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika, also had an honorary ‘Professorship’ given to him. He immediately changed from a ‘Dr’ to a ‘Professor’.
What’s in a title anyway? BEAM Foundation, in its two years of existence, has not made any tangible impact in the Malawian society apart from media adverts and school competitions. It is also of wonder how a foundation, just two years old, can rise above all others for its founder to be accorded such respect. BEAM was not formed out of a purpose. It is a victim of someone being a First Lady, as seen in all past First Ladies. They all had a charity organization they used to pass time on and save their public face with. Unfortunately, such organizations like BEAM are patronized by organizations which are under the control of the government. A year ago BEAM was given money by the National Aids Commission (NAC) and it resulted in serious repercussions from the donor community. They withdrew their HIV/AIDS support through NAC, putting lives of both the infected and the affected people at risk. BEAM and all its predecessors are politically connected. That is why they get huge amounts of undeserved money leaving some organizations that are doing real changing work in the communities.
If this is how we will be running our affairs; everything being politicized and titles being ‘sold’, we should forget about making it. UNIMA may try to justify the honor using all the words it can, but the fact on the ground remains that this was an undeserved honor. There is nothing to point to that BEAM has achieved for the two years it has been around. UNIMA has just made a strategic political move to buy favor and recognition from the political elite. It has sacrificed its integrity and academic position for political mediocrity.
The Dr. Gertrude Mutharika name will now be trending. This is the Malawi we all know; people trying to please their political masters using titles and politicians themselves smiling to the titles as if they deserve them. To the First Lady herself, I am finding it difficult to congratulate you on the honor. And I well understand that me not congratulating you does not even bother you. But you must understand this, Madam, you could have said no to the honor and concentrate on building the foundation to have an impact on the ground, and smile to a real honor later on. Otherwise, you have ripped where you did not sow.
*Wonderful Mkhutche is an author, a political scientist and a document and manuscript developer and editor.