By Hopewell Chin’ono
We really need to clean up the fake degree qualification industry and shut down the backyard “factories” that manufacture these dodgy qualifications internationally.
I was on a plane last night to Paris and had a chat with a Congolese “hustler”, that is how he liked to describe himself.
Franco goes to Europe regularly to buy the “best” affordable suits and costumes on offer in Paris and Brussels clothing markets, he puts them on a container and ships them to Tanzania where they go to the DRC by road.
I jokingly referred to the Congolese male appetite for all things, shiny, pointed and colourful.
“At least my people love their clothing and music and are not deceptive about it,” he said followed by a long gasp as if he was on his deathbed and then moved in for the killer line delivered with a smile.
“Your people love their fake degrees and that has killed your local universities standards and reputation,” Franco said.
“You have “boss men” (powerful people) with fake university qualifications and they have no sense of shame about it,” he added.
I argued that his statement was general and not rooted in evidence-based research or qualified data.
“What evidence is needed for one to authoritatively say that Grace Mugabe’s PhD is a phony qualification?”
I ignored that question because he was right, Grace’s PhD degree was a comical attempt to dress her with intellectual gowns in anticipation for higher office.
As the conversation ensued, I realized that Franco was not just a hustler, he is a well-read chap and has a rich understanding of the world, but unfortunately like most African citizens, he is a victim of a broken economy.
He told me that he has a Master of Science degree in water engineering, but those things he told me do not exist anymore in the DRC, and where they exist, there is no money so he took to “hustling” to earn a decent living.
I asked him if he understood the real issues behind the fake degrees he was mocking Zimbabweans about and if he knew who actually had them beyond Grace Mugabe.
He started naming them warts and all and in the process giving away the fact that that this local knowledge was not attained through reading.
Franco once lived in Harare with his family in the Mabelreign area, but he left in 2008 when the Zimbabwean economy tanked.
This chat with him revealed something that I had never seriously thought of or processed.
It is now official, we have an unrestrained appetite for all things intellectual but we have a very weak desire to actually work for these attractive titles.
Dr this and Dr that, that is now the order of the day as these wanna be intellectuals/scholars deceitfully demand to be addressed by these fake titles even at home.
There is NO shortage of people lining up to massage and stroke their egos especially in our now very fragile media.
Instead of calling them out, the media has become captured by these people except for papers like The Independent, which still practice decent journalism.
This is tragic and it shows how much we have regressed as a country partly because of the criminal economy created since 2000.
The drivers of this economy rob and loot and want to top it up with intellectual recognition, comical intellectual recognition I must add.
This is a very strong and uncontested inferiority complex on display.
Why would one want to be known as someone they are not?
It shows that regardless of how much money one has, they could never buy class or intellectual stature.
This has become institutionalized because such people end up being hired to run our once revered institutions like the central bank.
John Mangudya has a “PhD” from an unaccredited university, which simply means that his qualification is bogus at the very least.
My good friend, the late Professor Sam Moyo was aghast and disappointed at this phenomenon especially after one of his students proved to him that Mangudya had a “PhD” from a so called Washington International Univerisity which doesn’t exist on the list of accredited American universities.
It is the equivalent of one holding a PhD from a University of Harare and being picked to run his country’s central bank supposedly on that basis.
Some people like the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority boss Karigoga Kaseke, are now referred to as “Dr” Kaseke after he got his fake honorary doctorate from a non-existent Commonwealth University in collaboration with a fake London Graduate School.
The current health minister has also been embroiled in a fake qualifications scandal that has left the medical fraternity unhappy and challenging him to openly and publicly declare his qualifications.
He has chosen not to speak about it when challenged, something that has fuelled the mutterings and murmurings.
The appointment of these people to positions of national authority has made a mockery of the education system and the professional standards that Zimbabwe was once known to for.
It also sends a wrong signal to the youthful generation that says, regardless of your real qualifications, you can buy your way into positions of authority and power as long as you know the right folks.
Some of these people would have been capable of making it in life without having to lie or buy their educational qualifications.
The inferiority complex syndrome is what drives them to claim things that they have not attained in life but strongly desire in order to feel important.
This phenomenon would not have happened at the industrial scale it is now happening if the country had upheld the higher academic standards of the 1980s.
It makes a real mockery of people who have invested their time, money and effort in getting the real thing.
When the former education minister Jonathan Moyo was interviewed for the first time on the BBC after his ouster from power, he constantly referred to Grace Mugabe as “Dr” Mugabe.
Grace Mugabe’s fake PhD degree was issued on Jonathan Moyo’s watch in government when he was the information minister for Grace’s husband.
Moyo had established a very strong relationship with the former first lady as they plotted their futile attempt to get their G40 faction to succeed the former President Robert Mugabe.
When they eventually fell out, Moyo wrote a letter in which he now referred to Grace Mugabe as Mrs Mugabe, he had stopped calling her “Dr”.
Everyone in Zimbabwe including Moyo knew that Grace Mugabe had NO genuine PhD.
However those seeking to use her proximity to Robert Mugabe’s power successfully exploited her unrestrained appetite for titles, a Zimbabwean weakness.
This phony qualifications industry has made us a mockery in the region and beyond, “…Zimbabweans love academic recognition and titles man,” said Franco as he opined about this charade.
Those with NO political power to get these phony qualifications from local universities buy the fake degrees online.
The likes of “Dr” Chiyangwa, “Dr Mangudya, “Dr” Kaseke, “Dr” Guzah and the list goes on.
This sort of academic chicanery and embarrassing behavior would never have happened in the 80s when government had the likes of Chidzero, Zvobgo, Ushewekunze, Mubako, Nhiwatiwa, Shamuyarira, et al.
These were genuine men and women of letters and would never have countenanced a wave of fake qualifications being used to validate one’s status in political and or public life.
The likes of Mugabe and today even Emmerson Mnangagwa never had intellectual inferiority complex issues, that is why they never attempted to get fake qualifications through their political power, and also they never attempted to use the titles emanating from their honorary degrees.
There is nothing wrong with using honorary titles, they are earned unlike the online degrees, but there is everything wrong when they are sold and issued by fake university like in the case of the ZTA boss, Karikoga Kaseke.
So why do the political elites allow such intellectual phonies to be part of their administrations holding top public offices?
It is all about loyalty and good old politics, it is easier to get someone who is compromised to do your bidding.
They are invariably weak because of their skeletons and they also survive on the confidence of political validation so they will do anything to retain that validation.
There is a conflation of social relationships and the state, these people are invariably friends too and the main actors find it difficult to differentiate the two.
That is why most parastatals have incompetent and unqualified management, the current management teams are aware of their incompetence and lack of requisite qualifications and as such they play ball when asked to do criminal things.
This leaves them willing to do anything to keep their jobs and hefty perks in exchange to doing their master’s bidding.
The fake qualifications brigade is also willing to do their master’s bidding because where would they end up if they lost their powerful and lucrative portfolios?
That is why great intellectual minds like Jonathan Moyo hired weak and unqualified managers to run parastatals under their portfolios.
They knew that they would do anything that they were asked to do because they had NO professional reputations to protect, reputations that could take them elsewhere if they had refused to be accessories to criminality.
They were beholden to their masters and when a new master comes along, vano tamba iri kurira (they play along to the new master’s drum beat.
That is how the criminal destruction of companies like Kingstons happened and nobody was ever held accountable for its demise.
So perhaps we should start by hiring competent and professional “masters” to lead us.
Unfortunately, even the intellectually competent folks like Jonathan still played the political and manipulative game.
So until the clean up of fake qualifications is done, we will not be able to turn around our institutions if people with these phony degrees remain leading these entities.
Zimbabwe needs a thorough skills audit to clean up the current academic qualifications mess and to more importantly look at the work experience and what it has delivered.
Why would a country, which is open for business, retain Karikoga Kaseke as its nation’s tourism face to the outside world?
He has been the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority CEO since 2005 (13 years) and yet the current administration sees nothing wrong with folks like him selling a dream to the world that will remain a fleeting illusion to be pursued, but never to be attained.
These things matter because those of us who are in the information business hear about how these guys are mocked and not taken seriously by both local and international players in their service industries.
Qualification audits in parastatals should be accompanied by competence reports and 100-day deliverables failing which the appointing authorities must realize that they are wasting their time expecting to be taken seriously by the outside world.
We should have done all this post November but I know that I will sooner become a prophet competing with Makandiwa and Magaya for recognition before that happens, it will just not happen because the political will and desire is not yet there.
These changes and cleaning up of fake academic titles does not need money, these are some of the small things that would signal to the outside world that indeed this is now a Second Republic and that it was genuinely open for business.
Calling it one does not make it one.
As my Congolese friend said last night, they are better off in the Congo because what you see (with them) is what you get.
“We are not better, but I expected much better conduct from a country like yours,” Franco said as I tried to change the subject to that of my favourite Soukous guitarist by Sara Solo.
With Zimbabwe, one has to wonder whether they indeed have what they claim to have, with the shiny pointed shoe fellows, you see it and there is no reason to doubt its existence.
With the colourful parachute trousers from the Paris markets, you see them and marvel at the dancing skills deployed by their owners.
Hopefully one day, the good old times of the 80s will return where a Dr will be nothing else but just that.
We seem to have changed the administrator but not the administration, the old Mugabe machine is still intact and it will not allow the required change to happen any time soon.
When the outside world look at us, they don’t just look at the leader, they also look at those around him and those beneath them.
As long as we still have the likes of Karikoga Kaseke, John Mangudya and many like them holding forte, dream on.
These folks and their phony PhDs will not motivate even the young professional Zimbabweans to come back home from various global capitals.
They exactly do the opposite of what Zimbabwe is hoping to achieve, they kill the November dream and hopes and reduce genuinely educated folks to be at the mercy of the pretenders!
More importantly, they kill the confidence that our institutions are supposed to have, we become laughing stock as far away as the DRC and beyond.
Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean international Journalist and Documentary Filmmaker. He is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow and a CNN African Journalist of the year.
He is also a Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Africa leadership Institute.
Hopewell has a new documentary film looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe called State of Mind, which was launched to critical acclaim.
State of Mind has been nominated for a top award in Kenya. You can watch the documentary trailer below. Hopewell can be contacted at [email protected] or on Twitter @daddyhope