A lot of people are celebrating the appointment of Prof Clive Chirwa by President Michael Sata as CEO for Zambia Railways. As a matter of fact, I have received many emails hailing this move. What is not clear to some however, are the reasons or impacts of Chirwa accepting this job.
From the Diaspora’s side, this is a great milestone, not only because it is a great fit with the job description, but mainly because this is the beginning to dispel the suspicion or misunderstanding which has existed (though in a subtle form) between the Diaspora Zambians and the home front. There always appears to be a mistrust – that those who left Zambia for economic wellbeing are somehow not committed citizens or not patriotic enough.
Prof Chirwa has put it succinctly, that the gesture of this appointment has touched him deeply. This is mainly because as he put it – ‘this is calling upon the son of the soil to come back and help with development’. It is a great honor he declared. Even to the doubting Thomases, I am sure; Sata has shown that – action speaks louder than words.
It is also important here to point out, as Chirwa himself has clarified that, his goal will be to transform Zambia Railways (ZR) using his acquired skills and nothing else. That is, there are no hidden agendas. He has been appointed to the position; it is hoped, purely because of his technical capabilities and not political. This belief is what would be useful to Diasporan Zambians.
It is important to convey that message, especially to those who may be jealous or anti-diaspora. Implying that, the man deserved it because he is more than qualified. [The Post put it best in a comment that – ‘yes, everyone needs a job but not every job is for everyone’]. After three years as Prof Chirwa put it, he wants to deliver a “product”, which Zambians will be happy with. In other words having a Zambia Railways which is: modern, and efficient enough to reduce the cost of doing business in the country.
But to succeed, as Andrew Kashita – an ex- Minister of Transport has commented – ‘Chirwa will need support’. To operate efficiently, he needs to have a free-hand (i.e., less influence from his bosses) and tools (resources) for doing the job.
However, a more important factor to consider in Chirwa’s appointment is the recognition that – successful know-how transfer and technical development, depends on skills involved in that process. That is, Prof Chirwa who is an engineer with massive experience in transport industry is best suited for this job. Likewise, if Zambia needs sustainable economic development, she needs to search for and find people with skills. Indeed, a lot of human capital resources the country needs is scattered through out the Diaspora.
If you look at what is available outside Zambia – you have people like Dr Kaluba Chitumbo in Vienna, a nuclear specialist – our so-called Einstein. There are many IT technologists, some even assisting Samsung in making iPhones. We also have eminent lawyers like Profs Muna Ndulo and Hansungule. Both are constitutional experts, whose input in the current constitution making could have been impactful. Then you have the Mwizenge Tembos, who can help us to keep our ‘cultural identity’ in check.
There are also economists like Dambisa Moyo – author of ‘Dead Aid’ and Chola Mukanga – founder of ‘Zambian Economist’, myself included – who can assist in economic policy arena. There are also doctors and health researchers who are already making an impact in the discovery of HIV/Aids vaccines.
It is crucial to harness all available knowledge-based resources. Our friends in Kenya are already on their way in mastering cloning of living things. We have Zambian genetic engineers and breeders, who can help the country figuring out ways to increase the production of safe and environmentally friendly food. Synthetic biologists should also be involved in the national scientific plans, especially when it comes to organisms and life – desirable or dangerous. This means that, from a co-ordinated pool of trained minds, many solutions could be mined.
What about educationists who can help us craft effective curriculums for our kids? In short, a score of all these many skill-types are there to be tapped into for the national ‘holistic’ plan. This is where the discussion of “Duel – Citizenship” becomes relevant. Prof Chirwa’s views on these matters are very clear. He like many of us believe that it is time Zambia expanded the scope beyond just politicking and petty differences.
It is not that some of these skills and competences cannot be found at home. But what we are saying is that: is it wise to ignore the resource that is already available either at home or abroad? Many highly qualified people have been ignored or underemployed. That is not good! Recently Dr Cecelia Shinondo – the only Paleontologist PhD died almost unnoticed. Why can’t these people be put to good use? Because of needs to survive, that is why you see a trend of everyone even from campuses is migrating to politics. This is regrettable because it causes misallocation of resources.
Other countries like China, South Korea, India, Japan and several Latin American countries, have amply demonstrated that – using the already trained and groomed personnel, is the cheapest and best way to go. Why take a longer route to achieve the same thing? In 1975, Brazil invented ethanol from sugar cane by cropping scientists from North America. There is no need to invent the wheel or keep on training people for the benefit of other countries.
To close off, as we sit down to ponder the appointment of Clive Chirwa, it gives us as a country, a chance to reflect on – as to where we came from and where we are going. Pres Kenneth Kaunda (KK) and his freedom fighters gave us ‘political independence’. Out task now and that of the younger generation of today, is the achievement of economic emancipation – so-called ‘economic liberation’ towards a “just and fair society”.
While KK’s gang did well, we must do better. Kaunda faced moribund, archaic and crumbling British Empire. But today, multinationals like Microsoft, Apple, Samsung and Toyota, etc., are veracious. Not to talk about the dynamic and ugly global competition. Thus, we need a different set of tools to match what we are facing or else we’ll perish. Solar energy goes to waste, and copper is still exported raw. We need different solutions to these problems. Simply put, in this relay therefore, we must run faster and think differently than the Kaundas so that we can hand the torch to the future generation on a slightly more completive and better platform, if we want them to survive.
Because these challenges are immense, that is why, from the word go – Chirwa has admitted that, he can’t do this job single handedly. We all must chip in and assist. Let’s put our boasting, cheap shots, ergo, selfish interests and other forms of unconstructive criticisms aside. We need to humble ourselves when facing national problems of economic development. There is no other option.
It is my feeling therefore, that a break through between Diaspora and Home Base has been reached. Let us build on it for the good of our lovely country. We wish Prof Clive Chirwa all the best in this new and tough job. Cheers!
Toronto, November 26th, 2012.
Kaela B Mulenga