By MWIZENGE TEMBO –
THE email from Professor Kenneth Mwenda was first surprising as it was later stunning. The e-mail said: “I am pleased to inform you that I have been awarded a Second Higher Doctorate degree by a leading British university, the University of Hull.
This coveted and esteemed academic award came through after the successful examination of another substantial and significant body of my published scholarly contributions by an eminent panel of distinguished professors in the United Kingdom.
The decision of the entire board of examiners and assessors was unanimous and without any reservations or referrals.”
What was baffling was that Prof Mwenda as he described in his e-mail had already been awarded a first Higher Doctorate (LLD) from Rhodes University in South Africa.
Both of these degrees are most superior and different from ordinary PhDs and Honorary Doctoral degrees.
He describes how he attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, was to go to the prestigious Yale University Law School in the United
States, but was detoured to the World Bank. He mentions that he has taught law to dozens of individuals who later became prominent figures in the legal profession. He thanks God, his family, and friends for all his achievements.
What intrigued me about the good news is that I have always been fascinated and have had deep curiosity about people who make great
What drives them to do it? While the rest of us wallow in struggling with every day average no doubt useful achievements,
what drives people who do great things reflected in Prof Mwenda’s latest achievement? Do people who do great things walk on clouds or
the stratosphere way about all of us ordinary people? Prof Mwenda asks similar questions in the email.
Does he need so many
degrees? He asks: “do we all need all those many pairs of shoes or suits in our wardrobes when we can actually do with only one or two
pairs of each?” Isn’t one degree enough? In my short human life in which I have done some studying, have read about great people in history, and have been fortunate enough to meet a few of them, I have come to this conclusion: people who make great achievements are driven by a deep force which is inside them.
This force drives, compels, and so overwhelms them to pursue with tremendous zeal whatever they set their mind on that they want to
achieve and be best at. They breathe, wake up at night, during the day, and that’s what they focus on most of the time.
They are thinking of many and different ways of achieving whatever it is that dominates and occupies their minds.
The people who have great minds perform achievements in any circumstances even when opportunities to do so do not seem to be there. Sometimes the society they are born in or the era, may work very hard to suppress that drive, but it still shows up somehow.
People with great minds achieve even in the face of brutal oppression.
Think of all the women, people of black and African heritage living under European slavery and colonialism, the suffering peasants, the
dispossessed, people born poor or as orphans in the village and in history.
Many great achievers may be women who lived under sexism.
Racism, colonialism, slavery, capitalism, communism, ageism, state governments, religion and personal human envy have all played a
suppressive role in stifling and oppressing great achievements.
They all seem to find ways to express their internal drive for the great achievements. There are two major paradoxes about people who make great achievements which will forever intrigue me: these men and women have disarming simplicity and had arrived at a big fork in the road earlier in life and had made the right choice.
Prof Mwenda in his e-mail even mentions that some of the best renowned people in his field including himself have great simplicity.
often weary of mentioning names of people I have met briefly because I am aware I would be wrongly accused of name-dropping; which is a false desire to be seen as important because you falsely claim to know the famous people very well. I have always been curious to know what makes or drives people who make great achievements.
Because I don’t seek the great people, any small opportunity I accidentally get to meet them even briefly I cherish like a starving man who is given one delicious meal of nshima with chicken; I devour the short moment.
I once met the great scholar and Africanist Ali Mazrui. I was amazed that he was so easy to talk to. I had heard all my life that President Kenneth Kaunda was charismatic and many Zambians who had met and worked with him had said so. When I personally met him face to face for the first time in my life in 2004, I was stunned at his simplicity.
I want to make it clear I had never met Nelson Mandela in person. His simplicity was in great display during one moment in the early 1990s soon after he had been released from 27 years in prison. He was touring the United States.
The famous Oprah Winfrey had booked Mandela for her show. I was watching the much anticipated TV programme as Mandela walked on to the studio set amid wild applause.
He sat down with Oprah and after a few minutes, Nelson Mandela asked Oprah Winfrey who they were waiting for who was the guest on the programme that day.
I could see the look of utter surprise on Oprah Winfreys’ face that Mandela, world famous celebrity, would think there was another different guest on her one hour show that day. This sentiment of simplicity he expressed seemed genuine on Mandela’s part.
What strikes me about great achievements is that often people who have achieved much less sometimes are the loudest; beating their chests, bullying, rudely challenging, humiliating others and refusing to be talked to. No one else can eat nshima and peacefully drink water in some of these people’s presence.
The second paradox is that great achievers arrive at a fork early in life.
They have to choose to or be inspired either do good or evil
things. It is the same drive that compels people to do great good that also may drive them to do very evil things that harm others on a
I have in mind Adolf Hitler who gathered some of the greatest German minds to gas 6 million Jews.
There was also the
inventor of the gas that was used to kill millions in the gas chambers. These are some of the great minds that choose do things that
Whether you are a girl, a woman, a boy, a man, short or tall, rich or poor, live in the rural area or urban, belong to hundreds of ethnic and racial groups in the world, you can be a great achiever in something good so long as you have that drive that will compel you to overcome any obstacles.
(The Author is Professor of Sociology and author of the book titled” Satisfying Zambian Hunger for Culture”)