The NCC has passed a resolution that the next republican constitution should require that for a person to be eligible to stand for the position of Republican President he must have attained the minimum academic qualification of a degree. I wish to argue in this article that this provision makes no practical sense and is a disservice to a pragmatic understanding of what Zambia truly needs in a leader.
First, this requirement out rightly reduces the pool from which Zambians could freely pick their president. With just 2 state universities for decades in Zambia, graduates from these institutions may be qualified, but are just too few to form the primary pool for presidency. Those educated from outside Zambia are even fewer.
Secondly, this requirement wrongly places academic qualifications as a test of good leadership. Africa should be careful here that we do not adopt western styled education as the only measure of wisdom. There are some who are saying that the need for a degree is because we need a leader who would be able to speak well at international fora. I would rather have a president who genuinely cares for Zambians, and signs bills that are helpful to her people than one who can speak all the languages of the civilized world and yet cares less. Qualities such as caring, honest, hardworking are some qualities we need to see in a leader. While education is important, it does not guarantee those qualities.
Thirdly, this requirement is a raw deal for women. Women are the most academically disadvantaged community in our country. Even if they make up about 51% of our population a very small percentage of them reach grade nine. The NCC adoption of this clause disadvantages women from ascending to the presidency in Zambia. Four male presidents have destroyed our country and it may be time for us to look to our womenfolk for the next president; but with this clause in place very few of our women would even be considered to stand for president.
Fourthly, this requirement may be an attempt to try and sideline Sata. This is déjà vu for us. In 1996 Chiluba’s government forced through some clauses in the constitution that were aimed at barring both Kaunda (the parental clause) and Mung’omba (the 20 year domicile clause). From experience such maneuvers never work. I personally do have serious misgivings about having Sata for a president, but at the same time I think it is not right for the whole NCC with the support of the MMD government to try and deliberately sneak in a clause that would disadvantage his aspiration for the high office—especially if the Zambian people want him to stand. In the end, it should be up to the Zambian people to decide whether they so feel that Sata should rule.
Fifthly, this provision confuses more than it clarifies. So what are we going to say is a university degree? Which field and which discipline, and from which school? President Banda holds a degree which he acquired at least half a century ago. Should that qualify him for president? This provision is precursor of confusion. And it will not be long before we hear an appeal lodged in the High Court for interpretation.
Sixthly, the NCC desire for a well educated president should be appreciated, but at whose expense? It is the people of Zambia to choose who among them should rule them. It is the people of Zambia to choose whether one has a degree or not. If the constitutional principle of our democracy is one man one vote then there should be no restriction why such a man should not even be eligible to stand unless he has a university degree.
If the NCC genuinely feels that only university graduates should rule Zambia, they should then begin by making primary education, secondary education, and college education freely accessible to all. Without free access to education, we may find that we will need to ask Her Majesty in Britain to send us a President, because from the kind of mismanagement we are having at the hand of both degree holders and non-degree holders, universities in Zambia would fail to graduate anyone. A little glimpse of the future? All the universities are closed, because the only pool of future presidents were busy rioting and burning cars on Buteko and Addis Ababa Drive, so much for who should be the next president!