There is something happening in our country. It is a craze for PhDs. Some people want to be called Dr this of Dr that and the way to get that title is to claim to have a PhD.
And there are those with honorary PhDs. Academically, a person with an honorary PhD is not called Dr this or Dr that. They can indicate that they have an honorary PhD, meaning they have performed, in some aspects of life, to the standards of a PhD.
But not in Malawi, even those with honorary PhDs want to be called Dr. Take the example of Muluzi, the man whose profile is not clear to most Malawians. (By the way, where was he born? What was his primary school? Where did he write JC?) He got an honorary PhD from whatever university and upon return he was called Dr Muluzi, ever since.
This is the first time I am calling him Dr Muluzi just for the sake of this article, otherwise I have no business calling a person who did not go as far as Form Four Dr.
Muluzi and others who have honorary PhDs are not supposed to be called Dr because this is an academic title reserved for those who have been to school, those who have studied for a bachelors, a masters and a doctorate. A PhD means a person can now start learning. A PhD means a person is able to look at the world using some kind of theory to understand issues, events and ideas.
A PhD means one has specialised in some area of study and they are an authority in that area. Now when we call honorary PhDs Dr, what area have they specialised?
The case of honorary PhDs is just one and not a big crime. There are people who don’t have PhDs but claim to have one. They went to the US, Britain or some country and came back claiming they have a PhD. So, they get good jobs, earn a lot of money while the bodies they work for sink down into underperformance. You talk to them and they don’t engage you intellectually and you begin to wonder whether or not they really have a PhD.
I hear even in some academic institutions of higher learning there are some who claim to have a PhD when they don’t. How do they beat the university system? I don’t know. My suspicion is that some people are peers and trust each other without any documentary evidence. If I went to college with Gracian Tukula and he is my principal or registrar, I would just tell him, "I am back with my PhD" and he would believe me, and treat me like a PhD.
The worst thing is that there is rumour—and most serious truths start as rumour—that one or two senior staff in some academic institutions have no masters degrees. They just disappeared for a year or two and came back to say ‘I have a masters’ and their bosses who are their friends believed and treated them as such.
I have a feeling that some members of the generation that is in 40s and 50s are cheating this country a lot in terms of qualifications. They pose as if they are qualified but some of them are not. They insist on experience but working for 25 years, which they call 25 years of experience, does not necessarily mean 25 years of ideas and brilliant performance. Malawi is looking for ideas, not experience which in Malawi is routine.
All over the world, people are realising that some members of the old generation, even those in 60s, are cheating and working as if they are dying tomorrow. They don’t care what happens to their institutions. (Read about the financial crisis in the West and you will begin to believe this.)
But the worst culprits are church leaders who claim to have PhDs when they do not have the papers. They are prominent apostles, or whatever they call themselves. Of course, this issue of PhDs is common to pentecostal churches, not the evangelicals or the traditional Christian denominations. The old, traditional churches—Catholic, CCAP, SDA and others—do not allow fake PhDs, hence we have genuine papers in these churches and they don’t insist on being called Dr.
There is Dr Bonface Tamani who doesn’t bother, so long you call him Father Tamani, that is alright. There is Dr Martin Mtumbuka, who is a genuine PhD but he does not bother about the title. There is Dr Sosten Mfune of the SDA church; he, too, does not really bother but he has a PhD that took him years.
But it is these apostles who are claiming to be Dr this or Dr that when they don’t even know what it means to read for a bachelor’s degree. They don’t know a thesis, don’t even think of a dissertation. But these men of God without shame claim to be apostle Dr this, apostle Dr that. Shame! Even genuine PhDs in these churches are silent. They respect the apostles, giving them the title Dr.
I have no respect for any man of God who claims the title Dr when they don’t have any paper. They are liars, not only that, they give an impression that a PhD is easy to get and their followers, especially young people, may think life is that easy.
As someone who loves young people, I want to see an old generation that cares, that guides, that leads by example, not an old generation that cheats and lies and destroys.
My plain view is that President Bingu wa Mutharika, being chancellor of some of our universities, must ask those who claim the title Dr, to bring out their papers. By being chancellor he is a custodian of academic qualifications in Malawi and they must be guarded most jealously. In fact, Mutharika must start by flying around his own PhD!