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Interview with Dr. Kenneth K. Mwenda

Kenneth Mwenda
Kenneth Mwenda

In a surprise phone call last week I had an opportunity to converse with a Zambian author regarding an interview request. In just a few minutes, it was clear that the person I was speaking to was a gentleman – he was not only polite but enquired to make sure that everything was okay and was greatly looking forward to the interview. In those few moments I realized that humility is a great virtue and reflects in everything you do or say. This Zambian author is Dr. Kenneth Mwenda, a Rhodes Scholar, a Law Professor, a World-Class Businessman and a person dedicated to ensuring love for all humankind. In this interview Dr. Mwenda gives us a glimpse of his life and shares advise on the business sector in Zambia.

Biographies on Dr. Kenneth Kaoma Mwenda often focus on qualifications as a lawyer and a renowned expert in the field of Business. How would you personally describe yourself?

It is a bit difficult to describe oneself. But, I will try. One way is to say that those that have had the opportunity of working with me, and those that have been influenced positively by my work and writing, and also those that have been close to me in many good ways, will no doubt offer you a good biographical note on me. But there is also the little side of critics, who, unfortunately, will always be there for various reasons. I shall, however, not labour on that.

Here, all I can say is that, personally I am inspired mainly by values such as trust and faith in the good Lord, integrity, honesty, excellence, self-esteem, confidence, love, and the community of brotherhood to help out those that are less fortunate. On the other hand, what I try to avoid in many cases is submitting my will, my dreams and my hopes to the rule of men. Often, temptation tries us out against externally driven subversive elements in the form of unfounded egos, hatred, jealousies and malice against each other. We must work against such vices. Indeed, I am more on the truth, honesty and progressive side of things, than on the destructive side of things. Some good friends have often told me, smilingly, that it is usually difficult to know what you are actually thinking. And that I am one fond of good surprises. Well, I like it that way. As one adage says: Go not where the path may lead, but where there is no path so that you can leave a trail there. My general advice is that never let out fully on all your thoughts, lest you run out of ammunition. I think any good general of an army knows that strategy very well. There should always be one pocket of hope ahead of time and odds. This pocket is our foundation, trust and faith in the Lord.

It would be hard not to describe you as a person committed to excellence.

Thank you. I am humbled by your kind words. I try to do the best for myself, my family and my country. We all have to keep pushing.

Have there been any goals that you have failed to achieve especially in terms of education?

I am ever thankful to the good Lord for granting me this opportunity and gift of good scholarship. I have won several academic and professional awards, internationally. The secret is to be humble, yet remaining a hard-worker and fully confident as you plough through. They say: ‘Respect is earned and not demanded.’ And once you earn it, no one will ever take it away from you. Only God has the final word. There are many trials and challenges that we face in life, as we progress on the social and professional echelons. Some of these challenges can be controlled and are not man-made. Others are beyond our control, yet they are man-made. We can only sift through, taking full cognizance of the political climate at stake. Man-made issues can be found when we are confronted with what the Bembas call “umu-fimbila no ubu-nkalwe bwa bantu!” (that is, man-driven spite)

Now, coming back to the main subject, I started off for my undergraduate law degree at the University of Zambia in the 1980’s. I graduated from the University of Zambia with excellent grades, as one of the best graduating law students. I also won the Law Association of Zambia Best Graduating Student in Jurisprudence Award. Shortly, thereafter, I followed that up with distinction grades for my Bar admission at the then Law Practice Institute in Zambia, ending up at the lead of my graduating class. Yes indeed, I am a qualified member of the Zambian Bar.

I then went on to take two postgraduate diplomas from the UK (by distance-learning), while teaching at the University of Zambia (UNZA), and further while pursuing a Masters degree programme at UNZA. I had just been retained by UNZA under their competitive Staff Development Fellowship Programme. Later on, I won the esteemed Rhodes Scholarship and decided to leave for Oxford to pursue my joint Masters degree programme, the two years Oxford BCL (now split into a one year BCL and an MPhil, sequentially). The Oxford BCL remains one of the most intellectually rigorous and most highly respected postgraduate law degree programmes in the Commonwealth today.

After earning the Oxford BCL, I went on to take my MBA at Hull, and then took a lectureship at the University of Warwick, UK, shortly thereafter. I was only 26 years old when I started teaching at Warwick University. I’d guess it was somewhat inconceivable to many a Zambian friend for such a young African boy to move on and start teaching at a top whiteman’s university; teaching the white children their own English law! But, I have always believed in myself and in what I do. And I knew I could do it. And that I did perfectly well! Indeed, when I started teaching at Warwick University I became the first Zambian lawyer to hold a full-time lecturing post at one of the top five UK universities. As you may know, Warwick University is very well placed on the UK universities league tables and has been ranked consistently among the top ten universities out of more than one hundred UK universities. Also, the Law School at Warwick University ranks highly in the top notch of the league table for UK Law Schools, and was at the close of the century ranked among the top three UK Law Schools, after Oxford and then Cambridge. Warwick University Law School still ranks among the top five UK law schools.

Interestingly, while teaching at Warwick – in my free time, that is – I embarked on several projects to develop my career further and this saw me complete my first doctorate degree, a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA). I later embarked on and completed my second doctorate degree, a PhD in Law from the University of Warwick. At the same time, I completed a professional graduate qualification for teaching proficiency at university-level education. This programme was offered at Warwick University to members of the academic community. While teaching at Warwick, I taught both on the undergraduate and postgraduate law degree programmes. I also supervised and examined several dozens Master of Laws degree dissertations. And, in 1997, I served as Visiting Professor of Law at Miskolc University in Hungary. I have also served as Visiting Professor of Law at the University of Zambia, and have given several lead lectures at top universities abroad, such as Michigan State University in Lansing, Michigan, US.

In 1998, I left active academia to pursue a career at the World Bank. It is while at the World Bank that I earned my third doctorate degree (PhD by submission of Published Work). As I have recorded in the preface of one of my books, “Banking Supervision and Systemic Bank Restructuring: An International and Comparative Perspective (2000)”, parts of this effort has come through from an angle such as this:

“The original idea for this book was conceived out of somewhat unusual circumstances. The concept of the book came through while I was still in active academia. At that time, I served as a full-time Law Lecturer at a leading UK law school, the University of Warwick Law School. Initially, the book was intended as a possible dissertation for further graduate studies at Yale University Law School. I had, for some time, been considering to move over to the US to continue my academic career there before returning to Africa. The thought of having a balanced experience of Anglo-American traditions struck me as a brilliant way forward in building my academic career. Hence, it was only appropriate at that time, and as a market entry strategy, to undertake some further advanced graduate studies in American jurisprudence on corporate and banking laws. Law, unlike the natural sciences and other social sciences, is often a jurisdiction-sensitive discipline. Thus, one has to undergo some conversion to adapt to the new context and jurisdiction. So, this is how the story started.

I had just won a highly competitive graduate fellowship to pursue further advanced studies at Yale Law School, USA. I, however, found myself at cross-roads. I had a second offer to consider. The World Bank had just offered me an attractive position. I knew that the World Bank offer would also enhance my career profile. But I did not know which way to go. In my mind’s eye, I could see that I had to take account of all factors so as to reach a seasoned and thoughtful decision. While I enjoyed academic work very much, I also knew that I had a soft heart for work relating to the fight against poverty and injustice in the world. Either way, getting to Yale or joining the World Bank, I knew that the dream had to live on. Yale Law School, probably the leading law school in the USA, had its doors open. For a moment, I remained undecided. I, however, after thoughtful consideration, decided to go to Washington DC, USA, to take up the World Bank position. It was a difficult choice, but it had to be made. The choice was made lighter by the fact that I had already refueled sufficiently in Oxford. Yes indeed, it was time to put into practice the theory that had been accumulated over the years. It was also time to reflect and re-focus some of the theory that had been imbedded in me against what goes on in the real world. The World Bank was therefore a good opportunity.

Throughout my graduate student days in Oxford, I had developed a strong interest in the areas of corporate law and banking law. This book, therefore, reflects some of those dreams while I was a Rhodes Scholar in Oxford pursuing the two years BCL degree. The book is, indeed, a sequel to my last three books: ‘Legal Aspects of Corporate Capital and Finance’; ‘Contemporary Issues in Corporate Finance and Investment Law’; and ‘Corporate Finance Law in Emerging Markets: Zambia’s Stock Exchange and Privatisation Programme.’

I have benefited tremendously in writing and working with a number of senior academic colleagues. However, although I have been inspired and influenced by many, at various levels of consciousness, the sound and heartbeat of my work remains my own. Their in-put, however, has always helped me to sharpen my focus on a number of intellectual issues. Individuals whose names I have managed to acknowledge here by no means represent the full list of friends and colleagues to whom I owe my many thanks. First, and most important of all, and making it possible for me to accommodate the intrusion of active scholarship in my private life and also amidst a busy working life, the Heavenly Father must be thanked earnestly.”

Who would you say guided you throughout your childhood years?

My parents were, and are, a great inspiration to me. My old folks cultivated good values in me at a very tender age. I come from a Christian family. I was raised up on these values. Education mattered a lot in my family. Both my parents are educationists by profession. My Dad studied at the Universities of Toronto and Saskatoon, respectively, in the early 1970’s.

Do you attribute your zeal for educational excellence to a particular school or teacher?

Please see the response to the question immediately above. Also, personally, I have, indeed, grown to love and find much joy in the virtues of academe and scholarship. There is nothing intellectually and spiritually enriching as our faith, and our knowledge of understanding. This is what actually drives me to write books and academic journal articles. Indeed, life is not just about making money. It’s about making a difference where we can, when we truly know that we are blessed with a certain gift and talent from above.

Have you heard about the Matrix Scandal?

Yes indeed. I read the Zambian newspapers Online every day.

What do you think about the political scandals that have been sweeping across the nation?

It’s rather sad. One can only hope for the best. At this stage, I cannot say much. We have to wait until all evidence from all interested parties is fully examined to the fullest possible extent.

In your book, “The Dynamics of Market Integration” you argue that the establishment of a stock exchange in a region would stimulate increased liquidity.

Yes indeed, that’s the thesis I advance there.

How well do you think the Lusaka Stock Exchange has performed?

There has been some good progress from the time of inception. But much of this progress has resulted from the privatization of parastatal companies, and we are yet to see if there will be sustained growth and deepening of the market. I have discussed in much depth and detail developments relating to the Lusaka Stock Exchange and the Privatisation Programme in one of my recently published books, titled:

K.K. Mwenda, Zambia’s Stock Exchange And Privatisation Programme: Corporate Finance Law in Emerging Markets, (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2001), pages – 565 pp.

What advise would you share to ensure that we are on the right track.

Love for fellow mankind, and for your own country and people is the number one issue. We must push for this. Secondly, Africa must move away from the colonial mentality of often looking up to the West for everyday financial assistance and for provision of good technical know-how. We have a serious problem in these two departments and that is where most of the problems stem from. It is sad, for example, that after all these years of political independence some of the African countries are still experiencing civil war. Greed and selfishness in political leaders are all products of the two factors outlined above. What we see as corruption and embezzlement of public funds are merely symptoms of greater endemic and systemic problems in society. We have to look deep within ourselves to find out where we are going really. Indeed, as John F. Kennedy once said: Ask not what your country can do for you or has done for you, but what you can do for your country. I recently returned from Zambia where I had gone at the invitation of the University of Zambia as a Visiting Professor of Law. My conscience just told me that we, as Africans, have to give back to our countries the little that we can afford to give. My services to UNZA, as Visiting Professor of Law, were entirely free and at no fee at all. It saddens me to see that while the people on the ground are trying their best to foster such good efforts, politicians are busy stealing public funds. When will this ever come to an end?

On July 11th, France promised to write off the 115 million Euros debt that Zambia owed as long as the country reaches the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative. Do you think that classifying Zambia as a member of the HIPC is actually attracting foreign investors to the country. In other words, why would an organization want to develop infrastructure if a country is labeled as poor?

There are many answers to this puzzle. The bottom line, however, is that Africa is not really poor. Although Africa is justified in seeking reparations from the West for the economic effects of colonialism and neo-colonialism, I strongly believe, too, that Africa, on the other hand, has many riches. It’s a question of good leadership. The problem today is that many Africans are the worst enemies of their own people. [Many] African leaders steal money from public funds and deposit these funds into ‘secret’ bank accounts in the West! The whole thing is a big mess. I am not even sure if at all Western countries, themselves, are that morally and ethically clean if they can permit their banks to receive ill-gotten wealth from Africa! Where is the principle of ‘know-your-customer well’ here?

Do you plan on continuing to write?

I am now working on my next two books. As at now, I have written five books and have authored more than fifty articles in refereed academic and professional journals worldwide. I also contribute regularly to media debates on contemporary socio-economic and political issues in Africa.

How do you prioritize your time? Do you have time for leisure, friends and family or other social activities?

Planning is an important hallmark of good working ethics. I write mainly over-weekends and late at night during the week, depending on the nature of the project. And, yes indeed, I enjoy relaxing too, and making good use of my leisure time. I also enjoy traveling a lot. My present job takes me to many countries worldwide. And I have many valuable friends from across all works of life and professions. On related activities, I play soccer – and not golf, please! – in my free and spare time. I was told that many Africans who think that they have really made it in life try to be ‘wannabes’ by playing golf! But, hey, that’s not my view. I was just told so.

If you could begin to work on a project in Zambia what would you do?

My primary concern is the common man on the ground. And, education and the health sectors are a priority here.

Do you feel that Zambians living abroad should give back to Zambia in some way or the other?

There are no two ways about that. If one has a decent conscience he or she should be troubled by the levels of poverty back home.

How has your life changed after September 11th?

It was a sad event. All we can do is offer deep prayers, just as much as we should do so in the case of all those African souls that left us during slave trade, colonialism, the Rwanda Holocaust and many other forms of injustices in Africa.

In order for Zambia to succeed in the African Union world, should we begin to rethink our very foundations of ways to achieve development and progress?

Certainly. Though many people have difficulties appreciating the quality of good leadership in men such as Thabo Mbeki and Muammar Gaddafi, I think these two men have the good interests of Africa at heart. We should not be blinded by Western media propaganda.

According to you, who is a Zambian?

I would rather say: Who is an African? It is more important to be an African first, in mind and heart, and to be a Zambian thereafter. It’s pointless, regardless of what the Zambian Constitution says, to claim to be a Zambian first, and not wish to be an African. I trust you see what I mean.

Book Titles

  1. The Dynamics of Market Integration: African Stock Exchanges in the New Millennium [Synopsis]
  2. Zambia’s Stock Exchange and Privatisation Programme: Corporate Finance Law in Emerging Markets
  3. Banking Supervision and Systematic Bank Restructuring: An International and Comparative Perspective

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