We have all been shocked by the news of the death of a renowned Malawi academic, poet and diplomat Professor David Rubadiri who served as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Malawi (Unima) from 2000 for some five years or so.
Of course, Rubadiri spent most of his life abroad, mostly in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria and Botswana where he taught at renowned African universities, having been educated at the respected Makerere University and Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.
Rubadiri’s first major appointment was Malawi’s Ambassador to the United States of America (USA) and United Nations (UN) at the dawn of Malawi’s independence in 1964. But that did not last long because in 1965, he quit in solidarity with his friends, including Henry Masauko Chipembere who disagreed with President Kamuzu Banda’s fast-increasing autocratic tendencies during the famous Cabinet crisis of the mid-1960.
After democracy was restored in Malawi in 1993/94, Rubadiri became free to return to Malawi and President Bakili Muluzi appointed him back to the US as Malawi’s Ambassador to the UN in 1997 and then back to Malawi in 2000 as Vice-Chancellor at the age of 70.
In the following year, 2001, I was elected president of the Polytechnic Students Union (PSU). It was due to this role that I was to interact very closely and became close friends with Professor Rubadiri until his death. As we mourn his death, I will share 10 of the big lessons that I learnt from my close encounters with him.
As a background: Soon after I became PSU president, the Malawi Government announced via the 6am news on Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) radio that they had increased university fees from K1 500 per annum to K46 000 per annum.
Within one hour of the announcement, there was big student protest at the Polytechnic. As PSU, we had to come in and manage an already fully-blown strike that spread into the Masauko Chipembere Highway and police coming down on the campus with tear gas.
This went on for nearly a week. The rest of campuses did not go on strike. As PSU president, I had to lead the students and this brought me to the fore of student politics, interacting with the media, government officials and university leaders regularly and in the whole process, I closely interacted with and worked with Professor Rubadiri during the whole of my one-year term in PSU.
As protests continued against the prohibitive fee hike which we termed the 3 000 percent fee hike, former president Bakili Muluzi established a commission to review the Cost Sharing Policy for University funding which was the basis for the huge fee hike.
This commission was chaired by the Rubadiri and a few principal secretaries were members, notably those of education and finance ministries and one from the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC).
Each of the five campus union presidents and Unima president were also members making us six representatives of the student community. Our first task was to travel to universities in the region to learn benchmark lessons in Zambia (University of Zambia), Uganda (Makerere University), Tanzania (University of Dar es Salaam) and Lesotho (Roma University).
Only one of the six of us had travelled abroad before this two-week trip to four countries. Rubadiri was very worried of travelling so extensively with six students who had not really travelled much.
He invited us to the university office for a half-day workshop and lecture on international travel. What I remember most was his emphasis on the three things you should always have on you when travelling: passport, air ticket and cash in dollars! He told us to securely guard these three things at all times and at all cost! It is a principle I have always kept and a very useful lesson I learnt from him indeed.
Do be there next week when we cover more lessons from encounters with Rubadiri, including the power of alignment, finding positive in negative situations and never breaking the camel that carries your message. n