You would say Matthews Mtumbuka has punched well above his weight. Even before celebrating his 30th birthday, he was already a holder of the highest academic qualification, PhD, in engineering.
That was preceded and followed by distinguished stints in leadership. Now, more has come Mtumbuka’s way. James Chavula says what it is.
The mention of Africa brings to mind visuals of war, hunger, disease and corrupt leaders who cling to and abuse power. However, there is a club of young leaders who believe that what Time Magazine once crowned a ‘hopeless continent’ has the leadership it needs to solve its challenges and take a greater leap than its developed peers.
This is the potential recognised by The Economist in a cover that proclaims that the so-called land of doom and gloom a ‘rising continent.’
Renowned engineer Dr Matthews Mtumbuka has joined a distinguished league of emerging leaders described as “Tutu’s Children” in a documentary that aired on Aljazeera last week.
“Tutu’s Children is an observational series following a group of people who aspire to be leaders of tomorrow,” says the international TV network about the three-hour episode featuring the Malawi Institution of Engineers (MIE) president and other winners of the 2012 Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Award after undergoing African Leadership Institute’s Tutu Fellowship workshop in South Africa and the UK.
But Mtumbuka’s dossier hints at a leader who has matured too quickly for a society that believes that life begins at 40.
Apart from leading University of Malawi (Unima) students’ anti-government protests during president Bakili Muluzi’s rule in 2000, the first Malawian in the elite family of Tutu—South Africa’s apartheid icon and Nobel Peace Prize winner—obtained a PhD from Oxford University before his 30th birthday. The accomplishment catapulted him to the post of information technology coordinator for the multinational oil company Shell in Europe from 2002 to 2005 when he returned from the UK to head the technical services department of Malswitch in Blantyre.
Today, Mtumbuka is information technology director for the leading phone firm Airtel Malawi.
“I left the UK because I wanted to come home, but it was a tough decision to make” says Mtumbuka about his homecoming in 2005.
“Shell is one of the most admired employers and they had invested a lot in my training because I was in what they call ‘fast-track accelerated talent pipeline. The future was very bright.”
Through the lens, Al Jazeera gives a glimpse into how the emergent Tutus have risen to the top of their professions. As they undergo the prestigious training in Western Cape in South Africa and Oxford in England, the documentary exposes the abject poverty that marred their humble beginnings and what stimulated them to start tackling some of the challenges that stand in the way of progress in their countries and beyond.
For Mtumbuka, who comes from Chakoma Village (Bolero) in Rumphi, it was the urge to beat his own history. He went to the little known Kawaza and Jumbi primary schools in Rumphi. He later went to St Patricks Seminary in the same district, which he credits with nurturing an untiring determination and leadership qualities, which paid off when he joined the Polytechnic, a Blantyre-based college under Unima.
He obtained an electrical engineering degree with a distinction.
Mtumbuka reckons the leadership fellowship does not only confer status on the continent’s young achievers, but also encourages him to achieve more.
“The recognition is a big endorsement of what have I done and the potential I have. I am still young and this motivates me to continue making personal sacrifices for public good. At least somebody is recognising my contribution and I hope it will inspire the youth never to stop pursuing their dreams,” he said.
According to the African Leadership Institute website, the annual fellowship is open to all Africans aged between 25 and 40. The engineer was nominated by his mentor, Father John Ryan, an associate professor at Mzuzu University.
The nomination was seconded by Geneva-based writer Stanley Onjezani Kenani who says flashes of Mtumbuka’s leadership potential have been public from the Polytechnic students’ protests against a 3 000 percent Unima fees hike to the time he beat several African contenders to win the coveted Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University.
“A path like this has been travelled before by the likes of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and others, which gives me no doubt that Matthews is on course to reaching the highest echelons of leadership in this country and also on the continent,” says Kenani.
But to make the shortlist, Mtumbuka had to write an essay detailing his thoughts on African leadership—and he says the continent is underdeveloped because of recycled leader who want to rule forever due to their excessive love for personal benefits.
“Africa needs selfless leaders who are only happy to build a legacy of lasting change, not those motivated by personal rewards. Americans have developed because their leaders are performers ready to retire after achieving national goals, not the corrupt who want to rule forever,” he argued in the essay.
In April last year, Mtumbuka and company met Tutu, who has retired from public life, during a weeklong workshop at Mont Fleur Conference Centre in Western Cape. They also toured Robben Island where Tutu’s friend, former South Africa president Nelson Mandela, was detained.
From August to September, the training shifted to Oxford where the Malawian rep got his highest education under the Rhodes Scholarship.
Ironically, Mtumbuka had never held any leadership position until his second year at the Polytechnic when he was elected a class representative. Surging from strength to strength, he became the president of the college’s Society of Engineering Students, Catholic Students Organisation and Polytechnic Students Union (PSU).
As a student unionist, he made headlines for Polytechnic’s relentlessness during the 2001 demonstrations which led to a prolonged closure of Unima.
However, Mtumbuka spent the break teaching mathematics at his former school. Author of the book Above the Rest Mervin Michelyshin, a Canadian missionary who taught at St Patricks Seminary, described the engineer’s sabbatical as an “exceptional example of volunteerism and giving back that Malawians must emulate to uplift their under-resourced learning institutions.”
Mtumbuka also co-founded an alumni foundation that supports the seminary as subventions from abroad are declining.