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Africa University awards degrees to 354 students

More than 350 students from 16 African countries graduate June 7 from United Methodist-related Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe.
UMNS photos by Andra Stevens.

By Andra Stevens*
June 13, 2008 | MUTARE, Zimbabwe (UMNS)

After two years of study at Africa University, Bigi Ruhigita prepared to return to the Democratic Republic of Congo to work in a 50-bed clinic that she and her siblings founded in honor of their father.

Bigi Ruhigita, a nurse from the Democratic Republic of
Congo, celebrates receiving her master's degree
in public health.

"I’m the only one in my family in the health field, but I'm happy to be keeping my late father’s idea alive," Ruhigita said of Jean Ruhigita, a former bishop of the Pentecostal church in the Congo. "He wanted the clinic to help poor people in our area, and since 2003 it has been there for so many people who have no money to go to the hospital."

The 30-year-old nurse was one of the 354 students from 16 African countries who received their degree certificates on June 7 at Africa University's 14th graduation ceremony. Awarded a master's degree in public health, she is excited about using her new skills to help her community.

"I'm planning to begin with an evaluation of the clinic to see how we are doing, where we are doing well and not so well, and what we can do to improve the services we provide," Ruhigita said.

As graduation day approached, Ruhigita was sad to leave the friends she’d made on campus and in the wider community. "I came and stayed for two years without going home, so Africa University is my second home now," she said.

Fellow graduate Valerie Mpawenayo has not been home in five years and could hardly believe that graduation day had finally arrived.

In 2003, Mpawenayo traveled by boat from Burundi to Zambia and then overland to enroll at the United Methodist-related, pan-African school. She came with little money and, after paying tuition fees for her first semester, didn't have much left to buy food. Over the years, Africa University provided meal tickets and financial aid grants that enabled her to complete her bachelor of business studies degree program.

"Life was hard at the beginning," she said. "I learned that God is there and if you are serious, you can be transformed spiritually. I appreciate my education so much."

Academic performance

Undergraduate female students like Mpawenayo made up the majority of graduates, and there were some excellent performers among them. Six young people were awarded first-class degree certificates for achieving cumulative grade point averages of 3.65 or higher out of 4.0. An additional 18 were placed on the Dean’s List for achieving grade point averages of 3.50 or higher.

Valerie Mpawenayo, a Burundian, is
honored as the school's top
marketing graduate.

"I believe all of you … have gained tremendously from your interaction with your peers as you’ve lived, learned and succeeded together," said Fanuel Tagwira, the university's interim vice chancellor. "What is needed now is for you to apply what you have learned to the challenges you will encounter—to inquire, invent, create, share and change conditions around you for the better."

In his address, Tagwira thanked the students and staff for their "zeal and determination" in the face of the current socio-economic challenges in Zimbabwe. He highlighted the university's ongoing projects to improve the learning and living environment for students as well as new programs and outreach initiatives.

All seven of the university's academic units presented candidates for graduation. Of the 272 young people who received bachelor's degrees, 134 were from the faculty of humanities and social sciences. Other degrees were awarded from the faculties of management and administration, 99; education, 38; agriculture and natural resources, 36; theology, 19; Institute of Peace, Leadership and Governance, 16; and health sciences, 11.

Graduate programs

Master’s degrees were awarded to 81 graduate students in six academic units. Among them was the second group to enroll in the Public Sector Management Training Program, funded by the African Capacity Building Foundation. The one-year program seeks to enhance the management capacity of senior professionals working in government and public enterprises in Africa.

Jessica Zuweni hugs her daughter Sharon Machanzi, a graduate
of the Institute of Peace,
Leadership and Governance.

"It's very intensive but well organized to deal with service delivery and other important issues in the public sector," said Abeba Fekadu, an Ethiopian who just completed the management program. Fekadu, a financial manager working within the Ethiopian customs authority, said common problems facing African governments include a slow service delivery, poor code of ethics, brain drain and inadequate compensation for public service.

"I now feel better equipped to provide solutions that improve service delivery, minimize corruption and put in place good systems that will help us to collect more revenue," Fekadu said.

Her classmate, Jim Kalikeka, is deputy director of the productivity department in Zambia’s Ministry of Labor. He found the courses related to project management, performance appraisal and strategic management particularly relevant to his work. He’s also concerned about the impact of political concerns on long-term investment and development programs in Africa.

"The public service in Africa still has a lot to do. … Trying to divorce politics from administration is very important if the public service has to function. Politics should not take center stage," Kalikeka said.

This year’s graduating class increased the number of Africa University alumni to more than 2,600. Africa University graduates are at work as agriculturalists, pastors, educators, businesspeople, health workers and other professionals in communities across sub-Saharan Africa.

Founded by The United Methodist Church in 1992, Africa University was the first private university to open in Zimbabwe. It has an annual full-time student population of 1,300.

*Stevens is the director of Africa University's Office of Public Information.

News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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