I’m pleased to see that there is at least one voice of sanity surrounding the latest of King Mswati III’s vanity project.
The king, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, is pressing for a ‘Royal Science and Technology Park’ to be built in the kingdom. As I reported on Monday (22 November 2010) this will cost E850 million (120 million US dollars), but no one can explain why it is needed and who will use it.
Project manager Moses Zungu has been talking it up (as you’d expect) and he says that world class researchers will want to come to work at the site.
He even said that the kingdom’s only university, the University of Swaziland (UNISWA), would play a key role in providing expertise at the park.
But this expertise has been exaggerated. And who says so? Academics at the university itself.
When the plan for the science park was unveiled at a meeting at the university, staff very nearly laughed out loud at the suggestion that UNISWA (Chancellor: King Mswati himself) was anywhere close to being a global ‘centre of excellence’.
At the meeting one unnamed academic (when I say ‘unnamed’ I don’t mean he has no name, but that it is an unwise career move to be publicly speaking out against the university, so he/she must remain anonymous) said the government shouldn’t worry about financing a science park it should ‘fund fully the university’s budget’.
For years now UNISWA has been bumping along the bottom with poor facilities. It is a common sight to see students carrying chairs from one classroom to another because there is not enough furniture at the university for them to use during classes.
The anonymous lecturer told Zungu that a project of the magnitude of the science park ‘needs specially educated people with advanced qualifications whom this university cannot produce’.
At present the university doesn’t offer PhD or other doctoral courses (even though it ‘awarded’ an honorary doctorate to Barnabas Dlamini, Swaziland’s illegally-appointed Prime Minister). Most of the teaching staff at UNISWA don’t themselves have PhD qualifications and some don’t even have graduate (masters) degrees.
The lack of expertise in Swaziland didn’t worry Zungu. He said expatriates will be brought into Swaziland to get the science park up and running and then Swazi locals will come in as they got properly qualified.
What he didn’t explain was why top quality researchers from across the globe would want to work in Swaziland, a kingdom ruled by King Mswati, and where all dissent is fiercely suppressed and there is no freedom of speech.
This is not an environment where intellectual inquiry thrives.