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Friday 16 February 2018


Swaziland’s Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini calls himself a ‘doctor’ although he has no such qualification.

A ‘doctor’ is someone who has a certified medical qualification or a Ph.D (doctor of philosophy) or similar (D.Litt, for example) that has been earned by publishing a substantial record of research. Barnabas Dlamini – sometimes known as Sibusiso Dlamini – has none of these.

Dlamini drew attention to his ‘doctor’ title in his just-published autobiography. He signs himself as ‘Dr’ in letters and is called ‘Doctor’ on the Swaziland Government’s official website.

However the truth is he has no such qualification.

He was awarded an honorary ‘doctor of laws’ by the state-run University of Swaziland (UNISWA) in 2008. The University has King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, as its Chancellor. Dlamini was not elected Prime Minister; he was personally appointed by the King.

Honorary doctorates are not ‘realdoctorates; in other words, being awarded an honorary doctorate is not the same as earning an actual doctorate. By convention, recipients of honorary doctorates do not use the titleDr.’ The title should not be used to further a career or be put on a resume. Honorary awards are designed to draw attention to the university bestowing the honour, since it ties them to the recipient.

Many receivers could paper a room with their doctorate scrolls: former US President Barack Obama has at least 13; Bill Clinton, at least 16. In 1996, Nelson Mandela received eight honorary degrees in a single day in London, UK.

There is a twist in the tail. Dlamini’s ‘doctorate’ was awarded by UNISWA, but no student has ever graduated from the university with a doctorate degree.

The level of educational achievement at the university was so low that there were doubts that it should be called a ‘university’ at all. In 2006, just before it awarded Dlamini the doctorate, 49.7 percent of UNISWA’s 1,370 students who graduated received certificates and diplomas, while 49.2 percent got bachelor degrees. Hardly anyone studied for graduate qualifications: that year, 14 students received masters degrees while only 51 students were studying for master degrees in the whole university. A university is supposed to be an institution of higher learning; UNISWA’s statistics made it look more like a tertiary college. This situation has improved slightly since Dlamini was awarded his honorary doctorate.

The awarding of honorary doctorates and degrees is controversial. In 1996, Long Island University’s Southampton College awarded an honorary Doctor of Amphibious Letters to Kermit the Frog for his work in education and in raising environmental awareness. Even though there were those who did not agree with the idea of bestowing the honour on a puppet, Kermit accepted the award and did indeed give an acceptance speech.

Richard Rooney

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