Chas­ing the elu­sive Zim­bab­wean dream

Mu­tam­bara’s nar­ra­tive teases and tan­ta­lises as he de­fines ‘thought lead­er­ship’, writes

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -

ARTHUR Guseni Oliver Mu­tam­bara, a world-renowned ro­bot­ics pro­fes­sor and one of the most in­trigu­ing fig­ures in Zim­bab­wean pub­lic life, has rarely writ­ten about the pri­vate di­men­sions of his life – un­til now.

In this 249-page mem­oir, Rhodes Schol­ar­ship which took him to Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity in Bri­tain where he was awarded a Master of Science in Computer Engi­neer­ing and sub­se­quently a PhD in Ro­bot­ics and Mecha­tron­ics.

It was dur­ing his days at Mer­ton Col­lege that Mu­tam­bara joined the Ox­ford Union de­bate cham­ber and rubbed shoul­ders with cel­e­brated in­tel­lec­tual dis­si­dents.

The grad­u­ate pro­grammes and ex­am­i­na­tions at Ox­ford are ex­act­ing and de­mand­ing, even for the most in­tel­li­gent of stu­dents. Mu­tam­bara com­pleted the Master’s de­gree in one year and the doc­tor­ate in just over two years. Don­ning for­mal at­tire and an aca­demic gown, he orally de­fended his the­sis, in a record 45 min­utes, stun­ning his su­per­vi­sors. It takes some can­di­dates six years to at­tain a PhD and oth­ers have ei­ther dropped out or com­mit­ted sui­cide in ut­ter frus­tra­tion.

In his usual brash man­ner, Mu­tam­bara basks in the glory of his achieve­ments at Ox­ford. Aged 28, he had a BSc, MSc and PhD un­der his belt. He said: “This African has just cracked the doc­tor­ate in two years and two months, and passed with­out any changes! The tra­di­tional Ox­ford es­tab­lish­ment, while pleased with my achieve­ments, looks a bit per­turbed. I guess the African has out­per­formed the master, in his own ter­ri­tory. What an ex­am­ple of ef­fec­tive counter pen­e­tra­tion!”

The man is ooz­ing with con­fi­dence. At first glance, there are seg­ments of his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy which sug­gest vain­glo­ri­ous boast­ing. It only takes a nu­anced un­der­stand­ing of his per­son­al­ity from the for­ma­tive days of Hartzell High School to the “City of Dream­ing Spires”, to fully com­pre­hend where he is com­ing from and where he is go­ing.

Be­sides, al­though Mu­tam­bara has his flaws like ev­ery hu­man be­ing, he has plenty to be proud of: a sharp in­tel­lect, a flu­ency in de­bate, an easy wit, a fiercely in­de­pen­dent world­view, and the will­ing­ness to de­nun­ci­ate dogma.

Ox­ford is not the end of his jour­ney. In 1995 he sets out for the US, “the belly of the beast”, where he works as a re­search sci­en­tist at Nasa, pro­fes­sor at the pres­ti­gious MIT and man­age­ment con­sul­tant at McKin­sey & Com­pany.

In 2002, he re­turned to Africa, con­vinced he was now equipped with the nec­es­sary strate­gies and par­a­digms to make a dif­fer­ence. No doubt, the new book will spark de­bate and fuel spec­u­la­tion in Zim­babwe. Is Mu­tam­bara pre­par­ing to run for pres­i­dent? Time will tell.

IN AC­CORD: AT THE Sign­ing cer­e­mony of the Zim­babwe Global Po­lit­i­cal Agree­ment in Harare, Sep­tem­ber 2008, from left: for­mer deputy prime min­is­ter Prof Arthur Mu­tam­bara, Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe, for­mer PM Mor­gan Ts­van­gi­rai, and then SA pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki.

ASIAN TIGER: AT THE WEF in China in 2011, Mu­tam­bara is seen with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping.

HIGH PLACES: Mu­tam­bara, his wife Dr Jac­que­line Mu­tam­bara, and for­mer US pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton at the WEF in Davos in 2010.

IT TAKES A VIL­LAGE: Prof Arthur Mu­tam­bara as a six-year-old boy (far right) with sib­lings Au­drey (back), Tsitsi (in blue), and Rose­mary (mid­dle) taken at their home vil­lage in Chi­man­i­mani in 1973. To­day, they are: Dr Au­drey Mu­tam­bara, Prof Tsitsi Mu­tam­bara, Dr Rose­mary Mu­tam­bara and Prof Arthur Mu­tam­bara.

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