With the African Union Summit at which the new Commission Chairperson will be elected just a month away, the race is heating up. The Southern African Development Community region has fielded Botswana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi. Ever since Limkokwing University of Creative Technology conferred an honorary degree on her in July 2012, the state media has been referring to Venson-Moitoi as “Dr.”
For a very strange reason, Botswana is the only country in Southern Africa (probably in Africa if not the whole world) where people use this honorific without the usual restrictions. All SADC leaders have honorary degrees but only one (President Ian Khama) is referred to as “Dr.” Venson-Moitoi’s candidature for the position of African Union Commission Chairperson puts her in a very awkward position in as far as the use of “Dr” is concerned. For the same position, East Africa has fielded Dr. Speciosa Wandira-Kazibwe who has served as Uganda’s Vice President under Yoweri Museveni and is a member of Africa’s Panel of the Wise. In 2009, after an acrimonious divorce from her abusive husband, Dr. Wandira-Kazibwe enrolled for a PhD programme in public health at the prestigious Harvard University in the United States.
Online African and international media refer to both Venson-Moitoi and Wandira-Kazibwe as “Dr”, a title which carries a lot of prestige. However, it may be a matter of time before someone points out the absurdity of it all: that one earned it and the other didn’t. This would be embarrassing to not just Venson-Moitoi herself but Botswana and SADC. There are precise international guidelines that guide the use of an honorary doctorate’s “Dr”.
A recipient’s use of the title “Dr” before their name is restricted to engagement with the university that conferred the honorary and cannot be used within the broader community. Using it in the latter sense is perceived to be misleading. While recipients are entitled to cite the award verbally or in written communication, they are required to note the honorary status of the award. In practical terms, that means that President Khama and Venson-Moitoi can use the “Dr” title only when they deal with the universities (South Korea’s Konkuk University and the University of Botswana in the case of the former) that conferred those doctorates upon them. It means that the Botswana National Assembly, which did not confer those doctorates on the pair, cannot refer to these two politicians as Dr. Khama and Dr. Venson-Moitoi. It also means that while Btv newsreaders can refer to the minister as Dr. Venson-Moitoi, they should add ‘honoris causa’ at the end each time they do so. This elaborate protocols will be the reasons why everywhere else in the world, people with honorary doctorates are never referred to as “Dr”. In Botswana and this goes as far back the days of Sir Seretse Khama, this title is used in the misleading manner that does not pay due regard to the rules of academia. The founding president himself had an honorary PhD and was referred to as “Dr”.
The source of Venson-Moitoi’s PhD should also be of some concern. A university that is struggling to provide quality diploma (associate degree) programmes should not find it easy to award honorary PhDs in the manner Limkokwing is. The university is owned by Professor Emeritus Tan Sri Dato Sri Paduka Dr. Lim Kok Wing. The “Professor Emeritus” seemed to be as genuine as Idi Amin’s military rank of Field Marshal was. An emeritus is a distinguished university professor who has retired. There is no evidence that Lim Kok Wing even holds a bachelor degree, only rumour that he didn’t go far with his education. How he became a professor emeritus remains a great mystery and his online profile is not helpful because it starts by stating that “He was 29 when he set up his first business – Wings Creativity Consultants – in 1975.” Limkokwing doesn’t seem to offer the programme it gave the minister the honorary doctorate for which is odd because typically universities will confer such doctorates for programmes they offer. The whole idea of an honorary doctorate is to waive standard academic requirements for a programme.
Ironically, Venson-Moitoi is accomplished enough without having to add an honorary doctorate to her curriculum vitae.