True to his commitment to promoting women in leadership, President Lungu has once again appointed a female running mate, after vice-president Inonge Wina stepped down. The new appointment is none other than Zambia’s first female professor, Nkandu Pheobe Luo.
While it may be seen as a win for gender equality to have another female running mate, Prof. Luo’s terms of service have sparked many debates. It is necessary to examine the calibre of candidates, no matter the gender.
The PF government has been characterized with corruption scandals, alleged misappropriation of funds and alleged shady dealings. One would then expect the chosen running mate, to be one who inspires confidence in the electorate, with a proven track record of good governance.
Since her political debut in 1996 she has served in various portfolios, including Member of Parliament, four times a minister and once a deputy minister. Most recently, she has been Minister of Higher Education and Minister of Fisheries and Livestock, as well MP for Munali.
Despite her wealth of political experience, the professor is now known for her tribal remarks, dictatorial approach to student matters, and head strong leadership. Over her two decades in government, Luo has made a name for herself in a still male dominated political playing field it may seem like a good political move, but her reputation amongst her people may have suffered over the course of her career.
Whilst serving as MP for Munali constituency, Luo has steadily lost popularity among her constituents, with most saying she has underperformed and has not shown adequate leadership.
Meanwhile in her portfolio as Higher Education Minister, Prof. Luo led with sternness and tenacity. In October of 2018, Luo revised the structure of student unions in universities, changing it to what she termed guild leadership, with the intention of allowing more inclusive leadership and the hope that riots would decrease under this new type of leadership, a decision that was reluctantly adopted.
However, shortly after this pronouncement, she further decided to limit the number of bursaries and scrap off meal allowances for all students, starting from 2019, saying that the government will only pay for tuition and accommodation for students, and this will be paid directly to the school. This was met with opposition from freshmen students, and returning students alike, citing that this would negatively affect financially disadvantaged students. Alumni of the universities have said that her leadership was autocratic and to some even heartless, as often, it felt as though the needs of students were not being met.
Prof. Luo left the ministry of higher education and was subsequently moved to the ministry of livestock and fisheries. Here, she enforced a fishing ban, which was extended from three months to six. This did not auger well with fishermen, citing that it would affect the livelihoods of those who depend on fishing for their livelihood.
Looking at her political history, the appointment of the PF running mate could either be an extremely well thought out play in chess or a poorly calculated move in checkers.