Traditionally, technical knowhow—whatever it is—is what qualifies people into positions. It is the thing, perhaps the only, that job recruiters look for when they advertise for jobs. This what is said here should not be a thing from Mars to active job seekers like the author. The point being driven home here is that job advertisers seek to recruit with expertise on the job advertised.
It is, however, doubtful if the above tradition is followed to the letter in political positions. The examples might be numerous to the wiser readership, both locally and internationally. Interestingly, in substantiating this claim, one local example is surely fitting and memorable. It is the story of one mysterious minister, Dr. Ken Lipenga.
It is widely reported and greatly speculated that Dr. Ken Lipenga, once a Literature lecturer at University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, holds a PhD in Literature, and Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in the same field.
Dr. Lipenga’s qualifications being as given above, it is catchy to write home about how this elusive character manages changing governments and not positions especially in light of the transition from the late Bingu wa Mutharika to Joyce Banda.
Lipenga’s close friend confided in the author that this minister is indeed elusive. From the early days of his active politics, this minister has led and lived events—most ugly and few pleasant—and rises with every rising political tide and never suffers political bruises—personal or political—and is always rising ever more powerfully.
That aside, the interest in this writing is his ministerial position. Here is a guy with qualifications in literature and yet is perched high in the hierarchy of the Ministry of Finance. More interestingly, it is hard to believe how the Joyce Banda administration, like the late Bingu wa Mutharika government before her, finds peace in trusting him with the agonies of crunching numbers.
This author did literature, and in as far as the memory serves him right, there is no time he encountered hardcore numbers in the entire four years of study. Or, and this simply is “or”, there are number-crunching subjects as one goes up with studies in the field of Literature. If that were true, Literature lecturers would have mentioned it at some point, at least in passing. But they never did. Or they may have just forgotten to mention it? Maybe, but it is doubtful.
So, you might be asking already, “What is it that Ken Lipenga has that always has him retain his ministerial post at Finance?” if it is that he has economics or finance or any similar qualifications, then there is enough reason to question the standards of journalism in Malawi. If indeed he has other qualifications, then Malawians might just as well scorn the media fraternity for giving Malawians journalistic raw deals.
Knowing, of course from the media and other sources, that Literature qualifications are what Lipenga has leaves one with no option but dig more about him and his darling ministerial post—Minister of Finance.
Talk has it that ministers do not necessarily need to know their field because all the technical work in their respective ministries is left to the Principal Secretaries (PS). The PSs are technical head of any ministry; they remain even if governments change because their posts are contractual and not political.
It is here that sense begins to sink in when one relates this arrangement with Lipenga-in-Ministry-of-Finance issue. That Lipenga needs not to know the workings in economics or finance to be at the ministry (though it is now believed he now has his education, experience, and knowledge leaning that field).
Even here the question still remains partly unanswered. The full answer comes in the fact that rumor has it that Lipenga is second to none in area of negotiation and diplomacy, thanks to his firm grounding in English Language and Literature.
It is said that the guy has the verb, the adverb, and the adjective that have donors running with aid. It is rumored that Lipenga drunk all the skills of interpersonal communication, multiculturism, and negotiation from the poems he analyzed, the short stories he read, the novels he interpreted, and the plays he critiqued. And this, the story goes, is what gives him an edge over all competing individuals for the top most post in the Ministry of Finance.
Yet, after all is said and written about him, Dr. Ken Lipenga remains mysterious less as a person and more as a Minister of Finance. However, the best that can be hoped to demystify him and his post is to write more about him more and more.