Tagwira Elected To Lead Africa University

April 09, 2009

By Andra Stevens*

April 7, 2009 | MUTARE, Zimbabwe (UMNS)

After 15 months of leading United Methodist-related Africa University in an interim position, Fanuel Tagwira has been named the school's third vice chancellor.

Tagwira, 51, was elected to the post April 4 by Africa University's board of directors its April 1-4 meeting.

"He is the appropriate person--he knows and understands the environment and the institution--and he is a seasoned leader who can take the university to the next level," said New York West Bishop Marcus Matthews (at right), the vice chair of the board of trustees.

Impressed with his performance during difficult times--characterized by an unprecedented meltdown of the Zimbabwe economy, which threatened the survival of many institutions--board members expressed great confidence in Tagwira's abilities. While other universities in the country--confronted with deteriorating infrastructure and inadequate human and capital resources--shut their doors, Africa University remained open, providing effective teaching, learning and community service.

"He is the right person to continue what he has started," said Central Congo Bishop David Yemba (below, at left), chancellor and chairperson of the board.  

Tagwira succeeds Rukudzo Murapa who left the 15-year-old university in December 2007. Murapa became vice chancellor of Africa University in April 1998. He was the university's second vice chancellor, taking over the post from the founding vice chancellor, John W. Z. Kurewa.

"I applaud the board's decision to appoint Professor Tagwira and I look forward to strong collaborative work with him in the partnership between the (United Methodist) Board of Higher Education and Ministry and Africa University," said the Rev. Jerome King Del Pino, the top executive of the Board of Higher Education and Ministry, the church agency charged with the nurture of the university.

Under Tagwira's leadership, Africa University has made tough decisions that are transforming its enrollment and improving its prospects for sustainability. In March 2008, the institution launched its first distance-learning center and satellite campus in Maputo, Mozambique. He has also focused on improving student quality of life and implemented creative measures to bolster staff retention and welfare. 

Faced with an estimated inflation rate in excess of 230 million percent and the daily depreciation of the purchasing power of the Zimbabwe dollar, the university could no longer collect meaningful fees in the local currency. It moved to collection of fees in United States dollars from all its students, both national and international and intensified its efforts to provide scholarship funds for needy students. The university's board affirmed these decisions as crucial to enabling the institution to grow and fully realize its mission and Tagwira's contributions to the effort have earned him respect among students and faculty alike.

The institution has a current total enrollment of just under 1,200 students. It offers programs in the areas of agriculture and natural resources management, business and public administration, education, health sciences, the humanities and social sciences, peace, leadership and governance and theology. There are 25 nationalities represented in the current enrollment and 49 percent of the students are female.

"In Professor Tagwira, we have someone who has been tried and tested and found to be a good performer," said Dr. Peter Fasan, a fellow academic and dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences. "He knows academic challenges and how to resolve them. Moreover, having been part of university since its inception, he has a stake in ensuring the continuing success of the institution."

"In spite of all the challenges we have faced, particularly with the economy, we note improvements," said Bruce Chakatsva, president of the Students Representative Council. "Yes, with the fees in U.S. dollars for everyone, it is expensive. But we have managed to pull through... As students, we appreciate his efforts."

Going forward, Tagwira has signaled that he is strongly committed to Africa University's pan-African ethos and to keeping the institution in the forefront of higher education provision on the continent. Improvements to service delivery, particularly in the areas of information technology, e-learning and distance learning, remain key priorities.

Zimbabwe's problems are by no means solved; nonetheless, there are glimmers of hope in the country's new inclusive government and its initial economic and social revitalization plans. Already, Africa University is positioning itself to take advantage of new opportunities by reviewing its programs - restructuring some and articulating new ones - and working to attract accomplished African and international faculty who may have adopted a 'wait and see' attitude in the midst of Zimbabwe's troubled times.

On accepting the appointment, Tagwira said, "I am quite aware of the enormity of the task ahead of me and of the work that needs to be done. I draw strength from this board, which is extremely supportive, offering useful ideas and advice to me whenever I need them. I take comfort in the administrators, faculty and students who also support me very much.

"I do not take this responsibility lightly. I take it as a calling from the Lord. I want to continue to serve in a faithful way so that one day it can be said of me as it was of King David at the end of his life, that "with integrity of heart and skillful hands, he led them.'"

Tagwira will continue work closely with James H. Salley, the university's associate vice chancellor for Institutional Advancement. An expanded portfolio that includes church and external/international relations, assigned to Salley during the transition period, has been made a permanent part of his job.

A pioneer staff member, Tagwira joined Africa University in August 1992 as the first full-time faculty member in the Faculty of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He has contributed to the university's growth and reputation through his teaching and his various research efforts, which are primarily aimed at improving soil productivity and livelihoods in the smallholder farming sector. He is widely published and serves on a number of national and international committees, boards and organizations.

Born in 1957 in the Chiredzi district of Masvingo Province in Zimbabwe, Tagwira holds a bachelor of science degree in chemistry and biology from the National University of Lesotho, a master of science degree in soil chemistry from Reading University in England and a doctorate in soil chemistry and fertility awarded by the University of Zimbabwe, but carried out in collaboration with Michigan State University in the United States.

Tagwira is a lecturer, leading researcher and keen environmentalist, as well as a church elder. He and his wife, Margaret, are working with smallholder farming communities and local orphans on nutrition and food security in two districts of Manicaland Province, where Africa University is located.


The Tagwiras have three daughters - Tendai, a medical doctor, Ruvimbo, who is pursuing a bachelor of science in actuarial science, Kudzai, who is pursuing a bachelor of science in pharmacy; and a son, Tapiwa, who is in high school.

*Stevens is the director of information and public affairs at Africa University.