As the battle of women emancipation continues in Zambia, women should not let the negativity that comes with cultural way backs bring them down in their quest to occupy spaces at all leadership levels.
This is according to former Executive Director of the Policy Monitoring and Research Centre (PMRC), Bernadette Deka-Zulu who served in that capacity for eight years.
In this column, she talks a bit about herself and her career journey.
Question: Who is Bernadette Deka-Zulu
Answer: Right. So my name is Bernadette Deka-Zulu. Deka is my maiden name and Zulu being that of my marriage name. I use both sermons for personal reasons and these personal reasons are also not a secret. I have always used my maiden name and I have been happy or alone in all my activities and you know, I began my journey at a very tender age. So then an additional Zulu being my marriage name which I’m proud of. So I’m proud of what I would like to identify as to be identified as such Bernadette Deka-Zulu. I’m 36 years old Zambian female. We have three children. We have two boys and a girl.
We have Nkonde, he’s 10 years old, we have Elijah, he is nine years old and we have Owala-Emma and we have three other children who were adopted two Zulu side and one from the Deka side, so altogether we have six children yes. So it’s a full house
They are at the age where all of them are in school except the baby who’s turning two years old next month and she must be in school by January.
Q: How was your experience as the PMRC Executive Director?
A: Wow It must have been challenging of course but it was a good challenge, being a female in the industry then I and the other like institution is ZIPAR at that point it also being headed by a female but so for female executive directors and Think tanks were quite a few of us in the industry and I think for PMRC it was quite unique also because and quite strategic.
It was in between Think-tank and also some sort of an advisory body to the presidency and two different government departments. It may no longer be the case now that maybe that part of being an advisor to the presidency is no longer there. It has been adopted completely as a government institution. Then it was complexed because you had to give evidence-based research recommendations. So whether it was a good thing or a bad thing it didn’t matter, whether it was negative or positive it didn’t matter you just needed to give it based on the findings through the research and we had quite a pool of experts at that time.
So it was a successful challenge doing exciting journey of eight years at the helm of the policy monitoring and research centre
Q: So where are you now career wise?
A: So I resigned earlier this year. I resigned on my own accord and at that point at that moment, I, you know, during change many things happen, there are a lot of things that are said and done. Much as we are here to serve the country, I didn’t want that negativity to pull me down because we have built the organisation to where it is now through a lot of positive energy that we had to put in. So after the eight years, I thought it was time to move on, and perhaps being just this year of 2022 to concentrate on finishing off my PhD and taking it off the radar. And if I can say, oh, if I can put it like that. And then that’s a lot of time and dedication and it is highly tasking to actually wind up on the PhD especially that is requires a lot of f writing, a lot of writing done my research most of the part. Collected data and now busy winding up completing my analysis, and hopefully I can defend it very soon and get to be confirmed as an expert in my field.
So my thesis is around investigating, the inefficiencies of public enterprises or state-owned institutions, others can choose to call them parastatals. So their inefficiencies and ineffectiveness, why are they in effective? And why don’t we maximise profits when we are running those institutions.
So I am looking at those gaps, and hopefully coming up with viable recommendations that will be set out there to actually bridge these gaps and see our state-owned enterprises run the economy through bringing proper and full dividends so that we can and actually move this country to greater glory in terms of economic growth.
Q. What are some of the highlights of your career?
A: Other than just having served at PMRC, I have sat on various boards and right now currently I am. In as much as I was saying that I should concentrate on my PhD, I have been called upon and appointed to be the chairperson of the Kenneth David Kaunda Legacy Foundation. It is about pioneering again, around policies that will drive this country to another level through living the legacy of our late founding father. And this is around of course, humanizing, getting the best practices of what he did his legacy.
Yes, definitely learning from past mistakes, but also championing and pioneering what drove this country from birth to where we are now at 58 years of independence or post victory of the tyrants. So this is a daunting task that I took on. So currently, I am chairing that and giving strategic and policy direction of that organisation.
I also sit right now on the board of the business and professional women Network, its business and professional women International but the Zambian chapter where I’m currently projects lead, where I’m leading our projects and fundraising ventures to keep the institution or the metric running and afloat.
I’m looking at that and looking at also my personal Foundation, where I’m president. It’s called Shaping Futures. And this is really about mentoring young women and men alike, not only limiting to young women alone, but also young men for a better Zambia. I’m glad that most people are stepping up in mentoring the younger generation, because there has been a gap in our times where the leaders cannot sit on the same table with the younger generation but thankfully I guess I was one of those privileged youths to actually serve and rise to certain leadership positions at quite a young age but we want to change the environment to where young people and the old actually partner in development and found on the same table, same boards, same rooms discussing and deciding for now and the future in various areas of national development and also people development .
Have you got any grain now it feels like we are before now yes before now. I used to feel like oh my god yes. At 20 something yeah, in this place yeah in that place and having held so many portfolios, yes matters
I mentioned that I am concentrating on my PhD and fortunately, the year is coming to an end and I have to step back into the earning, earning spheres. So I’m currently a consultant in organisational development and also change management. And so I have been doing this, and public policy, of course, I have been doing this for quite some time now. And it is quite a lucrative space. But I’m also signing up with an international organisation back into a full time job in time soon.
Q. What are some of the challenges you have faced in your career?
A: You see, we are in a country where we are at a trajectory. When Zambians are beginning to give space and chance to women at all levels. But this has not happened without a lot of its negative vices oR happenings, for example you see a woman who’s going to be decisive on a matter and when they put their foot down to do their job diligently they’ll be called names, they will dig around their family history, what did she do that is embarrassing and dig that up inflate it with a lot of lies and put it up there.
So for me, it was it, actually why I’m saying it was, it no longer bothers me. It was a bother, I could sit and you know, be sad, be saddened about developments, is really me they’re talking about some of the things, I’ve actually remained to Google my name have remained on the intimate spaces and now we’re able to laugh off those things. But then I realised that if women are really going to pay attention to that, then we are going to be derailed and we’re not going to achieve the things that we said we needed to achieve for this country to move forward, then we’re not going to be leaders, then we’re going to give up the leadership seats, then we’re going to give up our decision-making spaces, then we’re going to give up our roles as equal partners in national development or even people that bring actually greater value to community development, human development, like I said, economic growth, public policy, enhancement for better policies for a better country, all that will be lost.
Why? Because you have chosen your dignity as a woman, to say, let me choose my dignity. Let me stay back. Let me not drag my family in the mud. Once I go out there, they begin to find fault in my husband, they begin to drag my children in funny situations. And you don’t want that as a woman because they are protective by nature. The woman wants to protect their own, you see, so because of that, women tend to shy away from these.
And my message to the women is that do not. Let’s turn a blind buy and cross. And once we cross now in the near future, such will no longer be a narrative. Such will no longer be a narrative because we would have crossed that bridge and we would have fought a good fight.
For Zambia to get to 58 today there are people who sacrificed during 1960 1963 1964 was going backwards from the 1960s to all the time to all the way to 1964 for us to attain that victory, and be independent from the colonisers. It was a process.
So even this battle of women, emancipation and women respect, embracing women and respecting what they bring to the table is a battle and we are about to get there. Our fore mothers had to endure it a few, but indeed they will icons that have broken barriers and set a tone and we are here today.
We have women ministers now, we have you know women Chief Justices, we have all these people, women representatives in all spaces and we cannot let the negativity that comes with cultural ways backs bring us down.
Q. During the journey in your career, how much support have you received from women?
A: Right? My, my story is different because it started from elementary levels and you’ll be shocked that I have received the most support from women. For me, it’s not the other way. I have heard that have had support from our male counterparts and not necessarily women. But for me, it’s a different story. Mostly it has been women who have supported me starting with my mother herself who let me be from the time I was a child at elementary level.
Even now that we have taken on so many children that we pay for my husband through our different entities. He also runs an organisation called Mutima for sports, where he reaches out to young children in sport and combined with my efforts and my own rights so we pay for different children who are underprivileged from primary to tertiary and sometimes we partner by supporting foundations like the Buumba Malambo Foundation which we have supported for over five years now and we have been consistent with it.
So mom tells me up to now from the Now a child that yours this is yours this work of God and it is to uplift livelihoods
So by the time I was leaving high school, getting into society, I was already working for citizens forum, I was at the University of Zambia doing all that kind of activism and the regular columnist in the Post newspaper commenting on governance
I then left the University of Zambia went to South Africa, where now I joined NEPAD, New Partnership for Africa’s Development as an intern and then a contractor and then I worked in several units under the NEPAD and the African Union.
Came back home to continue with my activism but this time as a professional, I joined the Policy Monitoring and Research Centre and was where we worked so closely with the past president. Moving on now we are ready to take home this country to another level yes
So why the PHD? It could have remained at the Masters degrees that I have, the MBA and also the Master of Arts, it could have remained there but I realised that in social development and political spaces, a woman will always be accused of using “Bottom power” to rise. So I’m trying to change that narrative by going all the way with education. Flamboyantly, by the time my profile will be read out one day the girl be like this is where we ought to be even that professional angle will be attracted into public places and so that they can meet in public spaces.
Other than for the love of knowledge and other than for the love of knowledge to execute for the betterment of this country but also to prove a point to the younger generation the women that are coming up to say it is attractive to serve in public spaces or public offices. It is not a sham, it’s not a certain crop of women. No, it is actually the cream of women that are coming on board and that that is what my ambition in that will conclude.
Q. What is your message to the young women out there who are looking up to you?
A: Stay focused, when people are thinking you are going down, that is when you are going up. Remain focused and remain true to yourself and this world is full of opportunities for everyone we have no time to feel sorry for ourselves as women or as young women.
I come from a humble background myself and it is the same story with my husband and yet we have pulled through by the grace of God. So for us, it is our God and it is our self-determination.
Self-respect, when the world is not giving it to you, give it to yourself, you have that for yourself. When they decide to give it to you, it is a bonus. So self-respect young woman, self-respect, self-determination, self-drive. You can do anything. We are game changers.