NPR

Zimbabwean First Lady's Summer Project: A Ph.D. Program

There are slow learners, fast learners, and suspiciously fast learners. Zimbabwe's first lady, Grace Mugabe, is definitely among the latter. After what seems to have been just a few months of study, she's been awarded a doctoral degree from the University of Zimbabwe — completing in a few months what normally takes at least three years to achieve.

Mugabe, 49, who is married to Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, 90, received her degree in a ceremony last week. It wasn't officially announced when she had begun working on the program, but her registration was first reported this July, at which point she was said to have only completed her proposal.

Her thesis, according to the state-owned paper The Herald, was on "the changing social structure" and "the functions of the family."

It's unclear whether the first lady possessed the prerequisites required to even begin a Ph.D. program, let alone finish one, reports Zimbabwe's NewsDay:

"Grace reportedly possesses a first [undergraduate] degree in Chinese Language that she completed in 2011 after four years of distance learning with the People's University of China.

"It could not be established if Grace completed a post-graduate degree course."

The first lady's new credentials swiftly drew criticism from Zimbabweans. One writer said her undeserved degree "has finally destroyed our university education," and an opposition leader has announced that he will never seek a Ph.D. now, for what he called "obvious reasons."

Zimbabwe's economy has stabilized — albeit not much improved — since the extraordinary inflation of the previous decade. But the rule Robert Mugabe, who has run the nation for the past 34 years, continues to be contentious.

Robert Mugabe, who claims to hold seven degrees, has been accused of rigging elections to maintain his power. His wife has been criticized over reports of profligate spending, and both have been accused of corruption.

Some have speculated that Grace Mugabe's new degree is part of an effort to position her to follow her husband as Zimbabwe's leader.

Meanwhile, the first lady says that her research was inspired by her work with orphans, and that her success was due to diligence:

"It requires one to work hard, be principled," she told the Herald, "and I want to say others who may want to take the same road must work hard."

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