Africa University Denies Bribing Zimbabwe Officials with Church Donations

( [email protected] ) Sep 21, 2004 08:28 PM EDT

Africa University, a Methodist school, adamantly denied allegations made in a letter by retired U.S. Navy Capt. Larry Lutz, questioning if the university used donations from church members to pay off Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his staff in exchange for operating without government interference.

In his letter to the editor of UMConnection, Lutz asks how Africa University, a Christian school, has been able to survive in a country "run by thugs and criminals" when other entities across Zimbabwe face intimidation.

Appearing in the Sept. 1 issue of the newspaper of Baltimore-Washington Annual (regional) Conference, the letter was a central point of interest at the committee’s fall meeting, and it sparked an online discussion across the United States about the university.

Both the Rev. Jerome King Del Pino, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, and James Salley, the university’s associate vice president of institutional advancement, said Africa University is one of the most audited entities in the United Methodist Church, and there is no way it could pay off anyone.

Del Pino said, "Africa University is one of the most controlled institutions, financially, in the denomination. The auditing process of the university is far more rigorous than any local church in the denomination in the United States."

Sally agreed. "It would be impossible for the university to pay off somebody and people not know it. Every dime that you give can be accounted for," he said.

Grace Muradzikwa, a member of the Africa University Board of Directors and the chief executive officer of the one of the largest property and casualty insurance companies in her country spoke with a perspective from Zimbabwe.

According to UMNS, although the country is plagued with hyperinflation, she attributed Africa University’s success to "its staying away from politics and focusing on its mission."

The "university is safe, and the students remain safe," Muradzikwa said. One reason is the distance between the Mutare-based school and the capital city, Harare. "The locale of Africa University is ideal," she said. "It is remote and removed from the bustle of Harare."

Africa University is -expected to formally respond to Lutz and send a letter to the editor of UMConnection defending itself as righteous (UMNS).

Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa, the new United Methodist bishop of Zimbabwe, spoke about the university’s impact on the continent and described the 12-year-old institution as a living legacy during a banquet celebrating the contributions people have made to the "school of dreams” (September 10).

Indeed, Salley who said that the university remains “one of the most energizing ministries” of the denomination backs Bishop Nhiwatiwa.

He also said that it is "one of the best-kept secrets in local churches of the connection,” and he wishes the development committee to help make the university known to one million United Methodists during the quadrennium.

Bishop Nhiwatiwa said that Africa University is a "unifying factor" on the continent through its graduates, naming positive developments of the church such as expanding the church globally, provided a forum for many people to meet, and gave rise to leaders dedicated to Christian values on the continent.

The University, by way of the Institute of Peace, Leadership and Governance, is a potential major player in the campaign by the African Union, whose goal is to improve the continent’s leadership and help develop an Africa Governance Institute.