Professor Khomba: The action man


He is a professor without a home on this foggy and showery Saturday morning as the search for a venue to interview him has left us knocking on this door and that. First, we cannot access his office, where the interview is scheduled to take place, because the one keeping the keys has not turned up.

“Is the secretary here?” he asks a cleaner sprucing up some rooms around his office. “No, not yet,” she answers politely.

A check on some rooms offers no hope that the search is about to yield some fruits. “Let’s use my office across the road,” I offer. As we head for the office, it’s time to swap tales and catch up on some latest happenings in town.


“Dean Pinto is dead!” he announces the death of the soccer icon. “Oh, too bad,” I respond as we eat up some distance to the proposed venue.

More bad news because the keys to the office cannot be traced. It is only after the security officer intervenes that we are offered an alternative venue for the chat.

This is the place Professor James Kamwachale Khomba has called home for 22 years, but on this day he is a homeless man in search of a roof over his head!


Khomba is the latest professor The Polytechnic has baked, only the second to emerge from the constituent college of the University of Malawi. The specialist in finance and corporate strategy became a full professor in April, 2015.

In keeping with the academic tradition, this Friday he is delivering an inaugural lecture at Hotel Victoria in Blantyre to mark his formal entry into the revered pantheon of professors.

Things would have turned out differently, though, had his original ambition materialised.

“My father was a driver working with SR Nicholas. When I was young, I was looking at my father as a role model, so I wanted to be a driver,” he reminisced with a laugh as we settled down for the interview in the boardroom at the college.

A peep around the room tells you that this is not a place for forgettable mortals. Its walls house faces of the luminous giants who have trodden the grounds of the college as principals. Gazing at you are the portraits of Professor Brown Chimphamba, Henry Chibwana, Dr Charles Mataya and the late Dr Prainy Chikhula. Perched above the rest is the ubiquitous feature of public institutions in Malawi—the portrait of President Peter Mutharika.

But the watchful stares of these doyens did not freeze Khomba’s free and eloquent tongue which never shies from the jokes and bursts of laughter that spiced up the interview. Like his tongue, he is an action man.

The second and last born son of the late Steven and Florence Kamwachale Khomba has always believed that what needs to be done must be done—no excuses. It is this action man mentality that has taken him all the way to the top of the academia.

“I don’t sleep when something I want to achieve has not been achieved. No wonder my first born daughter was named Khama,” he said with pride.

After taking his Standard Five Examinations at Livalo LEA School in his home district, Ntcheu, during the 1970s, the world began to open up for him. It was no longer enough to become a driver, he convinced himself. When he joined Ntcheu Secondary School in 1982, the dream to pursue something bigger crystallised and solidified, helped by the success his father’s brothers were enjoying.

“Within the family, there were people who had gone to secondary school. My ‘younger father’ Maston Kamwachale Khomba was working for Malawi Railways. He went to Dedza Secondary School. And also the last born in my father’s family, Martin, went to secondary school at Robert Blake, then Chancellor College. So, the family has played a big role in modeling me into what I am today,” he waxed about his formative years.

From Ntcheu Secondary School, he was selected to The Polytechinic where he obtained a diploma in business studies in 1989 and a Bachelor of Commerce (Accountancy) in 1991. After leaving the university, he worked for Malawi Mudzi Fund, Manica (Malawi) Limited, Lever Brothers, which is now Unilever, and the Blantyre City Council.

All the while, Khomba, who was born at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre on December 9, 1966, felt something tugging him away from the industry towards the academia, culminating into what he calls one of the defining moments of his life in 1994 when he joined The Polytechnic as an assistant lecturer.

“At Malawi Mudzi Fund, I was using a company car as a project accountant plus other benefits. I said ‘I have the money, I have all the benefits, but I cannot continue with this. Let me go back to the university so that I can progress with my academic career.’ At the university, I was getting less than half what I was getting at Mudzi Fund,” he said.

Joining the university fueled his hunger for more academic and professional pursuits. In 1997, he graduated from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) before topping it up with a PhD in financial management sciences obtained from the University of Pretoria in 2011.

The illustrious father to 22-year-old Khama, Bongani, 16, and Dingani, 10, was never content with just academic qualifications. His name also goes with titles such as Fellow member of Cima (FCMA), the highest professional designation awarded by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (Cima), a Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) and a chartered management accountant and financial management expert recognised by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Malawi (ICAM).

Apart from publishing in top-notch journals, his name is also linked to various local and international organisations as a consultant and board member, among others. At the Polytechnic, Khomba championed the introduction of the MBA programme in 1998 and PhD programmes in financial management, entrepreneurship and strategic management.

His road has been lined by so many people whose voices and counsel continue to echo in his head. Khomba cannot forget the advice his uncle, Martin, gave him the other day during the 1990s.

“Even before I started the PhD programme, he told me: ‘I want you to become a professor.’ It was more like a directive than advice. I had ambitions to do the PhD, but I was not all that serious. I said ‘let me not disappoint the only Kamwachale remnant’,’’ he said with a giggle.

Martin Kamwachale Khomba, a retired secondary school teacher who lives in Ntcheu, recalls the conversation that energised his nephew to go for the ultimate academic prize.

“I saw a lot of potential in him. When I told him this, he just laughed, but he got the message. Now, I am very proud because what I wanted has been achieved,” he said.

For Khama, her father is the epitome of a man who has overcome the odds to live his dream.

“My dad comes from a very humble background. The fact that he survived all the ‘impossibilities’ of making something of himself and actually becoming something is very inspiring. It’s inspiring that one does not have to have it all in life to make it. In fact, the lack of material and luxury, so to say, can be a source of motivation to becoming great,” enthused Khama, a final year student in business administration at the Catholic University.

The moment I mention his mother, Khomba becomes pensive and his face drops. She was not just his mother, but also his best friend.

“We were inseparable. The lowest moment of my life was when I lost her in 2000,” he said, as he sank deeper into the bitter memories of her sudden death from diabetes.

Even in her grave, Florence Kamwachale Khomba, who was a housewife, continues to influence her son. He still remembers what she told him one day: “Kukhala bwino ndi anthu ndi mankhwala.”

Based on the advice, Khomba believes that the way one relates with others influences what you become and achieve. His mother’s advice has now morphed into the Umunthu philosophy, the key building block of the inaugural lecture he is presenting on Friday.

“As corporate practitioners, we have failed miserably because we have not embraced the umunthu thinking. How do you relate to the other person? You cannot make a fortune at the expense of another person. That is not umunthu,” he said.

The Umunthu philosophy shapes a lot of what this member of St Michael and All Angels CCAP Church does. No wonder Khomba hates politicians with a passion because of the lies they tell people to win votes.

It also oils and drives his next major project—constructing a primary school in his home area of Maligwa Village, Inkosi Makwangwala in Ntcheu and setting up a scholarship fund for students from the district to access secondary and tertiary education.

He has no doubt that with the support of his best mentor, his wife and entrepreneur Mercy, the project will take off next year.

Away from the books and lecture halls that have defined his life, Khomba is only the typical boy from Ntcheu with a taste for meat, particularly pork served with msima and mustard.

One of these days, you could find him relaxing and sharing a plateful of mmemo with his workers in Blantyre where he is building a holiday resort.

“I also contribute towards the cost of the mmemo,” he said as he readied to visit the project, perhaps to tuck into another mound of mmemo and some pork.

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