October 3, 2016 By Joseph S. Margai
The University of Sierra Leone (USL) has last Friday conferred an honorary doctorate degree on the outgoing Chinese Ambassador, H.E. Zhao Yanbo.
The conferment of the degree of doctor of Civil Laws (Honoris Causa), which was witnessed by Vice President Victor Foh, members of the diplomatic and consular corps, USL authorities, among others, was done at the Mary Kinsley Auditorium on Fourah Bay College (FBC) campus.
In his address, Vice Chancellor of USL, Prof. Ekundayo Thompson noted that since his arrival in Sierra Leone, Ambassador Dr. Zhao Yanbo showed immense interest in the efforts of USL administration and that of Fourah Bay College to regain ‘The Athens’.
“When some Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad are taking arms, including the pen which can sometimes be used as a weapon of mass destruction, to destroy the institutions, others are asking what they can do to help. Ambassador Zhao Yanbo, a true friend of Fourah Bay College, had asked what he could do to address the challenges with which they were grappling and solve the problem which constrain their work,” he said, noting that the departing Chinese envoy was a man of quiet disposition which belies his towering intellectual and convivial personality.
Prof. Thompson said FBC hosts the Confucius Institute which is contributing to the development of Sierra Leone’s human resources through education, training and cultural exchanges, adding that worldwide, including in USL, the institute stands in memory of Great Chinese educator and teacher – Confucius, who once said: “To be able under all circumstances to practice five things constitutes perfect virtue, which include gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness and kindness”.
He noted that these five qualities are admirably blended in His Excellency Dr. Zhao Yanbo’s character.
“The degree of Doctor of Civil Laws (Honoris Causa), conferred on our honorary graduand, is in recognition of his contribution to USL. It is a symbol of honour for him and his institution, the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China. Chinese contribution to the improvement of infrastructure has attained almost phenomenal heights,” he said. He added that of more relevance to them in the university community, administrators, faculty and students, was the extraordinary contribution which the Chinese Government has been making to the development of education in the country.
Prof. Thompson disclosed that this year the Chinese awarded 49 scholarships to students from Sierra Leone to study in China, making her the biggest contributor to the enhancement of the capacity of Sierra Leoneans to attain further education abroad. He added that during Ambassador Yanbo’s tenure in Sierra Leone, the work of the Confucius Institute at USL has been enhanced.
“USL and the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China signed an memorandum of understanding in June 2015, and it has made provision for variety of joint academic and cultural activities, especially the granting of $US15,000 every year to support 15 students from various departments in their academic pursuits and support by the Government of China to students to study in China every year,” he said.
The Vice Chancellor gave records of alumni of FBC from 1827 to 2012 to Ambassador Dr. Zhao Yanbo.
Prof. Thompson thanked President Ernest Koroma for giving him the authority to confer the honorary degree on the Chinese diplomat, and applauded Minister of Education, Dr. Minkailu Bah, for fast tracking the event.
Expressing his appreciation, Ambassador Dr. Zhao Yanbo said it was a special, historic and unforgettable day for him to be conferred an honourary degree, adding that he was now one of the alumni of the prestigious university.
“I will place it in record, keep it in heart and practice it in life. This is an honour on my personality but a tribute to the work of the Chinese Embassy in Sierra Leone, which is to promote cultural exchanges education,” he said and added that he had kept a lot of fond memories about the University of Sierra Leone.
He said the relationship between China and Sierra Leone was now in the best status in history, adding that they have increased scholarship awards to Sierra Leonean students from 35 to 50 to study in China. He said he would put on the FBC badge wherever he goes and care and promote the interest of USL.
Ambassador Dr. Yanbo disclosed that he had worked with the Government of Sierra Leone to clear all the obstacles to the Mamamah Airport project, which according to him would soon commence, adding that the project would transform the lives of all Sierra Leoneans.
USL Registrar, Mr. Sorie N. Dumbuya, said Ambassador Dr. Yanbo has not only demonstrated commitment to the premier university in Sub-Sahara Africa, but all areas in Sierra Leone.
He disclosed that authority for the conferment of any degree should be done by the Chancellor, who is President Ernest Koroma, according to section 13 (a) of the Universities Act 2005.
He, however, noted that in section13 (b) of that same Act gives mandate to the Chancellor to request the Vice Chancellor to perform the same function, adding that that was why Prof. Thompson was the one who did the conferment.