Call it impact: Australia Awards alumnus contributions to African development near 50 years

by Adriana Abreu-Combs (

RodgerChongweThe Knowledge I gained in my prime years while attending the University of Western Australia has had an overwhelming influence on me… The student activism [I was exposed to] in Australia has had a great deal of influence on the conduct of my career.”

Nearly 50 years on, Australia Awards alumnus Rodger Chongwe continues to make waves in his home country of Zambia and region.

Rodger was one of the first African professionals to receive a scholarship funded by the Australian Government under the Commonwealth African Assistance Plan, an extension of the Colombo Plan. When he embarked to Australia in February 1963 to study law, his country was called Northern Rhodesia, becoming independent a year later as Zambia. Rodger completed both a Bachelor of Law (1966) and postgraduate qualification (1968) at the University of Western Australia (UWA).

Beyond dedication to his studies, Rodger’s time at UWA was marked by student activism. From representative at the World University Service to participation in the governance of the University Students’ Guild Council to serving a three-year term as university’s representative at the Council of the National Union of Australian University Students. This student activism experience in Australia was to have a great deal of influence in Rodger’s career both within and outside his law practice.

Since his return to Zambia in 1969, Rodger has become a legal activist voice, extending his contributions nationally, regionally and internationally. Through his work, he has advanced the cause of democratic good governance, human rights and anti-corruption law, just to name a few areas of his reach.

In the 1980s, Rodger set out to transform the then moribund Law Association of Zambia into a vibrant force for the development of the rule of law in the country. With the help of like-minded young lawyers, this goal became a reality. In the next decade, Roger’s activism turned to the political arena.

As an active campaigner, Rodger played a key role in the re-introduction of multi-party politics in Zambia in 1991, thereafter serving in key ministerial positions, namely Minister of Legal Affairs (1991-1993) and Minister of Local Government and Housing (1993).

In the late 1990s, he led efforts to curb corruption in Zambia, which affected the political, economic and electoral process. The establishment of the Zambian Chapter of Transparency International in Zambia was a milestone in Rodger’s personal efforts to raise the profile of the fight against corruption. He was directly responsible for this initiative and used his own resources to fund start-up operations.

Though forced into exile in 1997, his views on national governance continued to influence the thinking in Zambia through regular articles published in the independent media. Rodger returned to Zambia from exile in 2003 and has since continued to inspire change from within.

Beyond Zambia, Rodger’s council and advisory work have had a wide reach. From carrying out assignments for the United Nations and European Union to providing specialised advice to African countries in such crucial areas as electoral systems, anti-corruption efforts and judicial systems. In addition, his voice and extensive knowledge has been heard through several presentations he delivered as well as publications and articles he authored over the past 50 years.

These are just a few examples of Rodger’s numerous contributions to shaping outcomes in Zambia and elsewhere in the region. He is no doubt a powerful example of the impact Australia Awards alumni are having in African development.