Internationally acclaimed economist and activist Dr Jomo Kwame Sundaram was humbled by the recognition of an Honorary Degree from Wawasan Open University – his first locally - during its 8th convocation ceremony recently.
In his acceptance speech, Jomo declared, “As a former university teacher who continues to inhabit the world of ideas, this is the first time I have received such recognition in our own country, I am deeply humbled by this honour, and proud to join your community.”
“I view this as an award not only for the quantity of my output, but more importantly, for its quality. Not only because some of it has been novel, by any standards, even if I say so myself. More importantly, it has been part of my search for truth, to speak truth to power, internationally as well as in our beloved homeland.”
He continued, “The ‘masters of the universe’ have recently proclaimed that the Fourth Industrial Revolution, most closely associated with artificial intelligence, is upon us. This reminds us that the world will continue to change rapidly, and soon, some jobs will disappear, even as the world’s population continues to grow, life expectancy continues to rise, and more people face challenges providing for their silver years.”
Jomo added, “In the process, let us hope that we will all avoid the third C, namely the cancer of corruption. In Korea, President Park has been replaced by President Moon after millions marched against her corruption. And we all know about how Amazing Grace Gucci Mugabe brought about the downfall of husband Robert, the once heroic father of Zimbabwe. Let us hope this will send a chill through the hearts, if they have any, of others who share her graceless penchant for expensive handbags and jewellery.”
He advocated embracing education as a lifelong endeavour, involving formal, non-formal and informal education. “The name of this university implies both vision and openness. Half a century ago, one of my teachers, Albert Hirschman suggested that much resentment and conflict in society is due to ‘tunnel vision’, as we are mainly pre-occupied with how much progress those around us in a tunnel are making in relation to us.”
He stressed, “WOU’s commitment to an open vision is therefore crucial for us to rise above the pettiness and rivalries of the moment in order to see the big picture.”
Jomo currently holds the Tun Hussein Onn Chair in International Studies at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies in Kuala Lumpur. He is also a Visiting Senior Fellow at Khazanah Research Institute, Visiting Fellow at the Initiative for Policy Dialogue in Columbia University, and an Adjunct Professor at the International Islamic University in Malaysia.
He served as the Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development in the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs, New York, from 2005 to 2012. He was Assistant Director-General for Economic and Social Development at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome from 2012 to 2015.
Born of mixed Indian-Chinese parentage in Penang, Jomo was named after two African anti-imperialist freedom fighters, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. He studied in Yale and Harvard on full scholarships, getting his PhD at Harvard at age 25.
He has taught at Universiti Sains Malaysia, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and Universiti Malaya in Malaysia, as well as at Harvard, Yale and Cornell universities.