19 November 2012

Zambia: Clive Chirwa Carries High Burden of Expectation

PROFESSOR Clive Chirwa, a highly decorated aeronautical engineer working in Britain, has been appointed to head Zambia Railways Limited (ZRL) as chief executive officer.

Prof Chirwa replaces Knox Karima, who has been retired in the national interest.

The professor, who has been living in the diaspora, has since given himself three years to rebuild ZRL.

His love for Zambia and patriotism has compelled him to come home and help rebuild the fallen railway transport system in the country.

President Michael Sata appointed Prof Chirwa as CEO of ZRL with immediate effect. Mr Sata, in his letter of appointment, said he had deemed it appropriate and opportune to appoint Prof Chirwa as the head of ZRL.

Prof Chirwa thanked the President for bringing him back home to contribute to the development of the country.

He says the move gives him an opportunity to offer services to the country in a tangible manner.

Prof Chirwa says he will sacrifice a lot in terms of revenue to come to Zambia but his vision is to help reconstruct the run-down railway company whose entire infrastructure is dilapidated.

In the first three months, Prof Chirwa says he will start the recruitment and rebuilding of the railway infrastructure.

But who is Clive Chirwa?

Prof Chirwa was born in Mufulira on January 5, 1954. His father is Eford Noah Chirwa, a Chewa and comes from Mugubudu Village in Chief Chanje's region in Eastern Province and his mother, Toddy also comes from Eastern Province.

He comes from a family of eight children; three are deceased.

His brothers Davies and James are running their own businesses in Lusaka while his sister Priscilla is married to a bishop, also a Zambian, but he was made Bishop of Gaborone, Botswana. Esnart works for a non-governmental organisation, so everybody is in Lusaka.

Prof Chirwa is married to a Russian lady called Elena with whom he has two children. His wife is a metallurgist.

Their first-born son, Denis is 29 while Daniel is 24 years old.

Prof Chirwa went to Central Primary School first and later to Mufulira Secondary School. Thereafter, he went to Volgograd University in Russia in 1975.

"From there, I went to Cranfield University in the UK in 1981," he said.

In Russia he studied Automobile and Tractor Engineering and later obtained a Masters Degree in Automotive Engineering.

He returned to Zambia in 1980 and joined Mechanical Services Department (MSD). A year later he joined University of Zambia as a lecturer.

From there, he relocated to the United Kingdom (UK) under the Commonwealth Scholarship. After completion of his Doctor of Philosophy studies in 1986, he returned to UNZA as a lecturer and resigned after a few years of teaching.

He was given a senior research fellow position at the University of Liverpool.

In the UK he went on to do his Master's degree in Automotive Product Engineering and PhD in Aerospace Engineering.

Aerospace Engineering is a subject about aircraft and spacecraft, and it is about finding new ideas on air transport systems and how one could improve future aircraft in design sense.

His work was mostly about research and design of air vehicles' structural dynamics which involves finding new advanced materials with better mechanical properties and use them in the design of an aircraft fuselage.

Fuselage is the main aircraft body. It is the tube in which people sit. Most of the work he did in the UK involved the wing.

He says the British were good at designing wings as has been seen from the Airbus series of aircraft.

On one of his major projects, Prof Chirwa said since he started doing research in aircraft engineering, he had carried out more than 300 research projects and all those are pioneering projects, which had never been done before in the world.

The companies he worked for mainly are British Aerospace, Airbus, Boeing, NASA and many small aircraft manufacturers.

Prof Chirwa developed interest in technology from his primary school days.

"When I was at Central School in Mufulira, there was an annual inter-school quiz for under-11 years in mathematics and reasoning.

"The first time I participated in the quiz of about 10 mine schools, I came out second and the second time I participated I won the competition, this was among the good schools on the Copperbelt," recalls Prof Chirwa.

When he went to secondary school he had a tour of Mufulira Mine and this was when his engineering career interest started developing.

In form two, he joined the Junior Engineers Technicians Scientists (JETS). From there until form five, he won the Copperbelt and the national top prizes in the category of physics and biology.

His comment on the perception by some people that engineering is difficult, the professor said most of the things in engineering were those which every single person on earth does on a daily basis without realising that they are solving extremely complex problems.

Prof Chirwa says he had worked tremendously hard to reach this particular position.

"To complicate the issues I am African and a foreigner. I am a pioneer in my engineering field of crashworthiness, indeed I am number one in the world and people come to me for advice on technology.

"Therefore, presidents, prime ministers, ministers, senators, EU commissioners, company directors, technical staff, academics and my colleagues who are totally Caucasians have come to accept me because of my input to modern science, technology and engineering as a whole," Prof Chirwa says.

He says the whole world knows him in this particular area of engineering.

When dealing with low velocity impact, he helps the car, train and aircraft manufacturers while when dealing with high velocity impact, he helps spacecraft and military institutions.

The work he has done for them that had to put cars on streets, trains on rails, aircraft in the air, rockets in space and combat machines in theatres had gained him this respect.

Indeed, that is why he has been awarded numerous prizes for contributing to science and engineering.

Eight years ago, the joint American National Academy of Sciences and the British Royal Society gave him the title of Distinguished Professor of Crashworthiness.

He explained that crashworthiness is a very complex stream of science which looks at how a body which is moving can absorb kinetic energy when an instantaneous stop or crash happens to that particular body.

This can be a car, aircraft or even a bicycle.

Since these machines are driven by human beings, he had to ensure that people survive the impact loads when a crash happens.

Therefore in every car, aircraft and train design, he ensures that the vehicles are given survival spaces to reduce accelerations on the body of the occupants.

"Therefore, my work involves both structural mechanics and bio-mechanics," he says.

Prof Chirwa is founder and editor-in-chief of The International Journal on Crashworthiness.

It is the only journal in the world that publishes the research outputs from all over the world in the engineering branch of crashworthiness. This is a highly respected journal and was founded in 1996.

The publication initially started with four issues per year but had increased to six issues per year.

He says his experience has been fritful because most of the vehicles he participated in designing - Mercedes Benz, BMW, Aston Martin, Ford, Toyota, General Motors, Land Rover, The Jordan and McLaren Grand Prix, sold well and better protect occupants in crashes.

"My contributions to them have been mainly in the structure of the vehicle itself," Prof Chirwa said.

He says he has made huge contributions to all the projects and is satisfied that in the more than 300 projects he has carried out over the years, there is a tangible outcome - a working machine.

Therefore, he could not point at any particular project and say that it was the most distinguished of them all. This is what earned him the nickname "The perfectionist".

This is because he does not tolerate half-baked or thoughtless solutions that may bring problems in the future.

However, only one project has produced two international awards for him namely, the Holman Brothers Safety Award in mechanical engineering for best research work on aspects of eliminating dangers to health and T A Stewart-Dyer/Frederick Harvey Trevithick Prize in mechanical engineering. The others are company ones such the Ford and British Railway Awards.

Prof Chirwa helped the American National Highway Administration in drawing policies that are forwarded to the senate for debate and subsequent implementation into the American transport policies.

"Why they call me is because I am the elected president of the European Union of Transport and Safety Network. My advice does not only end at EU and USA, I also all the time advise the British government and I have offered advice to the governments of Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Canada. Yes, I have made my contribution to these governments," Prof Chirwa said.

He says he initiated everything he had produced for all these countries.

"I have delivered very complex outputs that require profound thinking," he says.

He is a professor at the University of Bolton and holds a chair, which is called the chair of automotive and aerospace structures.

It is a top chair at the university as it combines two chairs namely, automotive and the other aerospace.

He sponsors and supports a school in Lusaka called Cardington School. He has tied this school to one in Bolton in the UK.

"My support is in generating funding for the school. Jumble sales, raise money are held to raise money to buy books and equipment for the Cardington School," he says.

Such is the man who has been entrusted with the responsibility of transforming the dilapidated railway system amid high hopes from the public and all those concerned.

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