“Our promise is that we are set for the next century of service to humanity,” said Makerere University Vice Chancellor, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe as the institution on Thursday 25th November 2021 kicked off a series of events to mark its centennial anniversary in October next year.
It’s a promise that Prof Nawangwe made to more than 100 stakeholders gathered in Freedom Square, Makerere. About other 150 stakeholders and alumni joined the event online through Zoom and YouTube live streaming. Hon. Dan Kidega, the chairperson [email protected] Organizing Committee and deputy Makerere University Council Chairperson thanked stakeholders for responding positively to the university invitation and urged them to keep up the spirit in the next series of activities.
But before making the promise, Prof Nawangwe recounted the university’s centennial journey. Makerere started in 1922 as a technical school teaching carpentry and masonry, he said. Then, it became a college. In 1924, medicine, agriculture and teacher training courses were introduced. At the time, students were learning from grass thatched classrooms.
Within a decade, as the colonial government became cognisant of the impact the college was having, they agreed that more investment was needed. Thus, the 1930s and 1940s were decades of massive expansion. The colonial government turned to Buganda Kingdom requesting for land to expand the university but all kingdom officials were hesitant to give out land, except then Katikiro Martin Lurther Nsibirwa. And his decision to grant Makerere land led to his assassination in 1945. “Nsibirwa signed a document which allowed colonial government to annex land in public interest” Prof. Nawangwe said. “Katikiro was eventually assassinated for that decision on the steps of Namirembe Cathedral where he had gone to pray.”
In a period of rapid expansion that followed, Prof. Nawangwe noted that the colonial government solicited money from the 18 districts that made up Uganda at the time, each contributing a minimum 0f 2,500 pounds for infrastructure development of Makerere. After this expansion and its affiliation to the University of London, Makerere attracted more students from across the continent. These became catalysts of change and played a crucial role in shaping their home countries after independence in the 1950s and 1960s.
Shaping African Leaders
To illustrate Makerere’s influence across the continent, Makerere University Council Chairperson Lorna Magara, quoted Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o– a prominent university alumnus– review of Carol Sicherman’s book; Becoming an African University: Makerere 1922-2000.
“In its various manifestations in time Makerere University is inseparable from a certain sense of applied Pan-Africanism,” Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o noted in the review as quoted by Lorna Magara. “In its heyday, it brought together students from East and Central Africa and Nigeria. But the story of Makerere in terms of the glorious and the gory, hope and despair and hope again, is really the story of Africa.”
Government Chief Whip Hon. Thomas Tayebwa also highlighted Makerere’s role in training post-independence Africa leaders. “If you go to Ghana, Tanzania, Zambia, among other countries, you will find that people who were running governments after independence were Makerere alumni,” he said. Through literature, Makerere alumni such as Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Tayebwa said shaped the minds of Africans not only to fight for independence but also prepared them for post independence leadership.
Lorna Magara said [email protected] organising committee through its history, culture and future documentation sub-committee has embarked on a book project to document the university’s history. The book will have themes on how Makerere has provided skilled human resources for East African society, has contributed knowledge through research and innovation, contributed to democratic governance and the building of social institutions in East Africa, contributed to the economic development of East Africa, contributed to curriculum development in East Africa and the challenges it has faced and continues to face.
Research and innovation
Prof. Nawangwe said the university has produced cutting edge research and technology such as the electric car—the first on the continent, tuberculosis rapid testing kit which is used globally, the anti-tick vaccines which is undergoing mass production among others. He said the university has produced more than 200 innovations during the pandemic.
Hon. Thomas Tayebwa challenged the university to do more research that can help the government to transform Uganda by bringing more people in the money economy. He pledged more research and innovation funding from the government.
Makerere, Prof Nawangwe said, is ready for the challenge. “We will leverage our successes of the past to solve new societal problems,” he said.