People & Power

Homage to an intellectual giant and a national hero whose work speaks volumes

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By Harold Acemah

Posted  Sunday, March 9  2014 at  02:00
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In March 1999, I flew from London to Tokyo by British Airways to begin a two-week official visit to Japan. Soon after settling down in my club class seat, I noticed a familiar gentleman who had just walked in. He was the Vice Chancellor of Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST), Professor Fred Kayanja.

I went over to greet him and a few minutes after take-off, requested one of the cabin attendants to arrange for us to sit together for the 12-hour flight to the “land of the rising sun” as our Japanese friends call their beautiful country.

On such long flights, I always carry some work to do on board, magazines and serious books to read, but nothing can beat the privilege of sharing quality conversation and time with a scholar and a patriot.
I had last met Prof Kayanja at the first graduation ceremony of MUST in 1995, a unique and vibrant institution which he built from scratch. We had time to chat about a wide variety of small and serious matters, focusing on the importance and role of higher education in Africa.

My chance encounter with the professor on the road to Tokyo was the beginning of many years of useful collaboration between two like-minded citizens.
During my stay in Japan, I visited many places such as Hiroshima, Kyoto, Yokohama, University of Tokyo where I interfaced with a political science professor of international relations and the Japanese Institute of International Affairs (JIIA) where I held cordial and mutually beneficial talks with the Director of the institute, a senior Japanese ambassador and a leading scholar in African Affairs.

On my return to Kampala, one of the things I did was to follow up a matter we discussed en route to Tokyo and on which we reached consensus, namely the urgent need for our alma mater, Makerere University, to focus its resources and energy on maintaining the high academic standards it was once famous for, despite its dire financial situation. In this regard, I wrote to then Vice Chancellor Prof Sebwufu and appealed to him to resist the temptation to sacrifice quality education for quantity. I appreciate Prof Sebwufu’s response in which he agreed with me, in principle, but admitted that due to lack of adequate funding Makerere was forced to take some drastic measures in order to survive, which measures have effectively commercialised education at Uganda’s premier university. Makerere has regrettably not yet abandoned that false course of action, but is instead planning to double intake during the next academic year!

It was a pleasant surprise for me to learn that Prof Kayanja and I were, in fact, year mates at the then Makerere College of the University of East Africa in 1967. He was at the Medical School while I was at the Faculty of Social Sciences.

Prof Kayanja will retire this year after 25 years of distinguished service as Vice Chancellor of MUST since its inception in October 1989. He is an intellectual par excellence who believes in the intrinsic value of education. The effective leadership he has provided to MUST has laid a solid foundation for that university which does not suffer from the turmoil Makerere, Kyambogo and other Ugandan universities have sadly become notorious for, namely routine strikes by students, lecturers and support staff over all sorts of mundane and trivial stuff.

Prof Kayanja may not have a long list of medals like Africa’s “Big Men” but the outstanding work he has accomplished without fanfare at MUST and his life-long contribution as a professor of medicine speaks volumes; his outstanding achievements at Makerere, MUST and elsewhere will always stand him in good stead. His commitment to high quality education at MUST stands out as a powerful legacy and a shining example which, one hopes, his successors at MUST and other Ugandan university vice chancellors will emulate.

The recognition which EAC presidents gave to MUST last year as a “centre of excellence in science and technology” is a fitting accolade to Prof. Kayanja’s illustrious leadership. The centre has already attracted many scholarships and research grants from, as well as, collaboration with several renowned universities and organizations such as Harvard University, University of California, University of Calgary, CIDA and SIDA.

Against this background, it is an honour and a great pleasure for me to pay a well-deserved homage to a world-class Ugandan scholar who operates quietly, efficiently and effectively. Unlike those who love to blow their trumpet like the biblical Pharisees and plead shamelessly for recognition at every function and event, Prof. Kayanja has done so much for Uganda, Africa and the world without counting the cost and without making outrageous demands for the personal sacrifice he has made to guarantee success at MUST.

How many Ugandans have accomplished as much as Prof Kayanja and remained humble and gentlemanly? I wish there were more Ugandans who serve our country diligently like him without making impossible, unrealistic and endless demands for their alleged sacrifice, time and vision. Prof Kayanja is a national hero and a role model of leadership in Uganda, especially leadership at our universities.

May the LORD bless and abundantly reward Prof Fred Kayanja and his family. You may not hear it often, professor, but millions of Ugandans are proud of you and deeply appreciate what you have done for God and our Country.

Mr Acemah is a political scientist, consultant and a retired career diplomat. hacemah@gmail.com