On January 23, I travelled to Karamoja to study the area and I assessed how this part of Uganda could also benefit from prospects of quality higher education. Karamoja is well endowed; full of raw materials like cement, marble, gold, name it and of course, the vast (flat) plain land that can be used for modern agriculture.
Why then is it that this wonderful place has high poverty rates, high illiteracy rates, inadequate healthcare and generally low quality of life compared to other regions in Uganda?
As I moved around, I couldn’t help observing the government’s initiatives to address the challenges in the area. The government has built valley dams and water is no longer a problem in Karamoja region. Electricity too has been extended to Moroto District. The road network is great and efforts are underway to link it with neighbouring countries. The Karamoja cluster stretches to South Sudan, southern Ethiopia and western Kenya.
Together with my colleagues, we had the privilege of interacting with the (local) leaders and the business community in the region. From these interactions, one thing was clear: one of the key interventions that could transform the area is establishment of a university. Areas like Mukono, Kansanga, Mbarara and Gulu have been transformed by universities.
Why not Karamoja? I am convinced that a quality university would go a long way in improving Karamoja region by attracting the world to it and growing its capacity in all aspects.
It was then that we all agreed that we move towards the establishment of ‘Karamoja University of Technology and Management (Kutam). Kutam is not some dream that will take ages to be achieved; come 2016, the very first university in Karamoja region will open its doors.
Kutam will initially start as a campus of Uganda Technology and Management University (Utamu) and its facilities should be in place within the next three months. In the next three years leading to September 2016, state of the art infrastructure and facilities for the following faculties of Kutam should be in place: Faculty of Medicine; Faculty of Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences; Faculty of Science and Engineering and Faculty of Computing and Business.
With this in place, I have no doubt that Kutam will catalyse socio-economic transformation of Karamoja region. And this is how I see it all happening:
The Faculty of Medicine shall have highly qualified medical doctors and nurses resident in the region who shall dedicate part of their time to providing health services within the region, thus turning most of the hospitals and health centres in the region into teaching hospitals / health centres.
The Faculty of Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences shall set up modern demonstration farms in the region but also provide technical support to the farmers to modernise their farms.
The staff and students in the Faculty of Science and Engineering shall provide expertise in the planned industrial sector in the region as regards exploration, mining, manufacturing, and value addition. The students shall also serve as interns in the local industries and institutions.
The Faculty of Computing and Business shall provide training to both students and the Karamoja community in ICT and business skills. This will be in addition to providing training at diploma and degree level in the same disciplines.
Just like Utamu, Kutam will uphold principles of community engagement/field attachment for all its students for four months each year of their course of study.
Students of Kutam will open the region to many prospects and it will slowly turn into a hub of great employment opportunities for Ugandans. Kutam will bring about extraordinary socio-economic benefits in this region.
However, Kutam cannot be all that Karamoja region needs. There is also need to have several institutions in the area of business, technical and vocational studies since not everybody has to go to university.
The country needs many certificate and diploma holders in these areas. The Karamoja region needs continued intervention from government, development partners and the private sector to bring about holistic development of the region.
For example, with the current poverty rates in the region, it will be close to impossible to have many locals affording to pay for their children in university. Scholarships for these ought to be in place!
We started Utamu with a mission of providing global education research and innovation critical to economic and human development. We plan to establish five campuses in less privileged districts in Uganda that shall eventually transform into independent universities as part of our contribution to socio-economic transformation.
As JF Kennedy put it, “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource.’’
All parts of Uganda need access to quality education within their regions if we are to develop equitably as a nation.
Prof Baryamureeba is the Vice Chancellor of Utamu