On October 3, Uganda lost a renowned scholar, educationist, nationalist and patriot in the person of Prof Asavia Wandira. Born in 1933 in Bunyantole village in present day Bugweri District, Prof Wandira was a man of humble origins, but his admission to Mpita and Iganga Boys’ primary schools, Busoga College Mwiri, Makerere University and London University College transformed him into a reputable scholar of global standing.
He attached a lot of importance to education. He believed in its ability to transform societies. Perhaps driven by his own experiences, he believed that without education, children of peasant origin would never be able to rise beyond peasantry or operate beyond their home villages. That belief led him into making extensive research which translated into wide publication on the subject of education.
The president of a local NGO, Busoga Yaiffe (BY), Dr Charles Mbalyohere, described him as “arguably the most accomplished academic, researcher, educator and public servant that Busoga has produced,”.
Writing in a recent post on Facebook, Dr Mbalyohere, revealed how he at a recent pan-Commonwealth conference on learning hosted in Edinburg, had the honour of encountering a Lord in the United Kingdom’s Parliament, who recounted to him (Dr Mbalyohere) his experiences with Prof Wandira, who the Lord described as “an incredible educator and leader”. He researched and published widely on the subject of education
By the time of his death, Prof Wandira was deeply concerned about the poor educational performance in Busoga, which he saw as a threat to the region’s survival.
Fortunately, some of his concerns are being addressed thanks to the work of the Busoga Education Initiative (BEI). As an individual, he immensely contributed to education in Uganda and the African continent. He served as minister of Education under President Yusuf Lule and was a long serving vice chancellor of Makerere University.
He educated his family and taught and mentored many young people who later became student and political leaders. Notable among those is Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda and myself. His contribution to the development of education and enhancement of manpower supply in Uganda and the world will endure for years to come.
He had lately called for the forging of closer relations between universities, the educated class, entrepreneurs and government to find ways of harnessing our resources in order to reinvigorate the performance of the economy and sustainably address poverty and unemployment, which are negatively impacting on performance in education.
Prof Wandira was closely embedded in his identity as a Mwise Iwemula – a small clan to which he belonged and where he was a pillar, major asset and source of inspiration. He took interest in his kinsmen and guided them on several matters. Although he appeared to be detached, he was very well informed about practically everything and everybody. He would carefully analyse whatever information he received, took decisions, planned ahead and guided others.
In 1980, Prof Wandira attended retreats with professors from several Asian countries. On return, he wrote a paper on the emerging super powers in the world – the case of Indian and China. He argued that governments in the world were not following closely what was happening in these countries and would be surprised when these two countries would emerge as the new super powers of the world. This paper had a profound effect on his thinking and life.
In 1981, amid protests from family members, he decided to send his only son, Dr Anthony Wandira (RIP) to China to study medicine. He was convinced that it would be difficult for Uganda and other countries to meaningfully relate with China unless they took the trouble to understand Chinese culture, language, methods of work, spirit and drive, and strategies behind their resilience and success. Obviously, when you see what is happening in the world today, regarding China, he was thinking well ahead of his time.
He was a firm believer in the concept of “meritocracy” and practiced it. He argued that the success and survival of public and private institutions depended on how those who run them are selected. He always contended that in countries where meritocracy was the guiding principle, the performance, success, survival and growth of the institutions was never in doubt.
It was a principle that guided him in the management of public offices. He will always be remembered as one of the greatest public speakers along with the likes of Ali Mazrui, Yoweri Kyesimira and Apollo Nsibambi, who always livened up Makerere during intellectual discourses. He had rare outstanding powers of oratory and eloquence. Every speech was well researched, had a clear theme, message and desired deliverables.
Pro Wandira was a rare gift to mankind. He had a super brain, highly analytical, organised, incorruptible, impeccable character, humorous and handsome. At 86 years, even in the last hours of his life, his photographic memory, powers of perception, analysis, attention to detail and judgment remained intact.
What has been bothering me ever since I got to learn of his demise was how the world could afford to lose such a valuable personality without considering preservation of his brain and body for the benefit of future generations, as science advances.
That notwithstanding, there is an urgent need to consider how our highly intelligent and gifted individuals can be targeted and their rare qualities optimally tapped for informing critical research, innovation and generation of solutions to propel faster development and transformation of the country.
May his Soul Rest in eternal peace.
Mr Migereko is a former minister and Member of Parliament,