This week the saga of Makerere University’s graduation gowns (or rather their absence) continued to appear in the media to the amusement of some of us.
It emerged that the university for some reason, possibly in an attempt to exploit economies of scale, “compelled” this year’s graduating students to pay for their gowns along with graduation fees so that Makerere would order and distribute them to the graduands.
The person contracted by university apparently ordered for the gowns from China. So much for the much heralded Buy Uganda Build Uganda (BUBU) mantra. I know for a fact that we have excellent tailors and seamstresses in downtown Kampala, in Kiyembe Lane.
I also know of a tailor and his colleagues in Makindye who produce excellent ceremonial and other uniforms for UPDF officers. Also very smart corporate uniforms are regularly designed, produced and supplied by Ugandan designers, tailors and entrepreneurs, among them graduates of Makerere University. So why would the very same Makerere University that claims to “Build for the Future” go to China to procure gowns which require little imagination to design?
And at another level, must Ugandans continue to ape our former colonial masters in each and everything? Sixty years after independence, do we need our graduands (and other people I will not name) to present themselves in clumsy, outlandish garbs as if it was some edict from God himself?
Yes, I was myself twice required to and did adorn those ridiculous gowns to graduate, but I can assure you they add nothing to a university product. What matters is what is in their heads: what they were taught; what they understood and carried away with them. Is a graduation not a graduation without gowns, capes and caps?
And now to the contrast. While news reports were narrating Makerere’s gowns order from China, our new graduands might have missed another of New Vision’s headlines: “Think Big: Let Uganda design e-planes now”. Some of our new graduands could do well to read the story.
Because in a country whose public institutions choose to import low-technology items like graduation gowns, smart graduates should look seriously at becoming entrepreneurs that apply higher technologies and focus on global markets instead of our backward looking Ugandan institutional buyers.