Prof Ocitti’s long walk to education icon

Prof Ocitti attends a traditional marriage ceremony. COURTESY PHOTO.

What you need to know:

Need. Prof Ocitti braved the odds to become one of the most iconic scholars in the country.

Prof J.P. Ocitti, 80, today embarks on the last leg of his safari to Pagak, the home of no return. But Lapwony (teacher) will not depart in vain as his memories are conserved in 11 works in 41 publications in 4 languages and 202 library holdings worldwide.

Such is the measure of a man whose students and peers will today congregate to celebrate at St Francis Chapel, Makerere University. Yet many more will come to bid farewell to a celebrated geographer, novelist, and veteran educationist at Christ the King Church in Gulu tomorrow.

For his versatile brain, Prof Ocitti went by several aliases. One was Lapwony; to mark his unsurpassed dedication to the teaching profession. And his other nom de guerre, Lacan Makwo pe ki nyero, celebrated Ocitti’s flow of creative juices in his memorable classic and never-drop-down novel, Lacan makwo. So popular was his chief character, Lakabakaba, that it became widely adapted to suit similar real-life characters.

This novel, like Okot p’Biteks’s Lak tar (The white teeth), was to leave an inerasable impact as it became one of select Luo texts for schools in entire Acholi sub-region.

Lacan Mako pe ki nyero, published in English as Every dog has his day, had two editions published in 1960 and 1978. Acam too-na, another Luo reader, published in 1970, had three editions.

Amazingly, this was budding Ocitti’s most successful novel, coming off a school writing competition during his days at Sir Samuel Baker School, Pongdwongo. His manuscript, Lacan ma kwo pe ki nyero, topped national submissions and was published by the East African Literature Bureau in 1960, and republished in 1978.

But Prof Ocitti was also a towering geographer and educationist with works gracing several libraries worldwide.

Among them: An Introduction to indigenous education in sub-Saharan Africa: A select annotated bibliography; with 14 editions. Another, African indigenous education, as practiced by the Acholi of Uganda, published in 1973 and 1979 had 14 editions.

But Prof Ocitti’s golden academic path mocks the dreams of rural village schoolchildren, who today barely venture beyond their sub-counties.

Yet, from rural Agoro, at Uganda’s most northerly point in Kitgum (now Lamwo) District, little Ocitti set out on ABCs of education (P1–P4). Soon he moved with his Anglican missionary father to Lira Palwo, still in Kitgum (now Pader) District (P4 – P6).

But unlike today, the old rural settings were never to hold back brainy Ocitti who went on to join premier Gulu High School, and Sir Samuel Baker School, Pongdwongo, before winning scholarships to Kyambogo (1960-1962) and to Oxford University, UK (1962-1963) to be drilled as a teacher and trainer of teachers.

Henceforth, Lady Luck never ceased smiling on brainy child Ocitti. From lecturing at prestigious Canon Lawrence Teachers Training College, Boroboro (1963-1964), Lapwony Ocitti soon won another scholarship to study Bachelor in Geography, History, and Education at the University of East Africa, Makerere. He soon continued with an MA in Geography, completing in 1972.

Life in exile
When exile beckoned, Lapwony Ocitti readily settled in for two years at Nairobi University, Kenya. But he was soon unsettled by reports of violent deaths of his kin at the hands of Idi Amin’s men in Uganda. Frightened for his family, Ociiti moved to Lusaka University, Zambia, spending more 7 years.
Soon Ocitti moved onto to Dar es Salaam University to undertake his PhD in Education and another post-doctoral study at Manchester University, UK.

Return to Makerere
But sweet home bid welcome in 1980 and Dr Ocitti returned to Makerere University to lecture until retirement in 2000. The exile years 1975-1976 were Ocitti’s richest academic output as a writer and editor, surpassed only by volume of works between 1995 and 1996. Luckily, his peak years were realised upon return to Makerere University, his alma mater.

Recalled from retirement
Yet for his wealth of knowledge, he was recalled from retirement and offered an appointment on Contract at the conception of Gulu University. He put in two more years, becoming lecturer, Head of Dept. and pioneer Dean, Faculty of Science Education and Humanity.

Such is an illustrious journey of a rural brainbox, many will bid final farewell to when he will be laid to rest at his ancestral home is Pajule Lacani, Palwo-kal in Pader District.
Fare-thee-well Lapwony, Lacan makwo Prof J.P. Ocitti.

Books published

lAfrican indigenous education, as practiced by the Acholi of Uganda, 1973, 1979
lThe urban geography of Gulu, 1973
lAn introduction to indigenous education in East Africa, 1994
lAn introduction to indigenous education in sub-Saharan Africa: A select annotated bibliography, 1992
lAcam too-na, 1970
lLacan makwo pe ki nyero, 1960, 1978
lSchool atlas for Uganda, 1984
lFieldwork in urban areas, 1966
lKitgum: An urban study, 1966
lAdult education and development. Supplement to No. 42, 1994.

Bio data
•September 15, 1936, to Peter Oyaro Erina Akullu Erina of Palwo Kal, Pajule, Pader District
•P1 – P3, Agoro Primary School
•P4-P6, Lira Palwo Primary School
•1949-1953, Gulu High School for Junior Level
•1954 – 1956, Sir Samuel Baker School, Pongodwongo for Secondary School
•1958 – 1959, won Scholarship to Kyambogo Teachers College
•1960 – 1962, Taught at Lira Palwo, Immediately after completing secondary school education
•1962 – 1963, won Scholarship to Oxford University, UK, to train as a Teacher of Teachers
•1963 – 1964, posted to teach at Canon Lawrence Teachers College, Boroboro.
•Won another Scholarship to to study Bachelor of Geography, History and Education, University of East Africa, Makerere
•1972, completed MA in Geography (Urban Geography), case study of Gulu Town
•Went into exile Kenya, taught at Nairobi University for 2 years
•Went into exile Zambia, taught at University of Lusaka for 7 years.
•Joined Dar-salaam University for PhD, Theses on: African Traditional Education as practiced by the Acholi of Uganda.
•Undertook Post-doctoral Studies at University of Manchester, UK, studied Higher Education Systems of America, Cuba, California, China and Australia
•1980, went back to Makerere University as Lecturer
•2000, retired
•1988-1989, Member, Kajjubi Commission, reviewed Teacher’s Education, Secondary Education as well as Primary Education systems
•2001, offered an appointment on Contract at the conception of Gulu University, became head of Dept., lecturer, and became first Dean in the Faculty of Science Education and Humanity for 2 years.