Prof Christine Dranzoa: A colossus of education

Muni University Vice Chancellor, Prof Christine Dranzoa speaking to the media on August 25, 2021.  PHOTO | FELIX WAROM OKELLO

What you need to know:

  • Her enormous work in establishing and ensuring Muni University stood to be counted among the public universities in Uganda cannot be erased by the cruel hand of death and neither can it be obliterated by the works of man.
  • She believed in the education of all and set a shinning example for the West Nile girl child, writes Asega Aliga.

I received what I will possibly regard the saddest news of the past two decades in the early hours of the morning of Tuesday, June 28 in a message from Mr Caleb Alaka. I was utterly shocked. 

For one whose life has been dogged by obstacles, calamity and loss of family and dear friends over the years, I ought to have developed considerable fortitude, and resilience, to withstand the consternation that comes with any bad news. 

Not so with the loss of this giant of our time, Prof Christine Dranzoa, who died aged 55. At the time of her demise last week, she was the founding Vice Chancellor of Muni University, and chairperson of the Inter-University Council of East Africa. 

Perhaps my greater blow was because owing to my not being in Uganda at the time, I was not aware of her condition and hospitalisation in Mulago National Referral Hospital and, therefore, I wasn’t a more prepared recipient of news of her demise. 

In a subsequent phone call, Mr Alaka offered a more detailed account and the genesis of her ailment and hospitalisation, which somewhat drove the reality home.   As the hours slowly and painfully turned into a day and another day came and passed, the reality dawned on me that indeed Prof Dranzoa is no more. 

I first met Prof Dranzoa in 2011 in Kampala following introduction by Hon James Baba when the two were working to achieve financial close on a $30 million concessionary government-to-government soft loan from South Korea to finance infrastructure development in the then bidding Muni University. 

Prof Dranzoa had just returned from Arua following a visit to the university site by a Korean technical support team led by my good friend and international development consultant, Prof Hung Kung Park. 

As our conversation on West Nile education and regional development continued, I was immensely impressed by Prof Dranzoa’s passion and insight into all matters regarding West Nile and education. 

We immediately found common ground in our desire to promote education in the sub-region and to see Muni University take off and succeed. 

In our subsequent meetings, which then involved the financial expert, Mr Tom Ambayo, the dominant theme of our deliberations hinged on trying to find ways to establish a model that would distinguish Muni from other universities in East Africa in its quest to address our unique challenges and to leverage our unique opportunities as West Nile. 

A blend of research-based academic programmes, innovation, entrepreneurship and emphasis on practical training was what seemed to provide the answer. In all these discussions, the glow on Prof Dranzoa’s face and the power of her gestures as she explained her points  left me in no doubt that she was a woman on a mission, and there was no challenge she would not subjugate in her quest.  

As an investment professional and global strategist, I was keen to discuss with Prof Dranzoa the establishment of a university endowment programme for Muni University. 

To my delight, Prof Dranzoa had already worked with the local government authorities, civic leaders and local communities to devise a model that would ensure the university was endowed with vast amounts of land in at least five districts in West Nile: Pakwach, Zombo, Aringa, Koboko, and Moyo. 

The swathes of land would enable establishment of the different schools of commerce, agriculture, engineering, law, etc across West Nile in addition to the main campus at Muni in Arua. 

The land would also offer opportunities for future expansion and potential partnerships for income generating  commercial ventures for the benefit of the university.  With each school campus development would accrue the benefits of a university community, including improving the economic livelihoods of the local population. 

Simply brilliant. Prof Dranzoa was speaking my language like a connoisseur and my admiration for her was absolute.  When duty called and I had to return to Nigeria, my heart and well-wishes remained with Prof Dranzoa and I followed with perspicacity all the positive strides Muni University was taking under her stewardship. 

Yes, later when discussing strategic plans of how West Nile Web could project our region to the world, I made it a point for the team to profile Prof Dranzoa for the brilliant job this unsung daughter of West Nile was doing in our community for the region and for Uganda. 

Prof Dranzoa was one of only a handful who recognised the potency of the social enterprise that West Nile Web is, and she encouraged and supported the then team on the ground.

When the time comes for us to depart this world; and we shall all surely go down this path, the living will talk about our life. 

Today I say with boldness, clarity of mind and total belief and conviction that Prof Dranzoa is arguably the most outstanding West Niler of our generation. 

She perhaps knew early on that we are a marginalised region dating to 1860s: as an arid undefined hinterland African region West of River Nile populated by sparsely settled clan-based communities plagued by Turkish and Egyptian slave traders.

We were later placed under the Anglo Egyptian Condominium; then as part of Southern Equatoria of The Sudan; under Belgian Congo; as subjects of King Leopoldo’s Congo Free State until 1909; as the autonomous Lado Enclave and hunting ground for the likes of President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill; then again under colonial rule as British Protectorate from 2014 till 1962.

And to date under independent Republic of Uganda, we have remained one of the least developed in the country.  She knew of only one sure way of escaping from the yoke of backwardness and devoted her life to it and walked that single path to the hilt until she breathed her last: Education. 

This is the only way she knew we could reverse the trend of being condemned to being house maids and security guards in Kampala; the bitter history of sending our able-bodied young men in their prime to eke a living as sugar plantation workers in Lugazi and Kinyala; and before that as a colonial labour reserve and recruitment ground for service men to the colonial administration. 

Professor Dranzoa dedicated her life first to pursuit of her own education and then from that fountain of knowledge, she selflessly opened the tap for as many as possible in West Nile to drink from. 

Her personal accomplishments can only be better appreciated when seen from the fact that she rose from Adoa Village in Moyo, a peripheral part of a small land-locked African country away from the capital city with little chance of decent education, let alone becoming a professor of Zoology. 

However, with this background that gave birth to a Pan-African educationist, many of us see ourselves in Prof Dranzoa and our tears today are understandable. Like her, we did not come from wealthy families. 

We spent part of our lives in exile. Like her, it is sheer grit and struggle that made us get something out of this life that conspired to diminish, undermine and ignore us. 
She, however, distinguished herself by dedicating her life entirely to the cause of education of our people and her life and legacy will live on because she planted a seed in all the students whose education she affected in one way or another. What a beautiful soul! 

Her enormous work in establishing and ensuring Muni University stood to be counted among the public universities in Uganda cannot be erased by the cruel hand of death and neither can it be obliterated by the works of man. 

She believed in the education of all and set a shinning example for the West Nile girl child and many will carry that torch. It is the least we can do in carrying her memory and paying a befitting tribute to her. 

Future Prof Dranzoa’s are in various primary and secondary schools across West Nile and Uganda. In whatever small way, we shall hand-hold and encourage in her honour.

My memory goes back to September 1997 when as a young man on a flight back to London from Entebbe after attending the funeral of my late brother Kennedy Aliga (untimely perished on Lake Albert) and utterly devastated; the then Bishop Henry Luke Orombi (now Archbishop Emeritus of the Church of Uganda) on the same flight to attend the Lambeth conference consoled me with enduring words that sound ever so fresh with each bitter loss I experienced.

Comfort in death

Death is a painful process to the departed and bitter to the living because we are struggling to hold on to each other, and death does not break the chain of life for there is life after death. 

And indeed as we mourn this bitter loss of our own in Prof Dranzoa, we should also be reminded now that there is life after death and this chain is not broken.  I would like to conclude with the words used by the Nigerian legal luminary Chief Mike Ozekhome in paying tribute to another fallen legal luminary of blessed memory Chief Rotimi Williams.

Death is inevitable; but the sting is always very weakened and rendered useless by the simple fact that when we die, we shed our corporal body for the spiritual body. At that stage, we become indestructible. 

We transmit from life of mortality to life of immortality. In that transition process, death itself is vanquished. So, Prof Christine Dranzoa has defeated death, because death is ephemeral. 
She has shamed death by leaving death behind with its ugly visage and transmuting to eternity. So, death, where is thy avowed sting?

Fare-thee-well Christine. Sons and daughters of West Nile shall rise to your clarion call to embrace education as a tool to transform the region. Your time came after running a good race against all odds and you march on to eternal glory to take a place of pride. 

God, we bear witness that our dear sister Prof Christine Dranzoa was a good woman who lived for a cause far beyond her personal aggrandisement and used her gift of life to advance humanity, so we leave her in your care, please rest her precious soul in eternal glory.  Amen! 

Asega Aliga is an investment banker and global strategist with focus on Pan-African business development and public policy influence.

*Written by Asega Aliga, an investment banker and global strategist with focus on Pan-African business development and public policy influence.
 

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