I rolled with laughter when I read a report in the Daily Monitor last week in which a ruling party politician was quoted as having declared: “Someone with a diploma in Music Dance and Drama wants to lead this country called Uganda. This is not a theatre.”
I immediately thought of my late paternal uncle who was called Kwat’akanwa Eseiso Egambe. This Kikiga name instructed those with ears to “zip the mouth and let the millet grinding stone do the talking.”
There are many times when silence is the best communication. The treacherous mouth frequently betrays us, exposing our own education-deficits even as we try to put others down.
Now, I think I understand this politician’s dilemma. Like many whose survival is pegged to the ruler’s fortunes, he is like Chinua Achebe’s Enoch, the son of the snake-priest in Things Fall Apart, “whose devotion to the new faith had seemed so much greater than Mr Brown’s that the villagers called him the outsider who wept louder than the bereaved.”
Clearly, this politician’s enthusiasm to impress the boss propelled him into a politically suicidal mode. When you despise the academic achievements of an opponent, what are the gathered partisans, thousands of whom have had shortened academic journeys, expected to make of your inexcusable arrogance?
I realise that ignorance and insecurity can get the better of us, especially when we sense a threat to our assumed positions of comfort.
However, taking 10 deep breaths before launching into an embarrassing tirade is a wise habit to adopt.
It is interesting to note that the two most educated presidents of Uganda had the least successful tenures. Yusufu Kironde Lule, the man who led Uganda immediately after the overthrow of Field Marshall Idi Amin, was a graduate of King’s College, Budo, Makerere College, the University of Fort Hare, South Africa and the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.
Lule’s impressive curriculum vitae included teaching at Budo, a minister in the colonial government, principal of Makerere University College, a stint as head of the Commonwealth Education, Youth and Legal Division and secretary general of the Association of African Universities.
However, when he assumed the presidency, Lule’s academic and work history were not helpful in steering the Ugandan ship through the extremely treacherous waters atop an active volcano. He lasted 68 days.
Lule’s successor was Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa, QC, another Budonian who, after a brief effort at Makerere Medical School, had switched careers to work as a mineral prospector in western Uganda, then had entered King’s College, London where he read law. He was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn before returning to Uganda to practice law.
Binaisa was Attorney General of Independent Uganda for five years before resigning in protest during the drafting of the 1967 Constitution.
He resumed his law practice, then went into exile after the military coup of 1971. He practiced Law in London followed by paralegal work in the United States. This bright and highly educated man did little better than Lule, lasting only 10 months as president before he was overthrown and placed under house arrest.
This disparity between academic honours and effective leadership is found all over the world.
For example, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, owner of five primary degrees, two masters’ degrees and 11 honorary doctorates, a former teacher, revolutionary leader and political prisoner, was among the most well prepared for the great task of leading his complex country.
His overthrow from power in 2017 ended a 37-year-career that historians will probably judge very unkindly. Zimbabwe nearly fell off the cliff under Dr Mugabe.
On the other hand, a quick scan through the recent history of Uganda and other lands reveals great leaders who never stepped in a university or similar centre of higher learning. Space does not allow us to be exhaustive, so a few examples will suffice.
Has Teso produced a better leader than Cuthbert Joseph Obwangor? After high school, he spent a few years at the Railway Traffic School, then entered business, including as a restaurateur in Teso, before being elevated to the Legislative Council of the Uganda Protectorate.
Obwangor was one of the most dignified members of the Milton Obote 1 Cabinet in which he served with great integrity, humility and fidelity to principles. He was no less qualified to lead Uganda than the other men who did the job between 1962 and 2020.
Uganda has had excellent leaders who hardly stepped in formal school before embarking on brilliant careers in effective leadership whose positive impact continues decades after their deaths. A survey of the colonial chiefs in every part of the country reveals remarkably skilled leaders who were functionally illiterate.
On the international scene, we find many examples of great leaders with limited schooling.
The consensus among American presidential historians and political scientists is that Abraham Lincoln was the best president of the USA, with George Washington a close second.
Neither man had any formal education of note. Their fascinating stories deserve close study by those who put too much currency on robotic classroom education.
Entertainers are already represented in the club of world presidents and prime ministers. Examples: America’s Ronald Reagan (actor); Philippines’ Joseph Estrada (actor); Guatemala’s Jimmy Morales (comedian); and now, Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky (comedian and actor).
Whereas I encourage formal education and pursuit of higher degrees and diplomas, the obsession with academic qualifications as a measure of leadership ability is pure fantasy.
Likewise, a dismissive attitude towards scholarship in music, dance and drama betrays an education deficit in the prejudiced in individual.
It suggests a disconnect from the extraordinary genius that has enabled great minds to bequeath to us great works of music, literature and drama.
Names like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Ousmane Sembene, Chinua Achebe, George Kakoma, Kofi Anan Mensah, Luambo Luanzo Makiadi, Abdullah Ibrahim, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms come to mind.
The content and complexity of university level education in music, dance and drama (MDD) is no less challenging than that in most disciplines. The creativity and impact of graduates in MDD often far exceeds that of people with fancier titles.
The creative achievements of musicians like Robert “Bobi Wine” Kyagulanyi and dramatists like Stephen Rwangyezi, founder of the Ndere Troupe, will outlast the forgettable efforts and identities of most men and women with fancy degrees and titles. We should honour and celebrate them.