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Mwalimu Nyerere’s former roommate excites Makerere

Discussion in 'Jukwaa la Elimu (Education Forum)' started by ByaseL, Aug 25, 2009.

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    ByaseL JF-Expert Member

    Aug 25, 2009
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    Letter from Gulu, Uganda

    MZEE Ananiya Kerwegi Akera of Gulu is about 96 years old. If you saw him walking you would think he is much younger. Standing at over six feet tall, he walks upright with long brisk strides. He can ride a bicycle with ease. He is lean with an athletic frame and can read without spectacles.

    Though his hairline has receded and the lines of age show on his face, he speaks with a strong voice and occasionally lets off a youthful laughter. This is the man in whose company I travelled on Monday, August 10 to Makerere University. During the four-hour journey from Gulu, I learnt more about this old man than I have ever had over many years of short interactions. The purpose of our trip was to participate in the launch of the Makerere Mazruiana Project – an initiative of the Makerere University Private Sector Forum.

    During the launch, one of Makerere’s most distinguished alumni, Professor Ali A. Mazrui would be honoured by having an academic chair (really a professorial position) and a Centre for Global Studies named after him. As an honoured guest for the function, Mzee Akera was booked at the University Guest House. When I introduced him at the reception as a former roommate of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere at Makerere in the early 1940s, I could see the sense of awe among those within earshot.

    The next morning, I went to the guest house to walk with him to visit his old hall of residence at the Centre for Continuing Education (CCE) Complex. Accompanied by two media people from the Makerere University Public Relations Office, we walked towards the newer of the CCE Complex.

    At the entrance we paused to converse about the many changes that the university, once hailed as the Harvard of Africa, has undergone. The unkempt and decaying state of the buildings and environs struck the old man. “This place is in a very sorry state. Why don’t the old students do something?” he lamented. He told us that his old residence was further down. We walked towards what was previously known as the Old Mitchell Complex – two old structures with corrugated iron roofs.

    The old man identified his former home and led us towards the entrance. We found that the building was no longer a students’ residence but instead had been converted into an office for Distance Learning Programmes. “Who is here? Remove your taka taka,” he teased the people at the reception. The old man remembered his old room immediately.

    “This building used to be called Nsubuga Hall. Our room was the first one on the left,” he said excitedly. He led us to the room he shared with Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. Though it is now an office he was able to show us where his bed was and where Nyerere’s was. He paused in the corridor and looked into space. I believe his mind was recalling memories of the time he shared with Mwalimu at Makerere. When he spoke again it was as if he was speaking to himself. His voice broke with nostalgia.

    He spoke of their decision with Mwalimu to become teachers and their desire to use the teaching profession for nurturing self-reliant citizens. I believe that most of what they discussed in their little cubbyhole is what formed the reflections of Mwalimu Nyerere entitled “Education for Self- Reliance”.

    The core of Nyerere’s teaching is that education must raise a critical mass of mentally liberated citizens capable of serving their country with dedication rather than a privileged class sitting at the high table waiting to be served. He saw the need to use education as a tool to decolonise the minds of the people rather than as a shackle on mental freedom.

    Mzee Akera told us that he left Nyerere in Makerere after completing his diploma in Education. From Makerere he went to teach ending up in Gulu High School where he taught several prominent people, including Archbishop Janani Luwuum, Wilson Lutara and former President Milton Obote, all deceased now.

    When he was asked what he remembers about Obote, he paused a moment then said: “He always liked to sit in the front row of the class.”

    Perhaps that was an indicator of his trait as one who was not afraid to step forward. After the tour of his former residence, we went to the Main Hall for the main function honouring Prof. Mazrui.

    When he was introduced to address the gathering as one of the oldest living alumni of Makerere University, everybody stood up to applaud him.

    In his short address, which was punctuated with numerous bouts of applause, he recounted the main milestones of his life. He thanked Makerere for giving him the education, which made him into what he became in life – a dedicated teacher and a successful farmer. The speech was modest.

    What many did not know was that the man addressing them left the teaching profession and became one of the most successful mixed farmers in Uganda. He was a large-scale tobacco farmer and ranked shoulder-to-shoulder with top tobacco farmers in Zimbabwe!

    At one time he was awarded a trophy for being one of the top farmers in the Commonwealth. His modern farm had several machinery and infrastructure. He had hundreds of heifers. At the height of his farming career, he employed 700 people!

    Mzee Akera told me that one time the colonial District Commissioner (DC) was concerned by his bank balance, which was in hundreds of Pounds and was second only to that of the Catholic Church!

    He had to explain his income and showed the stunned DC his financial documents. Many a time I hear President Museveni saying people in northern Uganda have no past achievements that have been ruined by his wasteful war-mongering. “Where are the ruins?” he asks in jest.

    How I wish President Museveni would visit the ruins of Mzee Akera’s farm and similar ruins. Only then would he know that the biggest losers of the two-decade war were not necessarily the politicians he ousted but rather hardworking citizens dedicated to the creation of wealth and opportunity for their fellow men.

    I hope Makerere can help Mzee Akera document his long and interesting life.