Makerere University Celebrates the Life of Nelson Mandela

The release of Mandela, the end of Apartheid, and his ascendency to the presidency were all significant milestones in South Africa’s fight for freedom. “President Mandela epitomizes freedom dignity, and equality, the three pillars on which the constitution of the Republic of South Africa is predicated,

July 18th, 2022 marked exactly 104 years since the birth of the global icon Nelson Mandela. It was also the date for the Nelson Mandela Public Lecture organized by The Department of Political Science under the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Makerere at 100 secretariat, and the South African High Commission. 

In attendance were the Guest of Honour, Her Excellency Lulama Mary-Theresa Xingwana, the South African High Commissioner, Chairperson of the University Council, Mrs. Lorna Magara, and the Chairperson of the Makerere at 100 Organizing Committee, Hon. Kidega Dan. Held at the Yusuf Lule Central Teaching Facility Auditorium, the event kicked off with opening remarks from Assoc. Prof. Kasaija Apuuli from the Dept. of Political Science and Public Administration.

Speaking at the event, the Vice-Chancellor of Makerere University, Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe highlighted how Makerere played a key role in nurturing freedom fighters and political activists who later went on to liberate their respective countries as the wave of independence swept across the continent in the mid-20th century.

Prof. Nawangwe delivering his opening remarks.

Quoting figures from UNESCO on Sub-Saharan Africa’s Gross Enrollment Ratios in tertiary education that had remained below 10% over the last 20 years, he noted a fundamental challenge in higher education on the continent. “At this point, I pause and ask, is it still surprising that we as a continent continue to lag behind in so many other aspects of development?” he asked. 

Her Excellency Lulama, the chief guest spoke about the pivotal moment in the annals of history that was 1994. The release of Mandela, the end of Apartheid, and his ascendency to the presidency were all significant milestones in South Africa’s fight for freedom. “President Mandela epitomizes freedom dignity, and equality, the three pillars on which the constitution of the Republic of South Africa is predicated,” she said.

Her Excellency Lulama speaking at the event

She commended Uganda for its historically cordial relations with South Africa and also recounted how Uganda was among the first countries visited by Nelson Mandela when he had just been released from prison and when he became the president. She extended her gratitude to Uganda for supporting the ANC combatants during the fight against Apartheid.

Through her address, the audience enjoyed a warm, heartfelt, and passionate panegyric of the person of Madiba, from his kindness to his humour, to his principles. She concluded her remarks with a word of advice to young people to learn from one of Mandela’s renowned phrases; “It always seems impossible until it is done.”

Hon. Dan Kidega recounted his experience visiting Robben Island prison in 2007 as an Oxford student at the African Leadership Institute. On reaching there, a former inmate who had been there at the same time as Mandela narrated how, at the height of international outrage and demands to free political prisoners of the apartheid regime, Mandela had told his fellow prisoners;

 “Don’t think about us, don’t think about me Mandela, think about the offenders and how we shall live with them when we are eventually free.” 

Hon. Kidega, speaking solemnly, prayed that we all may live by the ideals of hope, kindness, and forgiveness as espoused by Mandela. He then went on to invite the keynote speaker.

The keynote speech delivered by Prof. Augustus Nuwagaba, an International Consultant on Economic Transformation, focused on Nelson Mandela’s legacy, the African Union Agenda 2063, and the role of higher education within the context of the AU’s agenda 2063. It also conceptualized and examined how these aspects relate to Africa’s quest for development and transformation, Prof. Nuwagaba’s field of acclaimed expertise.

With an emphasis on the potential transformational capacity of the values espoused by Mandela, such as resilience, reconciliation, and selflessness the paper also highlighted Mandela’s contribution to higher education in Africa. 

Mrs. Lorna Magara giving the closing remarks.

By dismantling the post-apartheid education system and establishing the Mandela Institute for Education and Rural Development in South Africa to help in providing quality education for children in impoverished rural areas, Mandela went beyond merely setting the policy tone on education to actually implementing changes that could change lives. 

Prof. Nuwagaba prescribed a ‘paradigm shift’ in higher education if it was to meet the objectives set out for it in the AU Agenda 2063. He asserted that since higher education is envisaged to be one of the key drivers toward a developed and globally relevant Africa, it has to shift from the traditional cognitive-based system to skilling young people by way of science, technology, and innovation. 

He however noted the emerging contradictions that exist between Agenda 2063 as it is on paper and the actual higher education sector realities in Africa. Starting with the integration versus silo mentality that undermines a united approach to achieving transformation, to a limited political will that denies the AU the backing of a cohesive constituency, and finally to the unending lip service given to industrialization and value addition that is not backed up by policy prescriptions in the individual member states.

Prof. Augustus Nuwagaba delivering the Keynote address

Prof. Nuwagaba concluded by characterizing Mandela’s legacy as ‘a rich reference bank for identifying key messages for contemporary African leaders and the educated elite who are responsible for the successful implementation and actualization of the AU Agenda 2063.” He then made a strong case for the need to always invoke the legacies of transformative leaders and true sons of Africa such as Nelson Mandela when the critical time requires the political and technical elite who dominate policy implementation and service delivery to re-examine and re-dedicate themselves to good governance.

After the keynote address, a panel of acclaimed educators sat to discuss ideas and questions that had arisen from the theme and it was comprised of Prof. Eliabu Lugujjo, the Vice-Chancellor of Ndejje University and former faculty of Makerere, Prof. Muwagga Mugagga Anthony, the Principal of the College of Education and External Studies, Dr. Nansozi K. Muwanga the Executive Director of Julius Nyerere Leadership Center, and Dr. Fred Muhumuza, a development economist and a lecturer at the College of Business and Management Sciences.

The event’s distinguished panelists

This was Makerere’s fifth public lecture in a series of events meant to commemorate its centenary anniversary. The year-long celebrations are running under the theme of “Leveraging 100 years of Excellence in Building a Transformed society”


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