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Makerere University Honors Kalimuzo 50 Years After His Death

Easter Kalimuzo signing on an art piece painted in memory of the Makerere University’s first Vice Chancellor.

Makerere University has finally recognized and honoured the contributions of Frank Karemeera Kalimuzo, the institution’s first Vice-Chancellor whose life was cut short during the brutal regime of President Idi Amin.

Kalimuzo who had served as the first Permanent Secretary to the Presidency and head of Public Service for independent Uganda was appointed Vice-Chancellor of Makerere in 1970 after the disintegration of the University of East Africa into its constituent parts.

His appointment was announced by President Milton Obote during a tea party giving him five years to transform Makerere into a Ugandan University as the President had argued that the institution which had lasted for nearly 48 years was in Uganda but not for Uganda.

However, Kalimuzo who is commonly referred to as the pride of Kigezi, could not complete his first term of office when he was kidnapped and disappeared from his official residence at Makerere and was never to be seen again.

During her keynote address, Prof. Joy Constance Kwesiga, former personal secretary to Kalimuzo noted that despite his great contribution, his name had been left in books and in the memories of those who lived what is now history.

Now, as part of the centenary celebrations, Makerere University decided to remember and honour Kalimuzo, one of the distinguished giants on whose shoulders the institution is standing, by naming one of the teaching facilities in his name.

Ironically, intended or not, the foundation of the building which has been renamed Kalimuzo was laid during President Amin’s reign which is believed to have been behind  Kalimuzo’s murder. However, the construction of the said building had been abandoned for more than forty years until recently when the current regime obtained a loan from African Development Bank to facilitate its completion.

Apart from renaming the building, Makerere University has also initiated a public lecture where his short but impactful contribution to the oldest institution of higher learning in the region will be remembered every year.

During the inaugural Frank Kalimuzo Memorial Lecture held on Thursday afternoon, speaker after speaker pointed out that honouring this great administrator was long overdue.

While delivering a keynote address, Prof. Kwesiga, currently the Vice-Chancellor of Kabale University, took the audience down the memory lane and pointed out the different contributions of Kalimuzo for the two years he was at the helm of Makerere.

Prof. Kwesiga noted that Kalimuzo’s great achievements were born out of hard work, tactic, humour, charm and resilience given the fact that he was never given a warm welcome to the institution as he was seen as an outsider to the academic world not to mentioning the sectarianism tendencies at the ivory tower and student strikes.

She, however, added that with his vast administration knowledge as a civil servant, the newly appointed vice-chancellor within no time had made strategies to turn the tide which saw him win over his adversaries without asserting authority.

Before his appointment to Makerere, Kalimuzo had served as one of the first African district commissioners, an establishment officer charged with the process of Africanisation before independence and later permanent secretary in the office of the president.

Kwesiga noted that with full control of the University management, staff and student body, Kalimuzo made a remarkable change that was to change higher education in Uganda forever by opening up the institution to the masses from the elite cocoon, as it had been known.

After opening up to the wider society, Kalimuzo hoped to turn Makerere into a real native institution whose curriculum and programmes could be tailored to suit the aspirations of the local community. This was a view shared by many Pan Africanists at that moment as they looked at what had been termed decolonization.

However, 50 years on, Makerere University is still longing to fulfill this aspiration but their curricula and research are still influenced by foreign donors. This particular issue was raised during the recent 72nd graduation ceremony where top dons noted that it’s high time the institution started focusing on creating a solution to challenges affecting the local community.

During his brief tenure, the list of disciplines offered expanded to include commerce, forestry, law, and technology. Veterinary Medicine, which was being offered at Nairobi University, was also introduced while Music, Dance and Drama became diploma subjects. it was under his leadership that The Main Library and Albert Cook Medical Library were extended.

Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe, the reigning Makerere Vice-Chancellor, also praised his predecessor to have built a strong foundation on which the university continues to offer excellent service to humanity.

Prof. Nawangwe described Kalimuzo as a martyr of high education having lost his life in defence of academic freedom which was a strange phenomenon to the reigning state at that time. However, Prof. Nawangwe who has been in the spot line of curtailing academic freedom had to explain what the term meant to drive his point home.

Before he delivered his speech, Prof. Nawangwe was briefly sent into shock by the day’s modulator when he was told to imagine being whisked away from campus.

“That is not a prophecy I hope,” Prof. Nawangwe softly replied. In the room, the question and Nawangwe’s response attracted laughter but to Easter Kalimuzo this invoked memories. When she was given an opportunity to speak, the soft-spoken old lady shared the good and last bad memories with his dear husband whom she met in 1957 at a certain function in Rwanda.

Mrs Kalimuzo also recollected the dark day when her husband was taken away by the notorious Public Safety Unit – one of Amin’s feared secret police at the time when the university was preparing its jubilee celebration.

Kalimuzo’s disappearance came shortly after Obote’s abortive attempt to invade Uganda from Tanzania. Although his body has never been recovered, it is assumed that he was murdered by the likes of Ben Kiwanuka, and Archbishop Janan Luwumu among others.

Mrs Kalimuzo narrated they were secretly told by the then Education Minister Edward Rugumayo that Kalimuzo had been killed on that very day he was taken from the vice-chancellor’s house.

She added that for many years, they continued to hear stories that the former vice-chancellor had managed to escape. She noted that for some time they hoped that he could be somewhere alive but hope faded as years passed by.

Recalling the dark moment of the 1970s, Mrs Kalimuzo, who said that she is shocked with similar stories of disappearing people and premature deaths to date, urged the young generation to elect leaders who value life.

Meanwhile, the former Premier, Ruhakana Rugunda, challenged the public not to limit Kalimuzo’s legacy to the short time he spent at Makerere University. Rugunda noted that the dear departed had long curved out a mark in Uganda’s history during his time in public service before and the year after independence.

He explained that Kalimuzo was also at the centre of the transition from the colonial government to the independent state of Uganda.

With Makerere University finally remembering and honouring Kalimuzo, his family noted that they are highly happy as generations to come will know about their father’s contribution. Our reporter understands that the family had tried to hold a memorial for him but they were reportedly advised that this was a huge task that should be done by either Makerere or the government.

-URN

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