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Makerere is the vanguard of globalisation in Eastern Africa

Posted by African Press International on August 10, 2008

<By Ali Mazrui

Globalisation is a new word but it represents a long-drawn out historical process. It consists of the forces that are pushing the world into becoming a global village.Most recently, those forces have been at their most dramatic in the Information Superhighway: Internet and the death of distance and in the spectacular interdependence of the world economy. When South-East Asian economies take a downturn, Boeing feels the pain because sales of planes decline dramatically.

But what paved the way for the Information Superhighway and the computer revolution in world economy? Higher education and the escalating sophistication of research are part of the story. Higher education has been a major force in the bid to turn the world into a global village.

Oldest university in eastern Africa

At the global level, Makereres role has to be examined in symbolic terms. As the oldest university college in Eastern Africa, Makerere was the vanguard of globalisation in the regions experience. If higher education has been central to the momentous process of turning the world into an interdependent global village, Makerere has been more than part and parcel of the process. In Eastern Africa it has been a historic vanguard.

Makerere was part of a British global university like Legon in Ghana, Mona in Jamaica, Ibadan in Nigeria. They were all affiliates of the University of London.

Makerere evolved from Euro-African University College linked to London to Pan-East African University College linked to the University of East Africa. I still remember when the Department of Political Science at Makerere struggled with the University of London over whether to include Karl Marx in a course on political philosophy.

Makerere experienced globalisation in reverse. There was a time when it was too global and not African enough. Makerere was teaching French, German, Russian before teaching African languages for a degree.

The Makerere experience posed the question: How much of globalisation is Westernisation? Western education produced young Obote who changed his name from Apollo Obote to Milton Obote out of admiration for the author of Paradise Lost, John Milton an English poet. Was that globalisation or Westernisation? Makerere and Western education produced Julius K Nyerere who translated two of Shakespeares plays into Kiswahili. Was that globalisation or Westernisation?

Makerere had unofficial links with Transition magazine, which was founded by Rajat Neogy who was not himself at Makerere. Transition became the most scintillating and intellectually effervescent magazine in Anglophone Africa in 1960s. Future Nobel laureates wrote for it, like Wole Soyinka (he later edited it) and Nadine Gordimer. Future world-class novelists wrote for it like Paul Thoroux, Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiongo. Kwame Nkrumah and Tom Mboya responded to articles in Transition.

The Uganda phase of Transition ended after Obotes Government imprisoned the Editor, Rajat Neogy, in 1968. When Neogy was released he re-started Transition in Ghana, and subsequently handed it over to Wole Soyinka. The Ghana phase of Transition ended when Soyinka tried to change the magazines name to Cindaba.

Now there is a US phase of the same magazine, with Soyinka as the editorial board chair, and Henry Louis Gates and Kwame Anthony Appiah as editors. Now the magazine is based at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Linkages from Makerere to Harvard!

hollywood superstar

Makerere also witnessed an astonishing array of visitors from most parts of the world. I remember personally inviting the distinguished Irishman, Conor Cruise OBrien who had served with the UN in Katanga. In his speech at Makerere he described Moise Tshombe, the secessionist leader of Katanga, as “the best politician that money can buy.”

I remember the Hollywood film superstar, Sidney Poitier, expressing surprise that there were so many homosexuals in Uganda. When I asked him what gave him that idea, he referred to so many men in the streets holding hands. I laughed. I told him, “in this culture holding hands is a sign of friendship and goodwill and not a sign of sex.”

I remember listening to a sermon in the Main Hall by Father Trevor Huddleston. It was one of the most moving sermons in any religion that I have ever heard. He kept returning to a simple refrain: Near the hill where he was crucified, there was a garden! Simple but the juxtaposition of the horror of the crucifixion and the beauty of the garden was so deeply moving.



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