Makerere University And Globalization

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[Commentary: Africa]


One time in Makerere's Main Hall, Father Trevor Huddleston delivered a sermon. It was one of the most moving sermons in any religion that I have ever heard.

There was a simple refrain to which he kept returning, "Near the hill where He was crucified, there was a garden!" It was a simple refrain, but the juxtaposition of the horror of the crucifixion and the beauty of the garden was so deeply moving.

I remember welcoming Thurgood Marshall. By his role in the US Supreme Court case of Brown versus the Board of Education in 1954, this man had had a bigger impact on the 20th century American history than most presidents.
He was a great luminary even among the star-studded visitors to Makerere.

I first met Ethiopia's Emperor Haile Selassie at Makerere in the 1960s. He came with Kabaka Mutesa II of Buganda. These were two kings whose subsequent sudden deaths in history were to be steeped in mystery.
In my sitting room is a photograph of the African continent taken from outer space. It was presented to me by an American astronaut who visited Makerere to talk about outer space.
The Archbishop of Canterbury also visited Makerere, and addressed an audience in the Main Hall. Students wanted to know how he and Queen Elizabeth II could both be 'the Head of the Church of England.' The Archbishop adroitly sidestepped the debate by reaffirming that the Head of the Church was God!

Scientists and medical experts from other parts of the world also visited Makerere. The Makerere Medical School had made such important advances in tropical diseases research that it was on the verge of nomination for the Nobel Prize in Medicine.
Had Idi Amin's coup been delayed for three years, our school might have made it.
Distinguished alumni of Makerere have become presidents of their countries; Julius K. Nyerere of Tanzania, Apollo Milton Obote of Uganda, Yusufu Lule of Uganda and Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania. Others have become distinguished Vice-Presidents, ministers, scholars, scientists, diplomats, parliamentarians, administrators, entrepreneurs, Central Bank governors, politicians, statesmen and stateswomen.
Among those who have symbolized globalization the most is a Ugandan whose relationship with Makerere became an interrupted symphony. He nearly became the Secretary-General of the UN instead of Boutros-Boutros Ghali. He subsequently became a distinguished President of the International Peace Academy, and is now working for the UN to help protect children from ravages of war. The Ugandan is Olara Otunnu.

Salim Ahmed Salim, later Secretary-General of the Organization of African Unity, was also considered for UN Secretary-General. Salim was vetoed by the USA while Otunnu was probably vetoed by the Ugandan government.

A Tanzanian alumnus of Makerere who even more symbolizes aspects of globalization is Mwalimu Nyerere himself, who became a major figure not just in Pan-African politics but also in the global arena of North-South relations. He often bestrode that narrow world like a Colossus and also qualified as a Shakespearean scholar.

There is also an obscure Kenyan I am reluctant to discuss as a globalization figure. In the late 1940s he was rejected by Makerere for admission as a student. In the 1960s Makerere appointed him Professor and Dean in the fastest professorial promotion of its history.
In the 1980s the Kenyan went global with a television series which has been shown in dozens of countries and translated into several languages. In the 1990s the Kenyan held five professorships in three different continents, but none of them in his motherland, Kenya.

But in 2008 he is a Chancellor of one of Kenya's public universities. For now, that Kenyan shall remain nameless.

As for the overall nature of the process of globalization so far, two inter-related consequences emerge. Globalization has been leading towards making different societies more and more similar. This sub-process might be called 'homogenization.' But when we look closely at those values and institutions which are increasingly shared by more and more societies, they are values and institutions disproportionately of European origin, 'hegemonization.'

The process of globalization is making us more and more alike in spite of huge distances between us. But that same process of globalization is ensuring who is the boss among us.


Copyright © 2008 The Monitor. All rights reserved (



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