Makerere University as a startup

Image Source: Unsplash

The centenary celebrations of the oldest and premier University in East Africa are at their climax. This happens on October 8th. There has been a bee hive activity at the main campus this year. The Ugandan and regional media houses have inked and spoken a great deal about the best black African University and applauded her of great service to humanity and society transformation.

She was once a little newly born in 1922 and few, if they wished, would predict the greatness of what she has become. The seeds of her works planted in soils of time have brought forth the greatness we all pride in. No doubt Makerere is synonymous to the word ‘university’ and many locals people would say ‘Agiire Makerere’, loosely translated as ‘He has gone to university’. She has become a mother and inspiration to many institutions. She is a national treasure that is adored in all perceivable dimensions.

With the slogan “We build for the Future’ on her name, the present day greatness of Makerere University materialized from the efforts of visionary and dedicated men and women who craved for greatness of our nation and Africa. These visionaries never settled to what was perceived possible and confirmed to the status quo of the time. They envisioned the greatness of Mak and marshalled resources to have Mak whose anthem we can all sing with lips stretching with proud smiles.

In the words of the modern times, Makerere was run like a startup, with stewards making decisions in an information-poor, resource constrained environment and a backdrop of luddites and myopics. In a startup world, founders dedicate all their existence to birth a company faced with fierce and unforgiving competition and limited capital (both material and intellect). The founders think entrepreneur-ly and solve problems. The ‘founders’ of Mak thought and run Mak as a startup.

Mak greatness has been formed by a silent evolution, not impulsive premature revolutions. As Carol Sicherman writes in Makerere and the Beginning of Higher Education for East Africans, “Mak started as a school to train African boys as carpenters and mechanics, after which morphed into a ‘vocational professional college’ training medical assistants, surveyors, school teachers and similar personnel for colonial service. …The evolution of Mak has been a result of ideological foundations laid in the period 1922–50, when Mak was the East Africa institution of higher-learning.” Her greatness can’t be attributed to heroic acts of singular individuals; it has been an unaccountable number of visionaries such as Dr. Ernest Balintuma Kalibala who had active interest in the literal education of Africans. Such individuals did the heavy lifting with no conventional rewards that have infested the minds of modern ‘educated’ individuals.

On the flipped side of the coin, Mak has also faced a great share of challenges such as post-colonial heads of state of 1960s and 1970s. Dr. M Obote and Idi Amin toyed with Mak and her future was uncertain. Against all these ever popping challenges, Mak soars so high in the sky.

However, the management and stakeholders of Mak should never, at any point, succumb to the ‘we-have-reached syndrome’ that tears and destroys greatness because of compromise. Nothing fails like success. Mak should never seat on her laurels. She should seek a second higher mountain of the modern times, strengthening the social contract she holds. The centenary celebrations are not only bread-and-wine, they are also moments to recalibrate for the present and the future. The needs of society are evolving rapidly and the university service ought to follow suite, or else her relevance is left in the cold ashes of her former greatness.

What will inspire the future generations to do better? The present future has been efforts of visionaries that were not in it for the short haul. They understood the assignment. Let’s toss and cheer, after which we roll the sleeves again, run ‘an old startup’ to build for the future. That is our assignment.

Kakaire Steven, steven.kakaire@mak.ac.ug

Computer engineer and learner.

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