Thought Process: Prof. Mahmood Mamdani

Back in 2011 or is it 2012, when I was at the College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology (CEDAT) or commonly known as the Faculty of Tech(nology), Makerere University, I represented the students of CEDAT at one of the International Conventions on science and technology at The Imperial Resort Hotel. As a student leader, we were selected to both act as rapporteurs but also as representatives of students at this convention. This convention had the cream of the cream in science and technology from various universities across the eastern and southern Africa. We also had a couple from Nigeria too.

I was so excited to attend because everything was fully paid for. We were also going to be treated like VIP at the hotel. Being students, this also meant some time away from school and some sort of paid vacation.

At the opening ceremony, Professor Mahmood Mamdani was going to be the guest speaker. I had heard little to nothing about this amazing and quite outspoken professor and seeing as he wasn’t in any way related to the science and technology field, I wanted to see what he was going to talk about.

As I sat down early that morning preparing myself for the conference, an old looking Indian gentleman came and sat next to me at the back. He asked if the seat was taken to which I answered no. He then proceeded to take it and have his coffee. I assumed that he was among the many dignitaries we would be expecting from across the world. He asked me who I was, what I was doing and he seemed rather interested that students were attending the conference full of experts and professors from across the board. I didn’t pay much attention to who he was. When he was done with his coffee, he moved to the front as the conference begun. I remember he sat at the front, on the ‘high table’.

To my surprise, when they introduced him, they introduced him as the guest speaker and opener of the ceremony. I was astonished that I was that close to greatness. I was amazed at how someone that simple also exuded such power and greatness. Professor Mamdani went ahead to introduce himself and joke about how a social scientist like he was, was addressing a congregation of technology experts. But that was not what caught my attention.

The Professor was remarking at the excellence and the extent with which the continent had gone as far as research is concerned but to him, such a function as great as this didn’t have to be held in a hotel. The future or rather the students who could have benefited were close to 30 miles away while these experts sat and enjoyed a nice comfy hotel to discuss excellence. Who was going to benefit from this? The students? Or the experts? Or the research? He continued to remark and exclaim at how many empty rooms at the university could have accommodated such a function where students could attend and benefit for free. That the research that was being done eventually benefited the students and not the people at the hotel. He remarked at how this also was reflected in our politics. And I then my mind awoke. This was the truth.

This is when I started to ask myself questions. Was it important to hold such a function at a hotel when we had so many empty main halls at the university and where the only students in attendance were a handful selected and who might or might not relay the information? Where the students were there to act as secretaries mostly! I started to see the light.

Recently, a couple of people have been campaigning about ‘Invest in Children in Uganda’ (Link) and the same thing happened. The function was held at a fancy hotel where a couple of children were invited to sing the national anthem and fill up the hall mostly and the key stakeholders the ‘businessmen’ to give speeches to these few. I wondered, there’s plenty of schools where this can happen, couldn’t something like this have been done there. If you Invest(ed) in children by putting this function at a school and not a hotel maybe you can getter a bigger and further outreach, right?

Well, some didn’t see the sense and questioned whether I knew what the campaign was all about whilst others blatantly said that the event didn’t  actually concern the children but the business community while others had the audacity to claim that the CEOs present at the function couldn’t go to a shanty ‘school’. I was amused by these opinions and hoped that maybe they too could see the light. It is such thinking that holds us back as a nation, as a people of a nation and as individuals. Shallow, pathetic and rather archaic thinking that has held us back, where the key points of influence and and the benefactors are neglected because the people trying to affect change are holed up in a hotel discussing how best to impact change.

This same conversation reminds me of Professor Mamdani’s talk on the Global Funding given to Malaria, TB and HIV and how it was/is spent but that is another conversation for another time. Just look him up on youtube. You’d be impressed by his thought process.

Reminds me of this poem;

Building the Nation – Henry Barlow (Uganda)

Today I did my share In building the nation.
I drove a Permanent Secretary
To an important, urgent function
In fact, to a luncheon at the Vic.

The menu reflected its importance
Cold bell beer with small talk,
Then fried chicken with niceties
Wine to fill the hollowness of the laughs
Ice-cream to cover the stereotype jokes
Coffee to keep the PS awake on the return journey.

I drove the Permanent Secretary back.
He yawned many times in back of the car
Then to keep awake, he suddenly asked,
Did you have any lunch friend?
I replied looking straight ahead
And secretly smiling at his belated concern
That I had not, but was slimming!
Upon which he said with a seriousness
That amused more than annoyed me, Mwananchi, I too had none!
I attended to matters of state.
Highly delicate diplomatic duties you know,
And friend, it goes against my grain,
Causes me stomach ulcers and wind.
Ah, he continued, yawning again,
The pains we suffer in building the nation!

So the PS had ulcers too!
My ulcers I think are equally painful
Only they are caused by hunger,
Not sumptuous lunches!

So two nation builders
Arrived home this evening
With terrible stomach pains
The result of building the nation –
– Different ways.

Well, I was inspired by Prof. Mamdani to effect change at the focal points, where its needed most.


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