As Uganda celebrates 50 years of independence, there are some senior citizens who have seen it all and have something to tell. Mzee George Kihuguru, 79, is one such citizen. A fairly successful Ugandan, Mzee Kihuguru is married with six successful children. Behind him, has been an illustrious civil service career and a peace of mind. At 79, he still looks youthful. No wonder he was the right target when Red Pepper sought his views on Uganda’s 50 years of independence.
George is well-known for being the most successful Dean of students of Makerere University, a position he served in for 25 years. That is why his former students and those who did not go through his hands, fondly refer to him as ‘Uncle’ George. Red Pepper’s ARINAITWE RUGYENDO & FRED KAMWADA interviewed him.
I studied form Nyakasura school and my first job was teaching. I taught at Ntare School from 1959-1963.
I could have been one of the few African teachers then because the Europeans were the majority teachers those days. Some of my students are President Yoweri Museveni, Eriya Kategaya, Henry Kaijuka, Tarsis Kabwegyere and Ateker Ejjalu. Museveni was a lways argumentative, even in class but otherwise, he was such ordinary student and no one would think he would the prominent man he is today.
From Ntare I was appointed Minister for Education and Health in the Ankole kingdom government until the time when monarchies were abolished in 1967. That is the time when I went to teach at Kako Secondary school.
On Life at Makerere
I went to Makerere University in 1968 and I was appointed Warden of Mitchell Hall. When a long serving white Dean of the University retired, I was asked to apply for the post that would later change to Dean of Students. So, I became dean in 1970 up to 1995.
Makerere University was a good place to be. We had manageable numbers of students. They were about 3000 -all of them government sponsored and resident at school. It was therefore very easy to deal with strikes and things like that. But today, Makerere has changed a lot. Student Numbers have increased to about 50,000 now and yet facilities are still the same. The Halls are still six. More than half are off campus and managing them is extremely very hard. You can’t know where they reside. Whenever there are strikes, every shop around here (Makerere-Kikoni) must close. You have to pay your way out of a student’s roadblock. It is very frustrating!
During Amin’s time the situation was at first very normal until his son called Taban shot to the scene and became sort of a problem. At first president Amin told us that he wanted to send us his son to learn some English during the holidays. We gave him (Taban) one room but he said that it was not enough for him since he had many bodyguards. We obliged and gave him space. At first, he was good boy until one time when a student annoyed him by mocking his father who was on television. The President had been on television that day and the student covered the TV screen with a book and declared how he hated him. The next day, the said student disappeared from the university. We were told that Taban had kidnapped him. I spoke with Taban and he agreed that he had the boy in his custody.
But Taban then asked me to give him some money for transport, to which I obliged and the boy was returned the next day.
On Student Politics At Makerere
Politics was a no go area for Makerere Univeristy in the 1970s. One time we were told that the vice president of Somalia wanted to visit the university and address the students. He came with Moses Ali who was by then a minister in the government. Moses Ali advised the students to refrain form engaging in politics but when he sat down the then guild president Olara Ottunu (now UPC Party President) was asked to give a vote of thanks. But when he stood up to speak, he lambasted government for spending money on arms and failing to take care of the needs of the students.
This embarrassed the government so much that the then Minister of Education Brig. Killi asked the university’s disciplinary council to take action on Ottunu.
I was called by vice chancellor Prof. Lutwama and told that a presidential directive had been issued for punishing Ottunu. The university council resolved that Ottunu was going to do two things. One was to suspend him as guild president and the second punishment was to gate him (which meant to quarantine him and stop him from moving freely.) When I read these punishments to Brig. Killi, he insisted that they were not enough. To him (Brig Killi) they were no punishment. Meanwhile, state agents hunted for Ottunu until and he was later forced to flee the country.
From that time, no guild elections were held. We got student leadership by asking hall chairmen to elect one person out of all of them to become the acting guild president. The guild elections returned in 1979 when Amin was kicked out of power.
Today, there is more student politics at Makerere University than there has ever been before. They can even stand for parliament.
Prominent students nurtured by Uncle George:
During the time I was Dean, many students went through my hands and have moved on to become very useful in the country. Examples are; Olara Ottunu, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, Eng. Irene Muloni, Dr. Specioza Kazibwe, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, Dr. Sam Lyomoki, Kahinda Otafiire, Nobert Mao, Amama Mbabazi and Prof. Tumusime Mutebile and many others.
On The Future of Uganda’s Education:
During our time, we didn’t have the kind of computers and technologies you people have today. I think there’s a lot of technological advancement even in secondary schools. I think, looking at education, one should expect a lot ahead. You hear students inventing things. At Makerere, students have assembled a car. Technology is so advanced that one should expect a lot of things from the students ahead.
They education system will have to be revisited so that the large number of people finishing school can find a job. In our time, they looked for you. We used to get delegations from the Public Service Commission persuading us to join the service. But this is different now. Skilling our curriculum is the best thing for Uganda’s future.
On Uganda in 2062
One would need to see improvement in democracy and freedoms for individuals. Those of us who were there during the Amin days know what it feels when there’s no freedom in the country. We know what has since been achieved since 1986 but we need to improve. Although we see these demonstrations here and there, this government has done something good. We need some improvement but if this trend remains, we shall eventually get there. Some of us might not be around to celebrate the centenary anniversary but there is hope for a better Uganda is the current situation is sustained and improved upon.
On Uganda’s Most Pressing Problems:
Corruption, corruption and corruption! It is very annoying. The way it is being done is pathetic. I can’t say there wasn’t corruption in our days but at the same time I can’t pin point. There were opportunities to be corrupt but service above self was higher than it is today. There were no commodities at the time. You would only get an official card that entitled you to buy 4 kilograms of sugar no matter your family size. At Makerere, I had a lot to distribute to students meaning that I could have decided to misallocate some. Some of my staff would come and ask for these things. Others would encourage me to take some to my home but I would tell them; if I took these things or gave you some, it would mean I would have to give less to students. I didn’t have these at my place. But I made sure I didn’t steal because if I did, I would lose the moral authority to stop others from doing it. To fight corruption, we have to start from heads of departments, accountants, etc. It is a big problem.
The Punishments being are not enough. You arrest someone like Kazinda ( Prime Minister’s Office Principal Account who is facing charges of corruption) and he takes u to his house three storied . Why don’t you ask this man how he got the money to build such a house? And if he can’t explain, why don’t you sell this building and recover the money? I don’t see why government can’t see this. Something must be done to solve this problem. This country is yours. And it is unfortunate because it is your age involved. When you finish school, you immediately want to have a nice house. This is the problem.
This is part of the problem for example the Executive Director of KCCA is facing. Musisi was a student when I was at Makerere. She later became our legal adviser and did a very good job. We were sorry when she left for URA. I think she’s doing a wonderful job. One should expect what is happening. But she’s stepping on the toes of so many people who did things with impunity and thought nobody would ever find out. They built anyhow. I think you need someone like her to put things right. You have built in a wetland. They fill wetlands with soil at night. What should she do to such people? Then you have a few vocal ones some of them influential who messed up the city. They are the one who are not happy because of personal interests somewhere. If we give up on Kampala then we give up the whole country. If we can’t have people like Musisi, then Kampala will never move forward. People need to know there’s authority. People just cannot do as they wish. Where there is the law, then it should be followed.
On His Achievements:
I was appointed member of the Public Service Commission by President Yusuf Lule. I was there for 8 years. It was part time but I did a wonderful job.
In 1971, I was also appointed Member of East African Legislative Assembly by Amin. I have always wondered how may name came up to him. I had never come close to him but one night I heard my name on Radio that I had been appointed Member of the East African Legislative Assembly.
After Makerere, appointed chairman AES Nile power, the US energy company that was going to construct the Bujagali Hydro power project. That was in 1996. The project had a lot of problems. We started with locals who were not easy to relocate. Eventually, they agreed and we had to build houses for them in Namenya. We overcame that and built for them modern villages. The second problem was the Bujagali and his spirits. We had to pay a lot of money to appease the spirits. Then we had the environmentalists. We would discuss with Budhagali and he agrees on a deal and then these environmentalists would later go behind and make him change his mind.
The biggest obstacle was the 6th Parliament. It gave us a huge headache. They were supposed to pass just one resolution to get World Bank become one of the financiers. It took us a whole year to pass the resolution. We met them, took them in groups but it appeared there were so many MPs who didn’t want this project to take off. With all these problems, AES was discouraged and yet they had paid a lot of money. They gave up in 2003.
From that point, the Ugandan government decided they were going to get other developers and so we were taken over by UETCL where I worked for them as a consultant till the year 2009. Am glad they still remember me because I have been specially invited for the commissioning of the new dam on Monday (yesterday). We were the pioneers of this project. We dug the first hole on it. I feel very delighted that we are commissioning the dam when we are celebrating 50 years. Together, all of us can light Uganda for our children and our children’s children.
The good name I Left in Makerere. Everybody calls me uncle. When I go there they all become excited. I feel satisfied I did my best.