Abu Mayanja’s intellectual legacy continues to flourish

Ali Mazrui, the celebrated academic once said of Abu Mayanja: “I personally know of no two people who have contributed more to the intellectual liveliness of Uganda than Rajat Neogy and Mayanja.
“I did not always see eye to eye with either of them,” he added. “In fact, Mayanja and myself have been on opposite sides in almost every debate in which he and I have taken part in the Main Hall of Makerere and the differences between us were real. But Uganda’s reputation as an open society was secure for as long as there was one Mr Mayanja free to speak his mind and one transition leading the rest of Africa in sheer intellectual verve.”
The then Makerere College professor made that statement in October 1968, following the arrest of Mayanja and Neogy, over an article in Transition of which the latter was editor. Mayanja’s article, “The fact that we hate apartheid should have no relevance in the way we punish traffic offenders,” was deemed seditious and apparently “brought President Obote into hatred or contempt.”
Even though Mayanja has been dead for a decade, his intellectual legacy continues to grow and flourish, nurtured through The Abu Mayanja Memorial Lectures. Prof Mazrui’s prayer, it seems, has been answered in spades.
The Mayanja Memorial lectures vary in subject matter, an eclectic mix of themes and interests rather like the man himself ranging from the development of democratic rule in Uganda to the indictment of leaders of the Lords’ Resistance Army by the ICC and whenever the event comes around I ask myself what Mayanja would have to say on the current subjects – corruption, the general election and the all-consuming xenophobia that has roiled South Africa this past month.
Were he alive, he would definitely have a decided opinion on the worry I just cannot seem to shake that Uganda is balanced on a razor’s edge of such prejudice, perhaps not so much towards foreigners, but against ourselves in our respective social, religious and cultural groupings.
After all – not to take anything away from the strides toward rapprochement between Buganda and the central government under the leadership of Katikkiro Peter Mayiga – the Buganda question is far from settled. And as a Muslim, I am sure Mayanja would be at pains like the rest of us over the rift, subtle as it may be, that has formed between followers of Islam and the rest of the country resulting from the al-Shabaab threat.
On the recent manoeuvrings to restrict competition in the general election, Mayanja would say, “We are not here to govern this country like savages. We are not going to reject the standards which have been accepted by the rest of the civilised world. We are not going to justify autocracy and the granting of dangerous powers on the grounds that Uganda is backward and cannot have a civilised government.” – reiterating his position held in the 1967 constitutional debates.
He would remind the intellectual elite, so often apathetic to the concerns of the nation that they have been too timid and have allowed themselves the luxury of sleeping in strange beds for too long that they have grown complacent. “Speaking for myself,” he would add, “I have crossed the Rubicon. I have set my face firmly against any autocracy whether it be foreign and imperialist or native and feudal. I stake my future and dedicate my life to the realisation of democratic principles in my coup try no matter from which side the obstacles may emanate. This is a declaration of political faith, and I call on other intellectuals to do likewise.”
Today, the katikkiro of Buganda will deliver the 5th Abu Mayanja Memorial Lecture on the role of Mayanja in the restoration of the Buganda Kingdom at the Sheraton Hotel.

Ms Mayanja is the director of the Abu Mayanja Foundation. saudah.mayanja@gmail.com

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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