Influence is a controversial word in itself. Can someone be influential in negative way? Some will say it is possible.
In this compilation, however, we try as much as possible to concentrate on Ugandans who have influenced life for the better.
But this is not easy in many instances. In determining the most influential, one important consideration is the extent to which one’s influence lasts.
Prof Senteza Kajubi
Prof William Senteza Kajubi was an eminent educationist, leader and founder of higher education institutions.
He chaired the committees that worked on the country’s symbols shortly before independence.
For about 60 years, Prof Kajubi taught, led and started education institutions and contributed greatly to shaping the education policy by working on various commissions and chairing some.
He is probably most remembered for authoring the White Paper for the reform of the education system. Prof Kajubi, who passed on in 2012 at 86, was also instrumental in setting up Nkumba University.
David Livingstone Ongom
His name was synonymous with final examinations in candidate classes in secondary education. If you sat a Uneb examination between 1984 and 1996, you can understand how Ongom held your destiny in his hands.
The final examinations were famously referred to as “Ongom Disco”. In 1990, the new NRM government scrapped the printing of national examinations in England as had been the case for 40 years.
This opened a can of worms since Kampala did not have a security printer. The initial batch, printed by government printer in 1991 was leaked by a staffer. A massive leakage of exams ensued. The 1995 examinations was the final straw. He was removed from office in 1996.
Prof Mahmood Mamdani
Prof Mahmood Mamdani was in 2008 voted the 9th “top public intellectual” in the world on the list of Top 100 Public Intellectuals by Prospect Magazine(UK) and Foreign Policy.
In the same year, Mamdani was the guest speaker at the inaugural Buganda Conference at Hotel Africana, where he urged Uganda’s largest ethnic group to rise up to its obligations and lead, just like the Kikuyu and Luo do in Kenya and the British in England.
If Buganda Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga appears to be looking to implement Mamdani’s advice, it is because it is hard to disregard it.
Mamdani boasts at least 14 book titles of top quality, and he has taught and spoken at various universities in Africa, Europe and North America. For those who say that Makerere University is in decline, one of the reasons they give is that the university no longer hold debates such as the ones Mamdani spiced up in the earlier years.
He has clashed with Ugandan governments before, as it was the case in 1984 when he was stripped of his Ugandan citizenship by the Milton Obote government while attending a conference in Senegal, West Africa because he criticised the government’s policies.
Earlier, he had had to leave the country when Idi Amin expelled Indians. He seemed to warm up to Museveni’s policies in the early years of his rule but has in recent times, even without being overly critical of the regime, seems to have to have reconsidered some of his views on the administration.
Such is his influence that it is hard to come across a modern political scientist in Uganda who has not read Mamdani’s works.
Dr Jovan Kiryabwire
Dr Jovan Kiryabwire is said to have been the first neurosurgeon in East and Central Africa.
For complicated practice that requires advanced skills, patients who needed neuro surgery but could not afford to seek treatment abroad would be condemned to early death until Dr Kiryabwire’s pioneering work.
He was instrumental in setting up the neurosurgical unit at Mulago hospital, where his son, Dr Joel Kiryabwire, would follow his father’s glorious example and continue to save lives. The old Kiryabwire, now deceased, is therefore fittingly referred to in the medical fraternity as the father of neuro surgery in Uganda.
Prof Dani Wadada Nabudere
Prof Dani Wadada Nabudere resisted most of the attractions of capitalism and remained mainly a socialist and pan-African until his death in November 2011.
He was one of the most prominent Ugandan authors, with titles such as A Political Economy of Imperialism, Afrikology, Philosophy and Wholeness: An Epistemology, and others.
The central theme of Nabudere’s books was an inclination towards Afro-centred development and struggle against imperialism. He repeatedly spoke of a “duty” which he said the African elite had towards the poor Africans.
He founded the Marcus Garvey Pan-Afrikan Institute in Mbale, named after the late Jamaican intellectual Pan-Africanist Marcus Mosiah Garvey, aiming “to bridge the vast gap between the cosmopolitan, Western-oriented African elites, and the majority of Africans regarding higher education, research and learning.” To this he devoted the last six years of his life but he did not live to realise his vision of turning it into a full-fledged university.
He briefly served as a minister after the ouster of Idi Amin and participated in the writing of the 1995 Constitution, but he generally remained an alternative voice calling for a re-orientation of Uganda’s politics to have it more genuinely benefit the poor. At the time of his death, Nabudere was working with others to form a “social movement” with the view to changing the way Uganda is governed.
Prof Waswa Balunywa
Makerere University Business School (Mubs) Principal Waswa Balunywa has in the past decade had various quarrels with professional colleagues, seeing group after group out of the business school.
Many have sued him personally, or the school as an institution. That said, however, Prof Balunywa lays strong claim to being the most influential academic in the business circles.
He is credited with designing the private sponsorship scheme at Makerere University, which opened the gates to university to thousands of Ugandans who would otherwise have been locked out.
He was instrumental in relocating the former Faculty of Commerce from Makerere University to Nakawa and eventually the creation of Mubs, which is poised to become an independent public university at some stage.
Dr Josephine Nambooze
She was the first female doctor in Uganda at a time when medicine and most other fields were the exclusive domain of men.
She got admission to the medical school in the mid-1950s.
She would later do further studies in medicine in the UK and later returned to work in Uganda. On Makerere University Medical School’s list of “Notable Alumni, she is described as physician, professor of public health, maternal and child health specialist and public health consultant.
Dr Sylvia Tamale did her Master’s degree at Harvard and PhD at the University of Minnesota, both in the US, and it is probably understandable that she should exude a level of liberalism that makes many Ugandans uncomfortable. But, of course, she is not the only Ugandan to have gone to such universities.
She is just different from many. In fact, many people hold similar beliefs like Dr Tamale, for example, regarding the rights of homosexuals and a general need to streamline gender relations. But few press the arguments as forcefully and infectiously as Dr Tamale.
The first female dean of the Faculty of Law at Makerere University believes, for instance, that the law against prostitution is unfair because it punishes the women involved and leaves the men to go scot free.
She has advanced these arguments in her various publications and uses every opportunity to expound on them. She is among the pioneers in a difficult field.
Bernard Onyango is one of Uganda’s most distinguished education administrators.
Onyango served as academic registrar for an accumulated almost 40 years, first at Makerere University, and then at the Roman Catholic Church-run Uganda Martyrs University, Nkozi.
His work methods were defined by honesty, integrity, fairness and the law. Because of these attributes, he was able to steer Makerere University through perhaps the most difficult period of our country’s history the Idi Amin years without compromising academic standards.
He set the same pace at Uganda Martyrs University Nkozi which remains one of the top universities in the region in terms of academic rigour. He passed on in 2013.
Sarah Nyendwoha Ntiro was the first woman in East and Central Africa to graduate with a university degree.
She was in the first batch of six girls to join Makerere College, now Makerere University, when it started admitting girls in 1945. When she started teaching at Gayaza High School, she began fighting for woman’s rights.
After four years of teaching at Gayaza, she became the second Black woman to join the Uganda Legislative Council (LEGCO) in 1958 until 1961. She later went on to become part of the country’s delegation to the UN General Assembly.
As one of the first people to join the women movements in Uganda, like the Uganda Council for Women and the Young Women Christian Association (YWCA), she went on to be a member of the executive of YWCA as vice president for Africa from 1971, for eight years.
Prof Alexander Odonga
He was one of the first two Ugandans, together with Dr Kiryabwire, to qualify for the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. Prof Odonga, now retired, was a famous surgeon and professor of medicine who educated many at the Makerere University Medical School.
In retirement, he wrote a Luo dictionary, which was published in 2005.
Dr Matthew Lukwiya
At the forefront of fighting the 2000 Ebola outbreak in Gulu, Lukwiya received international recognition for his self-sacrifice.
His fast response to the outbreak by setting up an isolation ward, before the disease was confirmed, astonished the WHO delegation that had arrived in Gulu to monitor events.
When the death toll grew heavier on the nurses at the hospital, and they wanted to go on strike Lukwiya encouraged them to work.
Two days later he contracted the disease which eventually killed him. The New York Times described him as a fearless field commander at the centre of a biological war.
Dr Samuel Okware
Dr Samuel Ikwaras Okware was a long time employee of the Ministry of Health, where he rose to become commissioner of health services.
He coordinated emergency responses against dangerous diseases such as Ebola and Cholera, but his most outstanding contribution was in the field of fighting the HIV/Aids pandemic.
As the first chairman and director of the National Aids Control Programme, Dr Okware led the development of the first HIV/Aids intervention strategy, which became a model for many countries in Africa and elsewhere.
A research he led confirmed the risks and roles of heterosexual transmission of HIV in Uganda. The marked reduction of HIV prevalence rates from 30 per cent to six per cent within a period of 10 years were largely attributed to Dr Okware’s technical leadership of the intervention efforts.