Hundreds of literary scholars converged in the University Main Hall on 12th October 2018 to commemorate the life of Prof. David Rubadiri. Prof. Rubadiri, an iconic literary scholar, celebrated poet, playwright and novelist died on 15th September 2018 and was buried at his ancestral home in Malawi. Remembered by many for his poetic ingenuity and scholarly acumen as well as his simplicity and humane character, Prof. Rubadiri spent his formative years in Uganda, where he attended Kings College Budo and later studied at Makerere University graduating in 1956 with a Bachelors Degree in English Literature and History. He taught at Makerere University between 1968-1975. Prof. Rubadiri authored many popular poems namely An African Thunderstorm, Stanley meets Mutesa, An African Vigil, Begging Aid, Kampala Beggar and Death at Mulago. His only novel, No Bride Price, that criticized the Kamuzu Banda regime was published in 1967.
Speaking at the memorial symposium, the Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Academic Affairs, Dr. Ernest Okello Ogwang described Prof. Rubadiri as one of Africa’s earliest writers that carried the torch of African cultural renaissance, and became one of the most anthologized African poets that has had great influence on later generations of poets.
“As a poet, novelist, performer and polemicist, Rubadiri demonstrated that literature, and poetry in particular, articulates our deepest values, aspirations and legitimacy as a people and continent. His poetry passionately and incisively articulates affirmative aspects of our cultural identity in the face of assaults from imperial modernity. Working through very turbulent moments in our continent’s history, Rubadiri demonstrated that writers should codify the practices and values that define their culture and be possessed of the courage to speak truth to power,” he explained.
Dr Okello Ogwang noted that Prof. Rubadiri was a man of many abilities, who served within and beyond the African continent as a skilful diplomat who always carried Africa very close to his heart. “In his widely acknowledged social poise, he always took time to correct any misconceptions about the African continent,” he noted, saying Ugandans, specifically the Makerere University fraternity greatly enjoyed his intellectual acumen and vigorous sense of humour that came across both in his personality and writing.
The memorial symposium featured a panel discussion in which eminent literary scholars, some of them his former students eulogized him.
Reflecting on his time as lecturer at Makerere University, Dr Susan Kiguli, one of his former students, and an associate professor in the Department of Literature, described Prof. Rubadiri as a great teacher who always encouraged his students to pursue their passions. “When he noticed how much I loved poetry and my efforts at writing it, he encouraged me greatly in big and small ways. When we finished third year and were about to sit our final examination he called me to the Departmental office and gave me a typed copy of an unpublished elegy he had written in memory of his great friend and fellow poet Okot P’Bitek. It was signed in his handwriting with the date of the day he handed me the poem. He told me that this poem was precious to him and he was giving it to me as a gift because he realized how priceless poetry was to me,” she recalled, noting that Prof. Rubadiri’s teaching left an indelible impact on his students.
Dr Kiguli further remembers Prof. Rubadiri as a poet and a teacher who had a special skill in organizing people’s emotions. “He managed to catch, to hold and reward the attention of his students and his readers. In his poetry he had a way of rallying his reader’s support behind the characters and ideas he built up in his poems. He was a consummate literary master and it is a compliment to him that all of us in his class enjoyed one of the most difficult topics he taught- the metaphysical poets. His simple use of language, the intensity and depth of his feelings for people and words is the reason that his poetry became so popular and spoke to people,” she said.
Mr. Kalundi Serumaga, a journalist and cultural activist who spent most of his childhood days with Prof. Rubadiri’s family recalled learning a lot from him. “He taught us the meaning of being human and encouraged us to be human in whatever we did. He taught us that as men we should never hide our feelings and that we should always be honest with ourselves.” He emphasized that Rubadiri’s approach to life was always question and analyze society’s actions as a way of inculcating solid values that elevate the condition of being human.
Commenting on his life on the global stage, Prof. Austin Bukenya said Prof. Rubadiri crafted a life that was a poem and ended up as a prophet. “His was a life lived like a poem. His poems were shockingly confessional, articulately restrained but to the point. He inspired many Ugandans to be humane.” Prof. Bukenya observed that because Prof. Rubadiri was true to his conscience, he connected deeply with people of different ranks across the globe.
Like other speakers, the former Acting Vice Chancellor of the Great Lakes Region University, Prof. Laban Erapu, said simplicity defined Prof. Rubadiri. “If you want to be a poet of substance, you have to maintain simplicity and that’s exactly what Rubadiri did. He distinguished himself as a gentleman, diplomat and was intensely humane,” he said.
The panel discussion was moderated by Prof. Abasi Kiyimba from the Department of Literature, Makerere University.
In his remarks, the Malawian Honorary Consul to Uganda, Dr. Kallu C. Kalumiya commended Prof. Rubadiri for his instrumental role in the struggle for Malawi’s independence. He said Prof. Rubadiri greatly marketed Malawi and that his work will continue to inspire many on the continent. “His legacy will be carried forward by his brilliant children,” he said.
The Principal of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHUSS), Prof. Edward K. Kirumira, challenged the current generation of scholars to emulate the likes of Prof. Rubadiri. “Makerere continues to bask in glory because of iconic scholars like Prof. Rubadiri. The legacy of Prof. Rubadiri is a clear indication that there were great people before us and challenges us to follow in their footsteps. When we are before names like Rubadiri it makes us feel incomplete and inspires us to work harder to be complete,” he said.
The Dean School of Languages, Literature and Communication, Dr Aaron Mushengyezi, praised Prof. Rubadiri as an illustrious son of Africa who greatly contributed to the development of African poetry. He called for the immortalization of eminent scholars like Prof. Rubadiri, advising that Lecture Room 4 can be named David Rubadiri Theatre.
In his remarks, Prof. Rubadiri’s son in law, Dr. Andrew Mujugira, recounted the good moments they shared from the time he was welcomed into the Rubadiri family. He remembers his father in law as person of strong values who never took anything lightly, including his grand children’s kindergarten parties.
His son Tengo Rubadiri expressed gratitude to Makerere University for recognizing his father. “The presence of the people who were close to him at this function is clear testimony of the love he has got in return for all the lives he touched,” he said. In memory of their father, Prof. Rubadiri’s children recited a poem titled “And Why Not”, written by their elder brother, Kwame Rubadiri.
The Head of the Department of Literature, Makerere University, Dr Okot Benge appreciated the Office of the Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Academic Affairs and that of the Principal of CHUSS for the support rendered towards the event. “Many of us in Uganda knew Prof. Rubadiri as our own and would have wished to join the family for burial but it wasn’t possible. That is the reason the College found it appropriate to organize this symposium. In Africa when one dies and you can’t make for burial, you seek out some of his own at a nearest place and celebrate his life. I thank the Officer of the Deputy Vice Chancellor and that of the Principal CHUSS as well as the Department of Performing Arts and Film for making this possible. I also thank the family members for honoring our invitation,” he said.
During the symposium, students from the Department of Performing Arts and Film performed two of Prof. Rubadiri’s most popular poems, Stanley meets Mutesa and An African Vigil.
The memorial lecture was graced by scores of eminent literary scholars including Mr. Richard Ntiru (poet), Ssalongo Theo Luzuka (poet), Dr Christopher Kirunda and Prof. Harriet Masembe. Others included Prof. Paul Mugambi, Mrs. Lydia Mugambi and Hon. Joyce Mpanga.
Brief about Prof. Rubadiri
Prof. Rubadiri attended Kings College Budo in Uganda from 1941 to 1950 then Makerere University (1952-56), where he graduated from with a Bachelor's degree in English literature and History. He later studied Literature at King's College, Cambridge. He went on to receive a Diploma in Education from the University of Bristol.
At Malawi's independence in 1964, Prof. Rubadiri was appointed Malawi's first ambassador to the United States and the United Nations. When he presented his credentials to President Lyndon B. Johnson at the White House on 18 August 1964, he expressed the hope that his newly independent country would get more aid from the USA; he said that Malawi needed help to build its democratic institutions.
Prof. Rubadiri left the Malawian government in 1965 when he broke ties with President Hastings Banda. As an exile, he taught at Makerere University (1968–75), but he was again exiled during the Idi Amin years. He subsequently taught at the University of Nairobi, Kenya (1976–84), and was also briefly, along with Okot p'Bitek, at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, at the invitation of Wole Soyinka. Between 1975 and 1980 he was a member of the Executive Committee of the National Theater of Kenya. From 1984 to 1997 he taught at the University of Botswana (1984–97), where he was dean of the Language and Social Sciences Education Department.
In 1997, after Banda's death, Prof. Rubadiri was reappointed Malawi's ambassador to the United Nations, and he was named vice-chancellor of the University of Malawi in 2000. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Strathclyde in 2005.
On September 15 2018, Prof. Rubadiri died at the age of 88.
See below pictorial of the symposium.