Mak Luminaries Call for the Promotion of Humanities and Literature in Uganda’s Education System for a Balanced Citizenry with Human and Moral Values


Makerere University Literary legends Prof.Arthur  Gakwandi and Austin Bukenya have commended government effort in promoting Natural sciences and building the middle class economy with reservations.

Whereas promotion of natural sciences is backed by good intentions, the professors contend that downgrading humanities and social sciences will result into a population without human and moral values.

They proposed that ,for holistic human development, both natural, humanistic and social sciences must be promoted.

The two professors were speaking during their 80th Birth Day on 5th April 2024 at Makerere University's Yusuf Lule Auditorium. The Department of Literature in collaboration with the School of Languages Literature and Communication and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences organised a half day literary event codenamed: Celebrating Literary Legends : Gakwandi and Bukenya@80 aimed  at recognizing, celebrating and debating these two literary legends as part of Makerere’s literary luminaries that have contributed to her indisputable literary iconicity.Arthur Gakwandi and Austin Bukenya are seminal writers and literary scholars in Makerere University and Uganda’s history,  widely celebrated beyond Uganda’s borders.


         Photo moment:  Prof Gakwandi(6th) Prof. Umar Kakumba (7th) and Prof. Bukenya (8th) in a group photo with the college leadership  and other luminaries after the opening session

Reflecting on the Ugandan Society for the years he has lived and where the country is heading, Prof. Arthur Gakwandi noted that Government has focused and made progress in expanding  the  middle income class. He however noted that no one is concerned about the kind of  middle class being created.

“I see people driving huge land cruisers on the highway and they lower window screens and throw  bottles and banana peelings in the middle of the road. This is the middle class.  I see people having a lot of money but peddling conspiracy theories, exchanging insults. Is that the kind of middle class we want? Gakwandi wondered adding that:

“So we are racing to improve the economy, introduce science by giving further incentives but Ubuntu which is the oil that creates the society, the personal relationship between people is lacking. I see people building walls around themselves and people do not know each other and only interact with money.” Gakwandi stated

Gakwandi expressed fear that the country is creating a middle class that does not serve people.

The middle class, he said  is supposed to balance between   the rich indulgencies and lack of concern by those who are privileged on one hand, and those at the bottom who have no voice and are trapped in poverty. But if we have a middle class that does not play that role, then it’s not serving its society.


                                                            Prof Arthur Gakwandi making his remarks

Prof. Gakwandi justified the unique power of the humanities and social sciences - Literature inclusive.

The unique power of literature according to Prof. Gakwandi  is to enable readers to enter the lives of other people to experience their pain, their pleasures , their ambitions and their fantacies which, no other discipline comes close to.

“History can tell you how many people died in the 2nd world war, who were the principal actors and their roles in determining the outcomes. Even science can tell you the role of technology, the role it played in tilting the balance and economics can assess the impact of the war on economies of the countries.

But none of these can convey the personal anguish of the people who were caught up in various localities during the phases of the war, but, a novelist can capture the impact of the social and emotional life of those who were caught in the war. And when you get emotionally connected to people, you stop regarding them as statistics. So it is important to make Literature an important  element of our education system and promote literature as a life-long source of leisure that has the ability to connect”, Gakwandi stressed.


                                                       Prof. Arthur Gakwandi receiving the department gift 

Prof Kagwandi commended the department of Literature for the recognition and courteous relationship nurtured over the years.

“What is most touching is that I keep reading the Ugandan newspapers about people fighting for office, jobs, undermining each other and trying to exclude others so as to take their positions. What has been good at the Literature department where I have spent so many years is that we had such a good courteous relationship with each other and myself, I left the department three times and every time I came back, they were happy to welcome me back. There was no rivalry, no competition…” He added

He saluted the leadership of literature department for thinking about this kind of occasion to recognise the contribution made to the growth of the department adding that he feels gratified that people that he taught have ascended  to levels of professors.


                                                       Prof. Arthur Gakwandi and family cutting the cake

Humanities are being systematically degraded, ignored and underfunded - Prof. Austine Bukenya

Prof Austin Bukenya observed that the humanities are being systematically degraded, ignored and underfunded.

“We have to mount a certain fight to keep the humanities on the front path. We write not simply to pleasure ourselves but we write in order to sustain and develop society.

Bukenya called for respect of humanities and social sciences if the country is to produce a civilised middle class population.


                                                                                  Prof. Austin Bukenya speaking 

“The sciences are going to help us advance technically and economically but they are not going to help advance humanity –the Ubuntu. Please, make humanities including literature visible, desirable and acceptable.

Philosophy teaches you to think. Language teaches you how to communicate and literature teaches you how to feel and those are the processes of humanisation. We need a human society not just a country of mechanical robots”, Prof Bukenya appealed and dismissed as false the reasoning that humanities and social sciences are unemployable.

Offering guidance on how to make lives worthwhile, Prof Austin Bukenya advised participants to have passion, love and faith.

“Be driven  and have passion for things that  you care and feel strongly about and they will keep you going.  Secondly love yourself and other people. But if you don’t love yourself, you can’t love other people and you will have low esteem. Everybody has something to contribute to your being and thirdly, have faith and believe in yourself and others especially the potential in other people to do good”, These, Bukenya said  kept him going and  loving his students


                                        Prof. Austin Bukenya (C) receiving   department gifts from Prof. Okello Ogwang and Prof. Dominic Dipio

Vice Chancellor honors Gakwandi and Bukenya as unrivalled class of academics

Presiding over the function as Chief guest, the Vice Chancellor represented by his Deputy in charge of Academic Affairs Assoc. Prof. Umar Kakumba hailed the  Department of Literature for making  it part of their vision and aim to celebrate the people that have built for the future, describing the initiative as a great part of the ubuntu philosophy, to share the joy and achievements of those who have gone before them, and working toward inspiring the future generation.

“Their achievements outshine most of us, but also remind us that the academic journey ahead many of us is something we ought to take in order to be like they are or even greater than they are. After all, the latter generation must build on what they have found ”,  Kakumba stated

He said the nature of scholarship these two gentlemen nurtured serve as  a reminder  of the centrality of both the literary and creative arts to human development and humanity.

“While we read stories about the characters they have created, we are reminded of our situation in the world, and how important it is to see the human being as the focus of our relationships. I am sure the students’ performances will not only entertain us, but will awaken us to the truth about our being in a world that needs healing, laughter and celebration. This is what we do in Africa when we celebrate people. This is what makes CHUSS and the Department of Literature unique”, Kakumba emphasized adding that:

“Bukenya and Gakwandi belong to a class of academics that are unrivalled. Having shared them with the world, both in academia and diplomatic service shows that Makerere truly takes its place on the world map. I have heard what they have studied and dedicated their lives to, showing that we have played in a role in building both theory and practice of the literary arts.


                                                                                 Assoc. Prof. Umar Kakumba representing the Vice Chancellor 

This is a journey that many of us ought to take. What they have built, we must build further and never let die. Orature is a central field of study in the Department of Literature. Seeing the man who gave it its breath seated here with us is not only awestriking, but humbling. That is what makes the academy an amazing place”.

“Today, as we celebrate these two legends, we are reminded of our place in the twenty first century. We give due honor to the people that played a part in making the academy a place where debates and conversations about life start and keep happening. It must not end here. It is a tradition we must continue. This is what keeps our disciplines alive”, The Vice Chancellor lauded

Gakwandi and Bukenya make life real- Prof. Josephine Ahikire

The Ag. Principal College of Humanities and Social Sciences Prof. Josephine Ahikire described the day as an occasion to celebrate the practitioners of life, for this is what Literature is about.

 “Literary legends like Gakwandi and Bukenya make life real or like our students say “ They make life tick”, because they  talk about, reminisce, reflect, debate, analyse, comment and simultaneously live life.  In short they bring life to life”. She said


                                                                                 Prof. Josephine Ahikire delivering her remarks

In 2022, Ahikire reported that the Department of Literature celebrated the lives of literary giants: Rubadiri, Ngugi  and Wangusa but that time each icon had a separate platform. This time round in 2024, she explained, the department decided to reinvent its style and try out a double portion approach celebrating Prof Gakwandi and Prof Bukenya on the same afternoon.

“This afternoon the College of Humanities and Social Sciences is sitting at the feet of two literary legends to show strongly the great heritage we are so very proud of. Prof Gakwandi and Prof Bukenya have nurtured the Department of Literature and its sister departments  through challenging times.

They carried out the work of sustaining the name of this university through the Amin years and at some point the situation was so tense that they had to leave or they would have been lost in the mist of violence. We are grateful for their resilience, prudence and for their courage as well as for always living for  Makerere and Uganda even for the times when they were far away from here”, the principals appreciated.


                                                                                    Students performing on stage

Prof. Ahikire also stated that this event  put the student community at the centre of the celebration so that they  understand the importance of pillars. The literary scholar Ngugi wa Thiong’o keeps insiting that all scholars that use the term orature to talk about Africa’s wealth of verbal arts should acknowledge that Pio Zirimu and his student Austin Bukenya while here at Makerere University coined the term which is being used world wide.

“ We celebrate Prof Gakwandi in equal measure and acknowledge the foundational work he carried out in demonstrating how the African novel was relevant to contemporary experience and building a base for African literary criticism from the perspective of an African critic. We also take particular note of the work he has done in the field of creative writing as a mentor and a creative writer himself,” Ahikire stressed.

She was hopeful that students will look with pride and admiration to Gakwandi and Bukenya’s unique and time-tested efforts and choose to continue Makerere’s vibrant legacy of ‘building for the future’.

Prof Gakwandi and Mwalimu Bukenya  are crucial pillars - Assoc. Prof. Saudah Namyalo

The  Dean, School of Languages, Literature and Communication Assoc. Prof. Saudah Namyalo  said, the school was  proud to present two courageous voices whose academic and creative work embarks on journeys that crisscross from the real world to the imaginative and from the imaginative to the real world to teach the values of being fully human.

“As a school, we are proud to celebrate two eminent literary critics and creative writers in Makerere university and Uganda’s history.  Prof Gakwandi is widely known for his novel Kosiya Kifefe and its ideas on colonial and post independence experiences and for grappling with thoughts on the transitions between the city and the village, poverty and privilege. Prof. Gakwandi both as a literary critic and creative writer has demonstrated that stories and their analysis keep us connected to our communities but also make us aware of human folly” the Dean stated.


                                                     Assoc. Prof. Saudah Namyalo  speaking during the celebrations

In Mwalimu Bukenya, the Dean explained that school  was celebrating  a man who has been hailed as a true East African, who is at home in all East Africa,  and is claimed as belonging to the whole region.

“In fact sometimes our Kenyan siblings do point out that the man’s name has the word  Kenya in it so he truly belongs to Kenya even by name. When he speaks Kiswahili the Tanzanians turn and tell us to send their brother back home. When Makerere Counts the years he has served here, they feel justified to say that his roots are indeed here. So the school is proud to name you, Mwalimu, among its own and to celebrate you on Makerere grounds, your first academic home”. Said Namyalo.

She thanked the Department of Literature for giving a chance to  students to recognize the achievements of those before them, so that they too can be inspired to craft brave new worlds to insist that the study of humanity is valuable and priceless.

 Gakwandi and Bukenya   opened my academic career – Dr. Edgar Nabutanyi

The Head Department of Literature Dr. Edgar Nabutanyi thanked Prof Gakwandi and Mwalimu Bukenya  for giving the university this honor to celebrate them.

Nabutanyi expressed gratitude to the Vice Chancellor for making time to celebrate with the department and for continuously heeding to the department call.

The head also thanked the Dean and Principal for untiring support to the department given the numerous activities they engage in. Nabutanyi extended appreciation to Chair organizing committee for the successful organization of the event.

Dr. Nabutanyi introduced and thanked outstanding members of staff who have won national and international awards to show the genealogy of great work that the department of Literature has produced. He said the winners stand on the shoulders of the giants like Gakwandi and Bukenya being celebrated for their great work.


                                              Dr. Edgar Nabutanyi making his remarks

 The two celebrated gentlemen according to Edgar Nabutanyi  are important in his life.

“In mid 2000s I was assigned Prof. Bukenya as my  supervisor for MA and during those days, I was young and thought I was clever and I had an exaggerated sense of what I could do as a dissertation. I told him I wanted to read the African Novel using the architype theory.  He spent ten minutes explaining what architype were and recommended Prof. Gakwandi’s  book and the novel - Contemporary experiences in Africa.

This, in a way opened my academic career and a few years later, Prof. Abasi Kiyimba during my defense of my thesis commended me for having done good work and mastered not only the theory but also the area”. He narrated

Dr. Nabutanyi continued to attribute his success to the two celebrated  professors citing that during his teaching career at O-level, his student nicknamed him  Kifefe in shortened form as Kife and the name is  still popular with students he taught that time.

He said the two, Gakwandi and   Bukenya  have been influential expressing hope and pledged that the new crop of students will live to the good works that these elders have done.

He thanked Prof. Gakwandi and Bukenya for gracing the corridors of the literature department and doing the wonderful work. He also extended gratitude to their families for sharing with them.

The Chair Organising committee thanked all participants and the Gakwandi and Bukenya family for gracing the occasion.


                                                                                Prof. Susan  Kiguli speaking

Kiguli recognized the efforts by the committee in providing the forum to promote critical debate and advance awareness of homegrown talent and outstanding service to humanity beyond Makerere’s century of existence.

Kiguli described Prof. Austin Bukenya as an orator who speaks many many languages fluently while Prof Arthur Gawandi  as   widely travelled and one who has met and dined with great writers.

In the spirit of continually drawing attention to our own work and accomplishments at Makerere University, the Department of Literature  showcased oral performances from the students, readings, a keynote address by Prof. Abasi kiyimba and a panel discussion of  Gakwandi and Bukenya Scholars.


               Panelists: Dr Chris Kirunda, Mr. Ismail Magezi, Dr. Innocent Masengo, Prof. Dominic Dipio and Chair Assoc. Prof. Susan Kiguli

Most of the activities of the day were carried out by students from the Department of Literature in a bid to inspire them to think of the importance of following the work of our own scholars and practitioners. This effort aims at focusing on Gakwandi and Bukenya’s monumental achievements and promoting  creative writing, critical debate and cultural production within Makerere University, Uganda and beyond.

The Keynote lecture by Prof. Abasi Kiyimba is attached.

More readings below:

 Makerere Celebrates Literary Titans: Gakwandi and Bukenya  in Newvision:

Mak set to honor Gakwandi and Bukenya @80:

Gakwandi and a few rebels of Ugandan literature Wednesday, April 03, 2024:

Muk Honors Professors Arthur And Austin For Their Contribution To Literature. Church of Uganda Family TV:

Makere Professor Bukenya and Gakwandi honored. Beg TV:

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