Makerere University in Kampala was once known as the Oxford of East Africa. It was established in 1922 as a technical college by the colonial authorities. The Governor of the Protectorate of Uganda, Philip Mitchell spearheaded Makerere’s expansion to become a centre for higher education, and the college began to offer certificate course by 1937. In 1949, Makerere became affiliated with the University College of London, before becoming an independent national university after Independence. As Makerere graduated to full university status, it’s principal Yusuf Lule – who would briefly become Uganda’s president – was removed. President Obote replaced Lule with Frank Kalimuzo, who was given the title Vice Chancellor.
Obote was overthrown a year later by Idi Amin, who appointed himself the Chancellor of Makerere. It is then that Makerere’s fortunes turned. The university received minimal support. Buildings decayed as they were neglected. There were also staff shortages after members of the faculty were killed or fled.
In 1972, the vice chancellor, Frank Kalimuzo, disappeared. The Public Safety Unit – one of Amin’s feared secret police – snatched Kalimuzo from his home, shortly after Obote’s abortive attempt to invade Uganda from Tanzania. Although his body has never been recovered, it is assumed that he was murdered. As Obote had appointed him, Kalimuzo was therefore marked as a supporter of the fallen regime. His disappearance led to a number of staff going into exile, and Amin sought to rectify this by recruiting first Egyptians academics, which was a singular failure, and then he turned to Saudi Arabia for help. The mosque at the main entrance of the university is a mark of their time at Makerere.
After Amin was toppled in 1979, Makerere started to reclaim its reputation. A staff recruitment drive began, and universities in Canada and Australia donated books to replenish the libraries.
Makerere boasts a plethora of notable alumni, including Presidents of Uganda (Milton Obote, Yusuf Lule and Godfrey Binaisa), Tanzania (Julius Nyerere), Kenya (Mwai Kibaki) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Joseph Kabila), and the Archbishop of Canterbruy, John Sentamu.