Magande’s memoirs: A big gathering under the Musikili tree

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“In June 1972, I was transferred to the head office of the Ministry of Rural Development (MRD) in Mulungushi House and I shifted to Lusaka, where I stayed at the Longacres Lodge. I was told to immediately prepare for departure to Uganda, to attend a course at Makerere University aka ‘The Hill’ for a Master of Science (MSc) degree in agricultural economics. A Ford Foundation Scholarship had been arranged for me by Peter Stutley, the planning coordinator.
Timothy Kasapu was the other ministry official nominated to attend the course at Makerere University. Kasapu was much older than me and had worked for the ministry for a long time and was already a Provincial Agricultural Officer based in Kabwe, Central Province.
When I went to Namaila to say my goodbyes, there was a big gathering under the Musikili tree at Headman Matongo’s homestead. He proudly announced that I was to be the first member of the clan and family to fly in a plane to Uganda. By coincidence, while we were gathered, a Vickers Viscount plane flew over our village en route to Harare in Zimbabwe. Everyone was excited and wished me luck and that I should return to Namaila after my studies.
As I took my maiden flight on an East African Airways plane to Kampala via Nairobi on 3 July 1972, I recalled the wishes of all my village folk and reflected on my achievements so far. I was content that I was on a pioneering life path as no one of my relatives had ever been to East Africa.
I’d heard of Uganda in my school lessons as the home of the powerful Kabaka, king of the Baganda tribe and as the source of the Nile River, the longest river in the world. I learnt that the Nile River was much longer than our Zambezi River, which flows for 2,560 kilometres before pouring its waters into the Indian Ocean. I was excited and looked forward to visiting the source of the river that meanders through many countries for 6,690 kilometres and which housed the Aswan Dam, one of the largest man-made dams at the time.
I felt greatly honoured to attend one of the renowned universities in Africa, which had been attended by great African leaders including Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula. The two-year Master’s programme in agricultural economics was being introduced for the first time at Makerere University for students from Central and Eastern Africa. The aim was to train a cadre of agricultural economists needed in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. The agricultural economists should ‘be highly skilled in planning and preparation of agricultural development projects, project appraisal, financial assistance request preparation, and analysis of economic growth problems’.
At the Makerere University, Kasapu and I joined a group of eight other postgraduate students drawn from Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, and Uganda. All the postgraduate students were accommodated in the new Dag Hammaskjold Hostel. For purposes of sports, meals, and other extracurricular activities, we were allocated to various hostels occupied by undergraduates. I was assigned to Lumumba Hall, named after the revolutionary Congolese politician.
A group of Zambian students taking undergraduate courses in forestry and statistics warmly welcomed us. These included Fanwell Nduna and Jeremiah Banda. The hefty Fanwell Nduna was the chairman of the Zambian Students Association at the university. Nduna faithfully organized successful celebrations of Zambia’s independence on The Hill, which brought together many students of other nationalities.
On completion of his studies, Nduna returned home and assisted in the establishment of the ZAFFICO and propelled it to its success. He became a public community leader in Ndola. Banda became the director of the Central Statistical Office and later rose to the position of chief of the demography and social statistics division of the United Nations.
Our coming together every October as a Zambian family and the vociferous singing of the Zambian National Anthem was the envy of many students from East Africa, who could not even exchange greetings across tribes. Zambia was way ahead of most independent African countries in nation-building and unity. Soon, Kareko Mike Gatere, a Kenyan in my class and I found common ground and became very close friends.
My stay of eighteen months in Uganda was to be the most adventurous and nightmarish part of my life. The country went through its darkest history under the rule of the despotic General Idi Amin Dada, who staged a successful coup d’etat against President Milton Obote on 25 January 1971. In August 1972, in an act of Pan-Africanism, Amin expelled almost all of Uganda’s 80,000 Asians and seized their property, a move which proved immensely popular in Uganda and in most of Africa. However, the euphoria was short-lived as the barbarism applied to the Asians by Idi Amin was internalized and applied to fellow Ugandans, who were savagely brutalized for eight years.
My curiosity on the source of the Nile River was soon satisfied as I and some friends went on a trip to Jinja in eastern Uganda. As we boarded a small boat on Lake Victoria, we were expecting to disembark at some shore. Suddenly, the boat stopped in the middle of the lake. The coxswain pointed at some distance in the lake and drew our attention to a spout of water.
After rising a few metres in the air, the swirling water subsides and starts a westward wave on the surface of the lake. “That is the beginning of the Nile River, the longest flow of water in the world,” he explained. This is the only river I have seen, whose source is within a water mass.
The lessons in the agricultural economics programme were not difficult for me. These included economic theory, statistics, econometrics, agricultural production, and marketing, many of which I’d covered in my undergraduate studies at UNZA. My strong background in mathematics was used to explain some econometrics formulae to my classmates, many of whom had done pure agriculture science for their first degrees.
We had a good team of internal and visiting lecturers with considerable experience in the various subjects. Amongst our lecturers were Victor Aman, Hani Afifi, Ian Livingstone, and Matthew Okai, a seasoned civil servant holding the prestigious position of Director of Agriculture in the Ugandan Government. The latter taught us that a civil servant must always carry a notebook whenever on tour to record observations, discussions, and events. This was a repetition of my NIPA lessons and I religiously followed the teachings during my working life and this has helped me in recollecting events during my journey of life.
Much of the concern during that era in agriculture in the region was how to improve the marketing of crops and how to remunerate farmers adequately using quasi-governmental institutions. My animal husbandry work in Macha in 1966 and the agricultural marketing research work in Luapula Province in 1968 put me on top of the class in explaining situational challenges of agricultural development amongst small-scale farmers. We covered subjects on the process of rural change, adoption of new institutions and techniques and the role of farmer organizations, and the mass media.
The lessons in extension and rural sociology brought memories of the tour to Siampondo in 1971 and the advice of the PS on situational analysis and assessment. We learnt the theory of sociology applied to rural social structures, attitudes, community development and social psychology, and their effects on group dynamics and interactions.
In the background course of economic theory, we covered national income and its determinations, relationships between fiscal policy, monetary policy, savings, investment and economic growth, and welfare economics. In agricultural planning and policy formulation, we dealt with issues of project identification, evaluation, implementation, monitoring, and the application of social/benefit cost analysis
One of our assignments was to write comprehensive papers on agricultural marketing. I wrote what I considered to be a good paper highlighting real-life situations in Zambia and some of my personal thoughts. Unfortunately, this did not go down well with Lecturer Livingstone who was regarded as a guru on the subject and had even written a book, which was used as a textbook in the undergraduate courses.
From nowhere, I experienced humiliating episodes of abuse in class and was awarded failing grades in the subject that I knew so well. In fact, I had scored a good mark after our study of agricultural marketing in the Luapula Province in 1968. I reported the matter to Professor JJ Oloya, the head of the department, who summoned the two of us to a meeting. I threatened to drop the course if my scores did not improve. After some parental discussion and advice by Oloya, I requested that all my papers in the subject be marked by an additional lecturer.
Professor Oloya took on the additional responsibility of checking my agricultural marketing papers. At the end of the course, I scored a decent grade of four out of five points. Professor Oloya reminded me of the incident when he relocated to Zambia due to the deteriorating political situation in Uganda later in the eighties”, from “The Depth of My Footprints”.

Ng’andu Magande is former Minister of Finance


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