Bernard Onyango. He came, he saw and he conquered; and his works will always be inscribed in the history of Uganda’s academia, a reason why a new award has been started in his name.
By Conan Businge
He came, he saw and he conquered; and his works will always be inscribed in the history of Uganda’s academia, a reason why a new award has been started in his name.
Bernard Onyango, a renowned administrator of tertiary institutions passed on last year. Barely months after his demise, the Bernard Onyango Academic Excellence Award is being pioneered by the old boys of St. Peter’s College Tororo, a school where he left an insurmountable legacy.
Onyango was the first student of the school to score aggregate eight in eight subjects in 1949, earning him a bursary from the then Bukedi District Council.
The award will be launched May 30 this year. The awards launch at Silver Springs Hotel in Bugolobi, will be preceded by a memorial lecture by former Prime Minister Prof. Apolo Nsibambi at Makerere University in the afternoon.
The Academic Excellence award will be an annual recognition of those who excel in academics at St. Peter’s and provide scholarships for them according to school authorities.
Awards chairman Onapito Ekomoloit says the prize is in honour and memory of Bernard Onyango. “The BOAE Awards and Lectures are not only intended to motivate and spur excellence at Onyango’s former school but also to provide an opportunity for Ugandans to reflect on the issue of integrity in contemporary academic institutions,” Onapito explains.
Onyango died at the age of 83 years, as a man of many records. Having been academic registrar for the last 40 years at Makerere, Uganda Martyrs and Nkozi univeristies, his name will forever remain in the records of Uganda’s higher education system.
Onyango belonged to the glorious years of Uganda’s higher education; when scholars paid attention to academic excellence, when hard work paid and when integrity at school and work were the order of the day.
His outstanding contribution offers a lasting legacy for the promotion of high standards of education. He also was a teacher, mentor, leader and top-notch academic.
One of the first graduations at Makerere University that were presided over by President Yoweri Museveni. Prof Kirya( right) was VC and Onyango (centre)
Onyango is believed to have been the first graduate to hail from the former Bukedia district. He started his career as deputy registrar at Makerere in 1963 before becoming the first African academic registrar of the University of East Africa.
He served there for five years until Makerere University became a fully-fledged and independent university in 1970. Together with others, Onyango pioneered the establishment of Uganda Martyrs University, Nkozi serving as academic registrar until he finally retired in December 2000.
Apart from his long service at Makerere, Onyango had a record of steering and keeping the name of Makerere University without any scandals. Throughout his career, he exhibited great leadership qualities that earned him a good reputation in and outside Uganda.
At Makerere he worked to uphold the good name of the university, working through the political turbulence of the 1970s. Through all this, he remained steadfast in his judgment; true to his calling and principled to a fault.
In one particularly interesting case, so the story goes, Onyango turned down an order from President Idi Amin to have his daughter arbitrarily admitted to the university.
He is alleged to have told Amin in no uncertain terms that admitting his daughter was not proper. Amin was disappointed but equally satisfied by Onyango’s sober argument.
Despite the difficult times, Onyango remained fully in charge of the university; often taking exception to unfounded rumours that Amin was interfering in the affairs of Makerere.
His principled nature soon vindicated him. His strong values, hard work and astute academic prowess inspired many people, including his own children some of whom have become leading academicians.
Onyango’s unique service will always be remembered for the many people who attended Makerere in the 1970s and 1980s. It was no bed of roses in his career though.
One time he had to prematurely end his visit to the US to calm down rumours by a Kenyan newspaper that he had fled the country in 1972. Onyango described this incident as one of his worst moments in his career.
Former Uganda PM Apolo Nsibambi will deliver a keynote address on May 30 in honour on Onyango.
There were good glorious moments too such as in 1970 when two sitting presidents Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere and Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta accompanied by Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda visited Makerere during his tenure.
His time in Nkozi marked the peak of his administrative career; a far less dramatic tenure where he admittedly claims to not have had any serious bad moment compared to the 1970s. Onyango was academic registrar when Uganda Martyrs University held its first graduation in 1996.
Onyango started his primary education at Soni Primary School in Nagongera, and later transferred to Kisoko Primary School where he completed his primary education in 1945.
He joined St Peter’s College, Tororo in the same year, where he studied from senior one to four; before being admitted to Makerere University in 1951, where he studied English and Sociology.
Onyango did a diploma in education at Makerere University, and was head hunted to go and teach at King’s College, Budo and St. Mary’s College Kisubi.
In 1956 he decided to return to St Peter’s College as a teacher.
In 1958 he won another Bukedi local government scholarship to pursue an academic diploma and Master’s degree at the Institute of Education, London University.
He then returned to Uganda where he developed his career as an academic registrar.
Onyango’s legacy lingers on at St. Peter''s College Tororo