In Summary
  • Teachers are the prime movers in every aspect of social change and development.

  • After all, we are the ones that shape, form and guide our people at every stage of their growth, and it is these people who form the societies that we want.

  • If we want a society of intelligent, well-informed, humane, caring, decent, honest and self-respecting people, it is teachers that have, in the first place, to impart these qualities.

Plainly and bluntly, we start. Walimu wenzangu (my fellow teachers), three things I beg of you. First, do not lose your self-respect, your dignity, your nobility. Second, remain united. Do not let anyone divide you for any reason. Once you start fighting among yourselves, others will use you for their own ends, and rob you of the power and strength to fight for your rights. Third, remember that your pupils and students are your primary responsibility, your reason for existence as teachers.

BEATIFUL MONIKER

I promise I will not comment on matters before the courts. But about my brother and sister teachers, I will not be silenced. I am a mwalimu, and there is no way I can pretend to be neutral about matters concerning my teaching fraternity and sorority. But I will add a few words here in defence of my cry from the heart and humble appeal to you.

“Mwalimu”, as I keep boasting to you, is the name and title that I love and cherish most dearly in my public life. Now, it is Kenya, and more specifically the teaching profession in Kenya, that gave me the glorious name. The Teachers Service Commission enrolled me as Teacher No. 1013 (if I remember correctly) in May 1977 and sent me out to teach at Machakos Girls High School. That is where I was first called Mwalimu.

You may remember my telling you how pleasantly surprised and almost startled I was to hear not only my students but also my colleagues call me by that beautiful moniker. Since then, I have worn it like the badge of honour that it is, with such pride that if you came to Makerere and asked for “Mwalimu” without elaboration, most campus souls would direct you to me. I thank you, colleagues, for making me “the” Mwalimu of an entire university, if not country?

99 NAMES

The background to all this is that the mwalimu label carried special connotations in both the Tanzania and Uganda of my youth. In Tanzania, plain “Mwalimu” was obviously Dr Julius Kambarage Nyerere, the independence hero, just as “Mzee” in Kenya referred to our founding President Jomo Kenyatta. I recall an occasion in Uganda where President Yoweri Museveni politely declined the title of “mwalimu”, proposed by the Hon Margaret Zziwa, a distinguished lady who was later to serve as Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA). Museveni is reported to have said that his refusal of the title was in deference to Mwalimu Nyerere, who had been his, and my, “teacher” in Dar es Salaam.

In Uganda, secular teachers are rarely called walimu. They are referred to by various local names, like “lapwony”, comparable to Luo “japuonj”, or “musomesa” (one who makes others read). Mwalimu (or “muwalimu” as they utter it) is reserved for Qur’anic teachers. This last one I particularly love, for two reasons.

First, it compliments me, as indeed it should every serious teacher, as a person of knowledge and learning, since its etymology is “ilm”, the Arabic for “knowledge”. You probably know that one of the 99 wonderful names of Allah is “al Aliim”, the All-Knowing.

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