When you are the rich man in the village you are expected to do certain things like help the poor with some of their personal problems or even social services like financing the building of a new well. In many places politicians have taken on the same role so as to win favour of the voters.
The same is expected from companies and it is better known as corporate social responsibility. After a company has raked in millions and millions in profit, it will throw some money to the public as part of ‘giving back to the community’ as they always say. It has become so much of a practice that some companies can be guilt tripped into doing it even when their owners or shareholders are against it.
Corporate social responsibility comes in so many forms. There cases where a company is worth lots of millions will just buy a few buckets of paint and repaint a zebra crossing near a school and put up a sign post to remind everyone how generous they were with their money. Others will do bigger things like building a school, health centre, funding cancer research, funding a marathon or offering scholarships.
Speaking of scholarships, towards the end of last month I was on a bus from Kigali to Kampala and soon noticed something strange. I was one of the oldest people in the bus simply because 90 per cent of the passengers were students heading to Uganda for the beginning of the school term. Those who were not students were a few parents escorting their children to school.
This reminded me also of sometime when I wanted to book a bus from Kampala to Nairobi and I was told that all the buses had been booked for the next three days. The reason was that thousands of Kenyan and Tanzanian students studying in Uganda had just broken off for the Christmas holiday.
There is no doubt that Uganda remains the main education destination in East Africa. Rwandans, Kenyans, Tanzanians, Burundians as well as South Sudanese, Congolese and Eritreans can all be found in various education institutions from primary to university level in Uganda even dominating some of them.
During my university days there was an exchange programme between Uganda’s Makerere University and Tanzania’s University of Dar es Salaam and Sokoine University of Agriculture. Of course it had a smaller integration effort compared to the older days of the EAC where students who freely choose between Makerere, University of Nairobi or University of Dar es Salaam.
I have argued before that cases like those above are what East African integration is made up of. Uganda gets a good share of this and you are more likely to find East Africans who know about Kampala than Dar es Salaam or Bujumbura. This same privilege can also be spread out to other countries even if not on the same scale.
With more private universities all over the region, integration could be easily boosted by having each university offering a few scholarships to other East Africans. So we could have a university in Kenya for example, offering 10 scholarships to Ugandans, 10 to Rwandans, 10 to Burundians and 10 to Tanzanians.
With other universities in Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania also doing the same we can gradually create a generation of East Africans that know more about other East African countries and are more understanding and accommodative of others. Makerere University just launched a library in Mwai Kibaki’s name as a former student and lecturer at the university.
I also know that the Carnegie Mellon University in Rwanda offers partial scholarships to East Africans. But it would be great if others followed the same example but more so, had quotas for each country.
Even before integration, such a move can provide great learning opportunities both in and outside class. A lecturer can easily ask a student from Burundi studying in a Ugandan university to explain something about his country. The same student can also befriend a Tanzanian and they will occasionally talk about their home countries. And when he/she returns home I can bet phrases like, “you know in Uganda…” will not miss.
The best universities in the world love to draw a lot from such diversity. I believe it is something that can be replicated in the region as a way of universities giving back to the community through scholarships.