Tribute to Silas Majoro, Rwanda’s towering patriot and educationist

Today is our day. October 5 is World Teachers’ Day. As a teacher, I find it a fitting moment to invite Rwandans to reflect on the role played by our predecessors that are long gone, yet their work has laid the foundation upon which our own contribution stand and blossom today.

Today is our day. October 5 is World Teachers’ Day. As a teacher, I find it a fitting moment to invite Rwandans to reflect on the role played by our predecessors that are long gone, yet their work has laid the foundation upon which our own contribution stand and blossom today.

Such was Silas Majoro, whose life’s story is an embodiment of early struggles and resilience of Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS) in Rwandan education system. 

 

A brilliant youth in the first Anglican Church-founded school in Gahini (Kayonza District) who was later admitted to King’s College Budo in Uganda (Eton College of the Colonial East Africa), Silas Majoro emerged as the first Rwandan university college graduate teacher in early 1940s. He was marginalised by the Belgian colonial administration because of his religious and educational background. The only school where he could demonstrate his superior abilities was the little known CMS-founded school in his home village of Gahini.

 

It is there that King Mutara III Rudahigwa quickly noticed his innovations in blending indigenous values and modern education in a lively and less gender-restrictive pedagogy, which seemed to breed a new ‘social Modus Vivendi’. This earned him a well deserved place on the King’s advisory council, ‘Conseil Supérieur du Pays’, but did not augur well with the colonial establishments.

 

It is actually said that Majoro had been earmarked for the post of the general inspector of all Rwandan schools, something that was apparently sabotaged by the catholic and colonial leaderships. In their ‘Mission et Engagement Politique après 1945’, for example, Caroline Sappia and Olivier Servais, pointed out that Majoro was an interesting element for the straggling Anglican Church, but highly doubted by the influential Catholic Church and the colonial government. Kevin Ward, in ‘The East African Revival: History and Legacies’ wrote that “Majoro’s classmate and close friend was Sir Edward Kabaka Mutesa II of Buganda (in 1950), he had become a prominent advisor to Umwami (King) of Rwanda… Majoro was set to be a key figure in the future direction of his country”.

Perhaps, his teacher and the author of King’s College Budo Centenary History (1906-2006), Prof. Gordon MacGregor would have added that Silas Majoro was only doing what fellow alumini (Budonians) were busy doing in neighbouring Uganda: his friend King Edward Mutesa’s was struggling alongside other African politicians for their countries’ freedoms; Mr Eridadi Mulira had founded the first indigenous political party (UNM); his former classmate Dr Sarah Ntiro, the Ugandan ‘Rosa Parks’, whose story is retold in African women’s forums, had ferociously braved gender-based stigmas and emerged the first Makerere and Oxford University woman graduate – who was doing male’s subject: Math.

It was, therefore, of no surprise to many that Mr Majoro’s untimely death on March 31, 1958 in a Brussels hospital at the hands of a Belgian physician was a lot similar to that of his friend, King Mutara III Rudahigwa a year later (July 25, 1959).

In their quiet Port Bell home near Kampala last April, I had a chance to catch up with an elderly couple that had known Mr Majoro from Gahini, and had been at the Belgian hospital during the sorrowful moment. Clearly concealing her rekindled grief, the lady had this to say: ‘Like all other girls of my school, he inspired us to compete with boys as he braved the furious opposition of white missionaries who wanted us trained as accomplished wives of elite clergy and leaders….. I won a scholarship to a Belgian college because of him. We had gone to see him in hospital where he was recovering from mild bronchitis and we were chatting happily when we were suddenly asked to leave to allow a doctor to conduct his routine visit privately….the shocking news of his death came as we waited outside for the doctor’s round to end!’

Our invisible hand in politics

Bernardin Musungu’s accounts of the first Rwandan Catholic Bishop (A. Bigirumwami) around the same period point to his influence on Rwandan catholic youths of the time. As such, Major seminary teachers such as Fr Vincent de Decker (p.9), contrary to the colonial curriculum, started to nurture among the youth love for their cultural heritage. Many of them had worked with Mr Majoro to establish Groupe Marzorati that was dedicated to furthering indigenous values and knowledge. Bernardin affirms that, on the other hand, influences of others directly influenced the youths that kindled Hutu-Tutsi division.

He particularly cites Fr Naveau’s African Catholic Students’ Association (SECA) influences in all catholic schools, adding: ‘It is those colonial teachers in cassocks and trousers who vulgarized racist ideologies and invented Rwandan History ‘Made in Europe’.     

The point here is that, alongside the formal curriculum that guide teaching and learning, educators reserve formidable powers to influence the youth. William’s poem crowns this seldom noticed power: ‘for the dawn of each philosopher and king begins with a teacher’.

Mr Majoro was always going to have a great impact on Rwandan youth of his time. Unfortunately, he left us too soon, and Kevin Ward affirms that he was the embodiment of amajyambere (progress).

The unfortunate events of our history have succeeded to substantially erase the memories of such great educators’ patriotic charisma that we struggle to match today. As we celebrate the World Teachers Day today, I would like to recall this message I picked from college: ‘We conclude each lesson with a better class than we found, so that even if no one tells our story, our class’ deeds will indeed tell for generations to come’. This is our invisible hand in shaping politics, after all, it takes a big heart that we have, to help shape little minds.

Happy World Teachers’ Day, fellow teachers!

 

The writer is a lecturer at University of Rwanda’s College of Education.

The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.

E-mail: ekarangwa@ur.ac.rw

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