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Tribute to zoologist Christine Dranzoa with Uganda Tourism roots

from official funeral program - image courtesy of T.Ofungi

On June 28, 2022, Prof. Christine Dranzoa, 55, University Vice Chancellor of Muni University in the West Nile region of Uganda, passed away.

On June 28, 2022, Professor Christine Dranzoa, 55, University Vice Chancellor of Muni University in the West Nile region of Uganda, passed away at Mulago National Referral Hospital in Kampala after a long undisclosed illness.  

Born on January 1, 1967, in the most remote hamlet in the current Adjumani district (formerly part of Moyo district), Dranzoa rose from the abyss of adversity to go on to the university in pursuit of academic excellence where she fulfilled her dream of starting the first university in the west Nile region.

As a novice staffer with the Uganda Tourism Board, this writer first met Professor Dranzoa at a public workshop in 1996 organized by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (then Uganda National Parks) where she and the late Dr. Eric Edroma presented a paper on the history of national parks in Uganda most probably in commemoration of World Tourism Day.

The next encounter was in 2010 when representatives from several academic science disciplines convened at another workshop in Fort Motel, Fort Portal city in western Uganda, where she first revealed plans for a new university in the West Nile and led a team to visit several projects to improve livelihoods of women surrounding Kibale Forest National Park including crafts making and bee keeping.

On return to her Kampala at Makerere University residence, she handed samples of value-added organic  shea butter cosmetic cream produced by the women of the West Nile, which is to this day available in several cosmetic shops.

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In her early years, recounting her childhood, Dranzoa adopted a “cow-girlish” lifestyle where she loved to herd the family cattle and goats, work usually done by boys, which earned her a scar on her lip from a kick she received from a cow as she was milking it.   

Her primary school – Maduga Moyo Girls – was a stone’s throw away from her home where on many occasions at the sound of the school gong, usually a rusty tire rim, she ran to school barefoot just like her peers and learned the alphabet by drawing on the sand with her bare fingers. 

In the homestead, each child had a garden to water early in the morning in addition to routine chores such as grinding sorghum, cassava or (simsim) sesame seed. Mama Waiya, her mother, made sure she spared some sweet potatoes from the previous night’s supper before hopping off to school so that she could concentrate in the classroom.

The family’s cash cow had mama in and out of jail cells

As a way of getting school fees, the family sold foodstuffs and the girls joined their mother in brewing local brew (kwete). The brew was sold at a local drinking watering hole (joint) called Maringo. Just as the prohibitions in the 1920s and 30s in the USA, brewing of local liquor was illegal under the “Enguli Act” which prohibited the brewing of alcohol at home. Since this trade was the family’s cash cow, mama Waiya was in and out of police cells.

The 70s was a tumultuous period in Uganda where essential goods such as soap, sugar, and salt were in scarcity under the Idi Amin dictatorship regime when the country became a pariah state following economic sanctions by the international community. Christine and her siblings were often in and out of school having to queue up for essential goods in the market whenever mama fell ill.

Passed down from her mother, Christine was a devout Catholic and learned catechism, and together they prayed as they ground sesame seed into paste on a grinding stone. She exceled in class and that won her a scholarship to continue her secondary school at Sacred Heart Secondary School in Gulu district, a big relief on the financial burden to the family. 

Her education was interrupted in the 1979 by the “liberation war”′ when Idi Amin was driven out of power by Ugandan exiles backed by Tanzanian Forces. This forced several West Nilers from where Idi Amin hailed to flee to Sudan, including Christine and her parents, for fear of backlash reprisals from the “liberators.”

Won’t take no for an answer

When the family returned in 1980, Christine returned to resume her studies but the scholarship was no longer available. The continuing insurgency again forced the family to flee into exile. Undeterred, Christine was determined to take on the risk and return to studies and pestered her parents to send her back. Her persistence paid off, and her parents returned her to the relative safety of Moyo Catholic Parish Centre where a priest with the Comboni Missionaries offered to pay for her studies until she completed secondary school.

She then joined Makerere University in 1984 on a government of Uganda scholarship, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Zoology and eventually attaining a Ph.D. in Zoology at the same university in 1994 among other attainments in several disciplines from corporate governance, social skills under the Rockefeller Foundation Makerere University, Conservation Biology (University of Illinois, USA) Project Planning, and more. She also served as external examiner at Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Western Uganda, and Moi University Wildlife Management Department, Nairobi, Kenya. In addition, she peer reviewed several international journals and earned and supervised a number of grants that resulted in several quality research and graduate students.  

In a personal tribute published in the local Daily Monitor, Asega Aliga, an investment banker and global strategist on Pan-African business development and public policy, said of the fallen don: “Her personal accomplishments can only be better appreciated when seen from the fact that she rose from Adoa Village in Moyo, a peripheral part of a small land-locked African country away from the capital city with little chance of [a] decent education, let alone becoming a professor of zoology.”

A dream fulfilled rises from the earth

She left Makerere University in 2010 as Deputy Director, School of Graduate Studies, Makerere University, to fulfil her dream of setting up Muni University in a negotiated $30 million concessionary government-to-government soft loan from South Korea to finance infrastructure development for the budding institution.  

In observing the zeal in her distant expression, Aliga said, “In all these discussions, the glow on Prof. Dranzoa’s face and the power of her gestures as she explained her points left me in no doubt that she was a woman on a mission, and there was no challenge she would not subjugate in her quest.” He was impressed that Prof. Dranzoa had already worked with the local government authorities, civic leaders, and local communities to devise a model that would ensure the university was endowed with vast amounts of land in at least 5 districts in the West Nile to enable establishment of the different schools of commerce, agriculture, engineering, law, etc., across the West Nile in addition to the main campus at Muni in Arua.

That the land would also offer opportunities for future expansion and potential partnerships for income-generating commercial ventures for the benefit of the university, with each school campus, development would accrue the benefits of a university community including improving the economic livelihoods of the local population.

As Vice Chancellor of Muni University, she received a gold medal accolade from the President of Uganda, His Excellency Gen. Yoweri T. Kaguta Museveni, in 2018 in honor of her exceptional and outstanding contributions towards the development of Uganda.

Although she never married or had any known biological children, she became a mother and a poster lady for the girl child to hundreds sponsoring vulnerable and marginalized children in education. She came from a region that was faced with conquest under colonial times from Mahdist Sudan in the 1880s – Emin Pashas, garrison at Fort Dufile – under occupation by Belgian Congo under Lador Enclave, which reverted to Uganda under British rule in World War I in 1914. Against all odds and wars in her times, Professor Christine Dranzoa distinguished herself by dedicating her life entirely in pursuit of education for herself and for her people, escaping from the yoke of poverty and backwardness.

Her life and legacy will live on because she planted a seed in all the students whose education she impacted profoundly in one way or another.  

Representing the President at the funeral, Her Excellency Vice President of Uganda, Jessica Alupo, in her      eulogy hailed the deceased as hardworking, a pillar of education, a social educationist, and a leading contributor to the establishment and development of Muni University about a decade ago.

In memoriam

Several proposals were presented to immortalize Dranzoa including naming the road to the school after her, or a building, or even sculpting a statue in her likeness at the university. Notable was a proposal by Williams Anyama, Local Council 5 Chairman, Moyo district, who appealed to the government of Uganda to set up “The Professor Christine Dranzoa Education Trust Fund” for the girl child in order to continue her legacy.

Another befitting tribute could be for a film director, perhaps Mira Nair, to direct a movie dedicated to this academic matriarch from West of The Nile. With an impressive track record at directing Ugandan featured movies such as 1991 “Mississippi Masala” starring Denzel Washington and the 2016, Disney “Queen of Katwe” starring David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o, one won’t have to look too far to produce such a film.  

“We offer her to the Lord to receive and reward her for the wonderful work she has done in this country through this university and other assignments,” preached Bishop Sabino Ocan Odoki of Arua Diocese in his sermon at the funeral mass held on July 6, 2022, before Professor Dranzoa was laid to rest at Moyo Catholic Mission. “May she rise with the angels.”

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About the author

Tony Ofungi - eTN Uganda

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