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Dr. Daniel R Ruhweza Appreciation

I was 19 years old when I put up my hand to express an opinion about the circumstances when abortion is / should be a right, to be exercised by a pregnant woman. It was a class in principles of constitutional law. The lecturer’s method was to pose questions and then moderate a debate among the students. I am embarrassed by the opinion I expressed on abortion at 19.

My opinion would change before I graduated. But that class provided a space where as a student, one could develop their ability to think on their own. Given that our secondary and high school education had focussed on “cramming” the right answers, here, one had to forget about the “right answer” and generate their own answers, and defend them. The Principles of Constitutional Law class introduced us to this way of learning.

The lecturer was approachable, compared to others. He did not have a rude / harsh word in his mouth. He was full of encouragement for students, and even when one expressed a horrifying opinion, he had a way of chastising the student without leaving a bitter taste in the mouth. I believe I followed him, after one of the classes, to ask a question I wasn’t able to ask during the class. He had time for us, his students.

In second year, I looked forward to the Evidence Law class because he was one of the teachers. His senior colleague was tough, she roll-called and if you missed class, you had to go to her office to explain yourself. He did not roll-call, and for that alone, we did not feel intimidated in his classes, compared to his senior colleague’s classes.

In the second semester of second year, I went to him to seek advice re: contesting for a student leadership position. I asked specific questions about my manifesto. He was very supportive, gave me some tips on winning and said indeed my ideas were good for the student body. Without asking, he gave me a financial contribution to my campaign budget.

Obamania was sweeping the world when we were in our second year of undergraduate education. He was probably the biggest Obama fan at the faculty. He had an Obama “Yes We Can” banner on top of his door. He was a convicted believer of the politics of hope that Obama preached and represented. It was in this period that we signed up on Facebook. It was then a “website” known to a few curious and computer-addicted people.

I lost the student leadership election and disappointed about the result, went to him for encouragement, but also for ideas as to what to do about the good manifesto that majority of the students who voted hadn’t chosen. One of the things the manifesto had promised was a student law magazine, a light read, not academic in the sense of a law review / journal, but not lifestyle focussed either. A law-leaning opinion and current affairs magazine.

Would he support the idea of starting the magazine, despite not occupying a student leadership position? Yes, he said. Would he become the patron of the magazine? Why not? he said. Could I go and see the dean, Prof. Sylvia Tamale and ask for her support too? he asked me. I developed cold feet. I did not say no, to the suggestion. But I did not say, yes, either.

I was thinking, I, Bwesigye, from P.O. Box Nyanja, going to see Prof. Sylvia Tamale, the famous record-shattering feminist? The dean of the faculty! How would I start? She is approachable. She will support the idea. Go and make an appointment with her secretary. I went to the secretary’s office straight. What did I want to talk to the dean about? An idea to start a magazine. She went in and came back. I was given a day to come and see the dean. And a time. 7am!

I wouldn’t have ever met the dean in person I believe, if it were not for the lecturer, now patron of our magazine, suggesting and insisting that I do. Consultations with the dean became frequent. It was her who thought the first proposed name for the magazine, “The Ivory Lawyer” was elitist and not good enough. She approved “Prima Facie” as the name. She officiated the launch of the magazine.

At this point, our patron as a magazine had become my personal mentor. He was no longer just another lecturer. When he left for the United Kingdom to study for his PhD, I missed him. It hit me that I would not take a class by him again, and I was sad. But by that time, Facebook had become a bigger reality in our lives. I sent him a friend request. I kept tabs on him via Facebook.

I stalked his blog. After completing the bachelor’s degree in Law, and at LDC, I read his blog entries, especially the poetry like a newly born again Christian reading the Bible. I remember one particular poem dedicated to his wife in which he described further education (Kusoma), the reason for his being away from her as a mistress in their marriage. This image, of Kusoma as a mistress I borrowed and used every time I’d be talking about reading / class time separating me from my lover then.

In very many ways, he shaped my life, not just by teaching me Principles of Constitutional Law and Evidence Law. There are very many things he taught me outside the classroom. Our relationship may have started in the classroom, but it did not end there. The most impactful aspects of the relationship indeed were outside the classroom.

Many times I look at his life and mine, and wonder if I haven’t disappointed him, if I haven’t betrayed the trust, hope, and his investment in me. He has recommended me for many things, most of which I have been successful at, I remember his words of encouragement when the going gets tough.

Last year, he published a book, “We don’t teach that at the university: confessions of a university don”. I highly recommend the book. A few days ago, it was his birthday.

Dr. Daniel R Ruhweza indeed touches lives through his job as a lecturer of Law at Makerere. I am here to testify. Happy belated birthday, Dr. And for you friends reading this, find his book and read it. Gift it to your friends, relations, etc who are just joining university. It is a guide as to how to make the most of the university experience, outside the classroom.


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