By Henry Lubega
Former US president Barrack Obama is expected to visit Uganda in December, organisers of a week-long conference to mark 400 years since the start of slavery against Africans, have said.
Mr Obama, the first African-American to rise to the highest office in the world’s most powerful country, has been intricately involved in causes for the emancipation of Black people in America, and often quotes Dr Martin Luther King Jr, the icon of the Civil Rights Movement, who was assassinated for the cause in 1968.
Saturday Monitor can exclusively reveal that the long wait for Mr Obama to visit Uganda is nearing an end, thanks to the organisers of a conference on a topic that is very close to the former president’s heart.
About the conference
The conference, whose theme is ‘400 years since debut of slavery; a renewed people’, will be held in the first week of December. The conference’s vision is ‘emancipation from all forms of racial bondage, starting with the initiation of enslavement of the African people in antiquity to all manner of modern-day slavery generating the enslavement of the mind.’ It is co-organised by the Ankrah Foundation and Bugema University.
Dr Maxine Ankrah, the head of the Ankrah Foundation, also co-chair of the conference, said the conference aims at creating a new outlook for the African people and the Africans in the Diaspora.
“There is need for a new mindset; this is a beckon call for Africa and Africans to rethink who we are, recover our uniqueness, values and culture,” Dr Ankrah said.
On Mr Obama attending the conference, Dr Ankrah said: “His invitation was officially delivered earlier this week, and he is one of the speakers during the week.”
Dr Ankrah said Mr Obama’s father was their family friend. This newspaper was unable to obtain independent confirmation from Mr Obama on the matter.
A great granddaughter of slaves, Dr Ankrah was born Eleanor Maxine Moore on January 29, 1934 to Rodges and Minnie Moore, in North Carolina in the US.
Her Ghanaian husband, the late Canon Kodwo Ankrah, before coming to Uganda, served as Africa secretary for the World Council of Churches, which seeks to unite churches that believe in Jesus Christ, and as a director in the All Africa Conference of Churches.
In Uganda, Canon Ankrah worked with the administration of the Anglican Church and as a lecturer at the Bishop Tucker Theological College [now Uganda Cristian University] in Mukono District. He died in 2015.
Among other things, Dr Ankrah taught in the Faculty of Social Sciences at Makerere University from mid to late 1970s, and again from mid-1980s to the early 1990s, rising at one point to become the head of department of Social Works.
She has also worked to promote women’s rights and research on HIV/Aids.
The couple set up the Ankrah Foundation, mostly remembered as a hospitality establishment in Mukono, but initially set up with the aim of promoting science education. Of the more than 50 years Dr Ankrah has lived in Africa, at least 40 have been spent in Uganda alone, where she and her husband first arrived in 1974.
Regarding the conference, Dr Ankrah added: “The keynote speaker will be the first female chancellor of Ghana University, Ms Mary Chinery-Hese, whose husband, the late L.J. Chinery-Hesse, was Uganda’s legislative drafting consultant in the directorate of the First Parliamentary Counsel from 1989 to 2014.”
Dr Paul Mukasa, the director for research at Bugema University and co-chair of the conference, said despite the relatively small number of Ugandans who were sold into slavery compared to West Africa, Uganda too shared in the evils of slavery.
Dr Mukasa said: “The conference aims at achieving the vision of emancipating our people from all forms of social bondage. We have a baggage on our mind … that we are inferior. But we have to create a new mindset in the current and future generations of Ugandans and Africans as a whole.”
President Museveni is also expected to attend the conference, which organisers say will attract numerous academicians and eminent people of African descent from all over the world.
Need for rebirth
Overall, Dr Ankrah said of the conference: “This is a beckon call that Africa and Africans rethink who we are, recover their uniqueness, values and our culture. We are asking the government of Uganda to announce a new policy that Africa and African Diaspora studies must take place from primary schools all the way to the university and across the university studies to create a new mindset that values things that are African.”
Dr Ankrah added: “One of the outcomes we expect to see out of the conference is the introduction of Black studies, which is not done anywhere in the 52 universities in Uganda. Other countries like South Africa, Ghana and others are already doing it. My hope for the universities in Uganda is to pick up the subject because that will be the beginning of changing the mindset.”
She said that the University of Ghana has agreed to work with Ugandan universities that are willing to adopt the subject. Universities in the US, including the University of Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Lincoln are also ready to help, Dr Ankrah said.
The Obama Phenomenon
Becoming president. Mr Obama assumed office as the 44th president of the US in January 2009 amid excitement from across the world, including Uganda, and there was disappointment that he left in 2017 after serving two terms without visiting Uganda.
Visits to Africa. While president, he visited Kenya, the birth land of his father, in 2015, and visited again in July last year. Before that, he had visited the country in 2006 when he was still a senator.
Mr Obama’s two immediate predecessors, Mr George W Bush (Jr) and Mr Bill Clinton, had visited Uganda while in office as the East African country pulled its weight as a regional power broker.