Words of Farewell
Dear Family members, relatives, friends and all Fellow mourners. It is a sad moment for all of us. There are many among you who knew Prof. Denis Okello-Atwaru more than I did. However, I had the opportunity to interact with him closely by virtue of my relationship with the African Rural University. He has been the substantive Vice Chancellor and I am the Chairman, of the University Council.
When Professor Atwaru Joined ARU I was told he had served in Makerere, Cavendish and Lugazi Universities in many responsible positions. That notwithstanding I was skeptical about what he could offer in a university in a remote area of Uganda. Many academicians especially professors go to rural areas to deal with respondents in their research work or as tourists in their home areas where they do not stay for more than a week! Therefore, I thought he was from the same mould and school of thought. We have a saying that a tree is bent when it is still young. Professor Atwaru relocated to the village in concert with James Yen’s philosophy: Go to the people, live with and love them. Work with them and that end they will say, they did it themselves.
My other concern was that the African Rural University (ARU) had created a course called Technologies for Rural Transformation. It’s language is with new concepts like visionary approach, systems thinking, structural tension, cross curriculum training and a host of others we did not use in our time. We were used to concept like problem solving, problem tree etc. Will the new professor catch up with the new language? I can be forgiven for having been skeptical.
Within no time Prof. Atwaru had organized weekend classes for himself and his staff to learn the new language. He was in class teaching using the same concepts and one needed to listen to his speeches locally and internationally. He had mastered the concepts and their applicability. This is reflected in his writings and the field practicum work of the students he supervised. He defied the above saying of “the young tree”. He was incredibly flexible. Not only did he have a mind-set change but enabled his staff and students to shift in their orientation. He got known even more among his peers as the advocate of the transformative education using the visionary approach in curriculum design and delivery.
Professor Atwaru will be remembered among other things for making a nascent university an award winning university in ICT, quality standards, delivery of a unique curriculum for a degree course and getting ARU nationally and internationally known. His leadership style was one of creating space for others to grow. He was annoyingly patient and he said that he believed in the potential in each of his staff and students to reach for the highest in themselves. He has left behind a functioning university, a good team of academics and a hopeful community for the future of ARU.
I dare say at this juncture that the families, the African Rural University, URDT, the academic fraternity, Uganda and the East African Community have lost an academic giant. He had made a mark and his vision was to enable the students of ARU to be competitive in academic and rural transformation. In fact he was introducing Swahili language to enhance easy communication of the students and staff in the region.
His legacy: Professor Atwaru demonstrated what transcendence is-worked and related with everybody irrespective of age, tribe, gender or religion. He was a team builder and believer in people and their creator. He listened to everyone. He was never quick to condemn or judge but simply say, “give the fellow another chance." I pray that the people he worked and mentored live this legacy so that harmony prevails in our lives
I stand here to say fare thee well our fallen comrade. We will continue with the excellent work you have been doing so that your effort is not in vain.
I encourage you the family to be strong and the friends and relatives to remain loyal to the family.
May your soul rest in eternal peace.
Hon. Joyce Mpanga
Chairman, ARU Council