Farewell Prof. Sylvia Tamale

Prof. Sylvia Tamale retired from Makerere University Service in April 2022 after a long service of 37 years having joined the then Faculty of Law as a Teaching Assistant in September 1985. Professor Sylvia Tamale holds a PhD from the University of Minnesota, U.S.A; Master of Laws from the Harvard Law School, U.S.A and Bachelor of Laws from Makerere University. She was the first female Dean of the Faculty of Law (2004 – 2008) at Makerere University; and the first female Professor to give a Professorial Inaugural Lecture (2016) at Makerere University. Professor Tamale is an internationally recognized leading scholar and has received several awards including African Studies Association of International Visitors and the Fulbright McArthur Scholarship. She is a unique voice around African culture, sexuality, the law and human rights. We talked to her and share the interview below:

Q: Who is Prof. Sylvia Tamale?

A: Sylvia is a regular girl who works hard and plays hard.  She is passionate about gender justice and fostering an inclusive society.  She attended Budo Junior School for primary and Gayaza High School for secondary school.

Q: When did you decide to study law and what was your inspiration?

A: I actually wanted to study journalism but in 1982 there was no such course in the prospectus of the only university in the country – Makerere.  So, for me, law was the next best programme; and I enjoyed it. 

Q: Share your experience teaching at SoL.

A: I joined in September 1985 as a Teaching Assistant.  This was a few months after completing the LL. B degree, which means that I was teaching students who were one year behind me.  So, I was thrown in at the deep end of my academic career.  Those were very difficult times with massive migration of professionals from the country.  The “brain drain” was a real threat to higher education.  Starting my career in such difficult circumstances really helped me hone my skills quickly; I couldn’t afford to scramble and tumble.   

Q: Achievements while at the SoL and Makerere University

A: Oh, Makerere has enriched me beyond measure.  It afforded me opportunities for postgraduate studies, research, publication, networking, travel and many other things.  But most of all, it offered me the platform to shift the consciousness of young minds to become critical thinkers who question assumptions and push boundaries.  It is really sad that, sixty years after flag independence, Uganda’s education system largely continues to act as a vehicle for colonial indoctrination and to promote rote learning.

Q: Looking back on your experience working at Makerere:

A: i) What was your best experience(s) and why? Interacting with my students.  We challenged each other and had lively discussions that ignited our minds.  I always looked forward to my classes and will miss that a lot.

ii) What was your top challenge(s) and why? When I was first hired (and for a long time thereafter), females were a minority both within the student community and certainly on the faculty.  It was important for me to break the gender stereotypes and rise high.  Juggling the work-life-parenting balance as an academic was probably the biggest challenge I faced.   Having a supportive partner is extremely important in this regard.

Q: We hear a lot about the low/poor quality of lawyers produced by universities in Uganda, what is your comment about this? If true, what can be done to improve situation?

A: I’ve already commented on the need to overhaul Uganda’s education system right from the elementary level.  The university lies at the apex of a system that, in my view, promotes paradigms that serve foreign interests, using disabling pedagogies to teach detached and largely irrelevant curricula.  The problem lies with the foundations of the education system and can only partly be solved at the university level.  Despite all the challenges, many students still shine through the murky waters of Uganda’s education system.

Q: Your parting words to:

A: Faculty: I’m just a phone call away! ; Students: Be curious, and always look beyond the black letter of the law.