Lessons from encounters with Prof Rubadiri—Part III


We continue from where we left last week as we discuss 10 lessons that I learnt from my encounters with the late Professor David Rubadiri who was laid to rest two weeks ago.

Last week, we discussed the three the power of alignment, finding positive in negative situations and the importance of not breaking the camel that carries your message. Below are further lessons from my encounters with Prof Rubadiri.


  1. Be safe, don’t walk alone

After we had come back from the tour of four universities in Southern Africa, Malawi Government officials told us not to speak to the media or student bodies or anybody about our findings from the trip. They said that as per government protocol, a confidential report needed to be sent to the President for his decision making.

However, shortly afterwards, a Cabinet minister said that the students were now quiet in the media because they had discovered that fees abroad were much higher than in Malawi. I made calls to the other delegates so that we could issue a joint statement to correct the minister.

My colleagues were reluctant. Out of principle, I personally issued a media statement which became front page news. Two days later, Prof Rubadiri called and told me that a senior government official called and asked the University of Malawi to discipline me but that he found no grounds for disciplining me. He said that he was then informed that “the government would deal with” me. Prof Rubadiri then advised me to never walk alone, to never accept meetings I was not sure of and several other security tips that I may not make public even today.

There are many lessons from this scenario. I leave this open to readers to make. But what stands out to me is the caring and fatherly nature of Prof Rubadiri. He helped me so much when I “lived dangerously”.


  1. Leave impact and legacy

When we arrived at the great Makerere University, many lecturers and professors there were in jubilation. Having taught them three decades back, he was a venerable don. It was abundantly clear that Prof Rubadiri had left big impact and legacy in Uganda. We then met one old professor who had been Rubadiri’s lecturer who narrated how they declared Makerere as an independent university de-linked from University of East Africa. I learnt that Rubadiri was the first president of the Makerere Student Guild/Union and he played a big part in the fight to make Makerere an independent university breaking away from the conglomerate University in East Africa. In everything we do, we must leave behind impact and legacy.


  1. Try higher than you think

Never limit your ambition. This is one of the most useful lessons I learnt from my encounters with Prof. Rubadiri. When I was in my fifth year of engineering at the Malawi Polytechnic, I started to apply for post-graduate programmes and scholarships to study in the United Kingdom (UK). I applied to a couple of universities which sent their requests for references to Prof Rubadiri whom I had listed as one of my referees. One day, when Rubadiri visited our campus, he told me that he had written a couple of references for me, but that he was worried that I was not trying my luck at some of the top universities in the UK. Hitherto, I had applied to lowly-ranked universities and for me, provided I got an education in the UK, I did not care about the ranks. Rubadiri was very clear about aiming higher than you think you can do. I had seen an advert for applications for the Rhodes Scholarships for study at Oxford University but I had been afraid until Prof Rubadiri told me that he believed I deserved both the Rhodes and Oxford. I tried it and got it. He together with the five other referees I had for this wrote very powerfully endorsing my candidature without which I would not have become a Rhodes Scholar or seen the corridors of Oxford. Only when you aim higher than you think will you truly realise your potential. That is a key lesson from Rubadiri. n

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