Pioneering a young university: Lira University three years on

John Otim


The Founders of the new Lira University College were lucky in the near virgin piece of land they got. All 600 acres of it, perched on low rolling hills with a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside. To the south six kilometers away is the town from which the university gets its name, the town they call the bicycle capital of the world.

The Founders wanted a college for Health Sciences to train medical and health practitioners versed in local lore and practices. They wanted the new university to help develop and promote in the country, a largely preventative health care system and practice sensitive to local culture. That meant acquiring for the college as many books and as many information sources as they could on local history, culture and traditional medicine.

Certain of their mission and goals, the Founders first task was the erection of physical facilities and the assembling of the software needed to run the new college. These included offices, classrooms, lecture halls, libraries, labs plus a network of ICT infrastructures. Short on cash the Founders erected mostly low lying one story structures; without a doubt poor use of land.


Their detailed minds (these were a group of men and women of wide and diverse experience) pondered over a host of other considerations that they knew will be needed. These included, minimum of residential and recreational facilities: dorms, gyms, football fields, tennis courts, basketball courts and a few others necessary in a small town with limited infrastructures and resources. It is all in the master plan.

Despite their aspirations for the new college and their determination that all the items they listed were needed, the Founders eschewed this last list. Cash was the bottom line. Such omissions would in the long run never be without costs.

Never the less the best that could be done with the resources available was done. A faculty has been assembled, drawn locally and from near and far. A collection of students, 300 in total, attend lectures regularly and some of them can be found in the library where the university’s ICT center is based. Many of these are young working men and women from Lira and neighboring towns who seized the opportunities once lacking in these parts to further their education and careers.

The new campus is fully operational. What it lacks in facilities it makes up for in the enthusiasm and steadfastness of its students and faculty. This is understandable. Lira University is only the second such college to be established in Lira and the surrunding districts. Nile Journal first reported about the university college two years ago. Now that its third anniversary is only days away, Nile Journal returned campus.

It was Theodore White who wrote jokingly of himself (In Search of History) as a looter. The historian was referring to the lifestyle he led as a student at Harvard where he and John Kennedy (the future President of the United States) were classmates. White had been a poor student on scholarship and could not afford the luxury of partying and campus culture that rich kids like Kennedy and his friends took for granted.  Theodore White at Harvard concerntrated purely on his studies. It is this kind of student behavior and approach to learning that Theodore White refers to as the action of a looter, as opposed to that of a connoisseur.

As one watches the activities and the comings and goings of students at Lira University College campus, the image Theodore White paints of his life and student days at Harvard comes to mind. The Lira students are busy people. All of them by circumstances rather than by choice live off campus. Many of them are working people with families and responsibilities and are here on extended study leave. As students they cannot help but act like looters in the sense Theodre White used the word. It is clear to the causal obsever that there is little in the way of culture or extra curricula activities on this new and still small campus. By nightfall the campus empties of all but its security personnel.

There is a tinge of irony here. The university's Library now finds itself in a unique position to play the role of a major social center and culture event on campus. The Library's fifty sets of internet connect desktops already sets it along this road. Lately something new and potentially big has entered the picture. The new Lira Museum of African culture and Traditional Medicine, soon to be officially launched, has found a home in a corner of the Library. Though still minuscule the Museum  is already attracting attention on and beyond campus. The Museum’s origins can be found in the dedication of the new university to embrace local content in its approach to learning and practice. Something is going on here.