PROFILE: Prof. Christine Dranzoa, the village girl who became West Nile’s first female professor

Dranzoa and her siblings would be sometimes withdrawn from school to go and line up at shops in town in order to buy these essentials when their mother fell sick.

DECEASED: Muni University Vice Chancellor, Prof Christine Dranzoa died on Tuesday, June 28 at Mulago Hospital in Kampala (Photo/Courtesy)

KAMPALA, UGANDA: Prof Christine Dranzoa, the Vice-Chancellor of Muni University was pronounced dead on Tuesday, June 28, from Mulago Hospital in Kampala where she had been admitted with an undisclosed illness.

Although the details of her death remained scanty by press time, the University through its official Twitter handle confirmed the demise of its first female Professor and Vice-Chancellor in a brief tweet shared on Tuesday morning.

“We have just received the sad news of the untimely death of our dear Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Christine Dranzoa who passed on at 3:30 am this morning. Official communication will be made later in the day. May her soul rest in eternal peace,” read a tweet on Muni University’s handle.

At the time of her death, Prof Dranzoa was the Executive Committee chairperson of the Inter-University Council of East Africa (IUCEA), an association of top higher learning institutions in the East African Region.

But who is Christine Dranzoa, the village girl that rose from ranks to become West Nile’s first female professor

Early life and Education

Prof. Dranzoa is a person whose life journey began from a lowly background as a village girl, wading through a raft of challenges to become West Nile’s first female professor.

Born to peasant parents in Adua village near Moyo Catholic mission, Dranzoa’s father Desdeo Ito worked as a casual labourer in Moyo town while her mother Victoriana Waiya was a disciplined housewife, having come from a royal family of a Madi clan.

She was the seventh child in the family of eight children born and bred in a typically rural setting except for one thing – she loved grazing the family cattle and goats, a task that local culture assigns to boys.

In 1971, she joined primary one at Maduga Moyo Girl’s primary school just a stone’s throw away from their home. Dranzoa went to school barefoot and learnt the alphabet while writing in the sand on the school compound with their fingers.

On many occasions she ran to school after hearing the school gong because each child at home had a plot of garden to water early in the morning in addition to the routine chores such as grinding sorghum, cassava or simsim (sesame) on stones.

This was usually after eating roasted potatoes and a cold breakfast of the leftover of the previous day’s supper so as to concentrate in class. The parents raised Dranzoa’s school fees by selling foodstuff and the girls joined Waiya in brewing enguli and Kwete (local brews) which were stealthily brewed at night and sold at Maringo drinking joint in Moyo town.

It was a dangerous trade because the Enguli Act prohibited the brewing of local liquor at homes, that Dranzoa’s mother was frequently arrested by the police.

This period also coincided with the devastating consequences of former president Idd Amin’s “economic liberation” policy that brought about scarcity of essential goods such as sugar, salt and soap due to the many sanctions imposed on Uganda by the international community.

Dranzoa and her siblings would be sometimes withdrawn from school to go and line up at shops in town in order to buy these essentials when their mother fell sick.

Those setbacks notwithstanding, Waiya remained steadfast and inspirational to the children, instituting a strict regime of discipline to ensure that they never missed school without a convincing reason and taught the children catechism while grinding simsim. She checked the children’s report cards and asked the older ones to interpret it for her.

That exposed Dranzoa to goal setting early that while some people celebrated scoring 70% in examinations, Dranzoa cried in disappointment at such results. “I really don’t know how people fail. Throughout my school time I have either been in the first or second position,” Dranzoa said in an interview with West Nile Web as she waved voluminous curriculum vitae that looks like a pamphlet.

She sat her primary leaving examinations at Moyo parents’ primary school from where she was amongst the top five best performers. That won her a district scholarship to study at Sacred Heart secondary school in Gulu and relieved the family of the huge burden of paying school fees.

However, the 1979 war that ejected Amin from power interrupted Dranzoa’s studies prematurely. The war found the children for holidays and Dranzoa fled with parents to exile in Sudan.

They returned in 1980 whereupon she returned to Sacred Heart to resume her studies but the scholarship programme had already collapsed with the deposed system. In October that year, all the students were sent home to register for the upcoming elections.

The elections were immediately accompanied by the most devastating war in the region that nearly emptied West Nile of its inhabitants.

Dranzoa and the parents were forced to flee to exile again. In mid 1981, Dranzoa threatened to commit suicide as she continued to press on her parents to bring her back to Uganda so that she would rejoin school.

Incensed by this persistence, Ito decided to bring and dump Dranzoa at Moyo Catholic parish centre and he returned to Sudan. The reverend brothers at the parish centre took Dranzoa to a Comboni missionary priest in Gulu who accepted to pay her fees at Sacred Heart until she finished secondary education.

In 1984, she joined Makerere University under a government scholarship to study Bachelor of Science in zoology, majoring in aquaculture.

Dranzoa got her first job soon after graduating in 1987 as a fisheries officer at Kajansi. A few months later, she began her Master of Science in zoology programme at Makerere under East African Wildlife Society sponsorship. She also saw brief services as laboratory assistant at the National Water and Sewerage Corporation, assistant sales officer at the Agricultural Enterprises, and as a research fellow with the World Conservation Society.

In 1991, Dranzoa completed the master’s degree and without wasting time enrolled at the same university for Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy in Zoology) by research, eventually attaining it in 1997.

Dranzoa as a lecturer

Dranzoa began lecturing at the Makerere University Faculty of Veterinary science in 1991 and in the following year, she was elevated to head the unit and oversee its development.

By the time she left the portfolio in 2005 to take on administrative roles, the faculty had transformed into the College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources, and Bio-Security.

She became the deputy director of the school of graduate studies until 2010 when she was appointed chairperson of the Muni University Taskforce and the de facto Vice-chancellor.

Honours and peer recognition

Dranzoa’s work propelled by persistence, dedication, and consistency, has attracted wide-ranging recognition from the public including her professional peers.

Her first major recognition came in 1999 from the Forum for African Women Educationists-Uganda chapter which awarded Dranzoa a medal of excellence in education for mentoring the girl child and she went on to become the honorary secretary for the pan-African body.

In 2002 her contribution to wildlife conservation was rewarded with the Wankele Aarde (Unbalanced Earth Trophy) by the Dierenpark Amersfoort of the Netherlands while the Pan-African Ornithological Congress between 2004 and 2008 made her its president in honor of Dranzoa’s contribution in the field of avian research and conservation.

She has numerous publications in chapters of important journals in the field of zoology, wildlife and biodiversity.

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