Kampala, Uganda | Ian Katusiime | Anthony Kerali, a longtime professor of engineering at Makerere University, and an aristocrat who shared titbits of his life with Uganda’s political elite over the years on Twitter, has passed on. Kerali collapsed and died in his home at Prince Charles Drive in Kololo, an affluent suburb in Kampala on Feb.18.
Prof. Kerali’s last tweet was on Feb. 17 at 9:35 pm “Excerpts: March 1971, Soroti s/ground. Gen Amin arrives. He steps down from one of two choppers. In civilian attire. Very clean, sober. I sat directly in front, next to him. Several times, our eyes locked. Clearly a cool, calm, collected commander? He spoke in Kiswahili, slowly.”
Kerali excited some of his Twitter followers with anecdotes he witnessed living through the Idi Amin and Milton Obote years. In his last days, the professor said he was due to publish his memoir that documented the memories in detail.
He was wary about his book being barred from publishing although he did not specify whom he meant. “Soon, if no one blocks it. Best regards” Kerali replied to a Twitter user on when his book would be out.
Kerali, a golf aficionado, said he knew former presidents; Obote, Amin, and Paulo Muwanga, Obote’s vice president in his second reign, (1980-1985) “At a more personal level than many others.” Kerali in his characteristic boastful style on Twitter, said he played golf with the likes of Gad Wilson Toko, an air force pilot who rose to become vice president when Gen. Tito Okello overthrew President Obote on July 27, 1985.
Golf became the game where he mingled with the high and mighty even as Uganda went through some of its most turbulent times.
However, some saw Kerali as a revisionist of history in his commentary on Ugandan politics through the years. It was either through his recollection of some events and characterization of certain figures in the Amin and Obote’s governments or his flattery of President Yoweri Museveni at the time when security forces were killing Ugandans during the recently concluded presidential campaigns.
Kerali says he first met Museveni in January 1979, in Kasese when the latter was in a joint operation with other Ugandan exiles and the Tanzanian People’s Defence Forces (TPDF) to oust Amin. Amin was later kicked out in April 1979.
It is not clear what office the longtime engineering don held in the Amin or Obote years, but his proximity to power shows he could have been an eminence grise.
Pathias Akabanjuna, a former student of Kerali at the College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology at Makerere University says the professor will be remembered for his humility and being a champion of students’ pleas.
“While he was head of department and a respected Professor at the college, he remained humble and approachable. He founded the department and mentored almost every faculty in there,” he told The Independent.
“When lecturers treated students unfairly by missing lectures or forming unrealistic timetable schedules, the Prof. always took the side of the students.”
Akabanjuna said Kerali was widely consulted for many complex road design projects. “We have lost one of the smartest Engineers in this country,” he added. Kerali did his Phd in Materials Engineering.
According to Akabanjuna, the fallen professor almost singlehandedly set up and run the Department of Construction Economics and Management, with BSc. Quantity Surveying, Valuation Surveying and Construction Management as well as a Master’s and Post Graduate Diploma program.
Akabanjuna also said a notorious section on the Kabale-Kisoro road is said to have been named “Kerali corner” after he designed it to overcome the difficult terrain that had made it a black spot.
In honor of Prof. @AGKerali. This corner on Kabale – Kisoro Road was once named “Kerali Corner”. He is said to have designed it to overcome the difficult terrain. Rest in Power Prof. We benefited greatly from your tutelage at the great College of Engineering. pic.twitter.com/TTgNmdsP4w
— Pathy (@PathyKlinn) February 18, 2021
Patrick Oyulu, a public health specialist who knew Kerali said the passionate golfer always encouraged young talent and mentored many of people. “He loved golf and was generous enough to provide guidance to upcoming golfers at Kampala Golf Club. Most impressive was Prof.’s knowledge of Ugandan politics and history.”
Sebuga Kimeze, an engineer and former executive director of Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) was an undergrad classmate of Kerali at Makerere as they studied Civil Engineering. He described Kerali as a “longtime friend, colleague and brother.”
He wrote in a tribute: “By coincidence, we attended post graduate studies in Britain at the same time.
He was at Loughborough University while I was at Leeds University and we maintained our relationship that time and afterwards.”
Kimeze says he listed Kerali among the 45 students of engineering (including mechanic and electrical) with whom they completed the course in 1984 and he was in the mission of finding those who were “soldiering on”.
In a moving tribute to his friend, Kimeze wrote, “I planned to share the list with him but he is no more.” He also recalled the time Kerali lent him emotional support. “He is one of the friends who kept me alive and hopeful when I was in untold trouble between 2014 and 2018.”
Many pointed out Kerali’s love for the finer things in life especially from his love for golf and flamboyant dressing. Kimeze agreed. “You have been a smart fellow not only in dress and characteristic hairstyle but the brain,” he added, “You remained uniquely smart and elegant ever since we met.”
Kerali hailed from Erusi, Nebbi and reports say he was born in 1962. In December 2019, he tweeted that his parents were killed in 1996 by the West Nile Bank front, a rebel group operating in the West Nile region, and being sponsored by then President of Sudan, Gen. Omar El Bashir.
Kerali will be remembered for his renditions living through moments of history and as a dedicated professor of engineering.