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Jana Frey | 22.11.2018 | 332 Aufrufe | 1 | Interviews

Charles Kinyera Okeny: Long-Term Human-Environment Interaction: Understanding the Palabek Cultural Landscapes in the Last 2000 Years

Lisa Maskell Fellowships at Makerere University, Kampala/Uganda

In 2014, the Gerda Henkel Foundation initiated a scholarship programme supporting young humanities scholars from Africa and Southeast Asia in honour of the foundation's founder, Lisa Maskell. It is the largest international support programme for PhD students in the history of the Foundation. The Lisa Maskell Fellowships aim to strengthen universities in the partner countries, to counter the outflow of qualified young scholars and to ensure the doctoral students enjoy excellent academic training.

In this dossier, L.I.S.A. will publish interviews with the Lisa Maskell Fellows from Africa and Southeast Asia, in which they talk about their research projects as well as their experiences during their academic career and the Lisa Maskell fellowship.

This week, we welcome Charles Kinyera Okeny from Uganda. After graduating from the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, he started his PhD in Archaeology with the thesis Long-Term Human-Environment Interaction: Understanding the Palabek Cultural Landscapes in the Last 2000 Years at Makerere University in 2017.

Charles Kinyera Okeny from Uganda

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"The discipline has been labelled “useless”, and irrelevant to development"

L.I.S.A.: What is the status of the humanities in Uganda, your home country?

Charles Kinyera Okeny: In my home country Uganda, the major traditional role of the humanities in shaping the public intellectual as either someone who leads, persuades and organises society to speak truth to power (Edward Said), someone fascinated by ideas (Ali Mazrui), someone who solves societal problems (Walter Rodney) or one who provides expertise to society to understand important societal issues and challenges (Antonia Gramsci) has always been understood and appreciated. However, in recent years, the discipline has been labelled “useless” by top political leadership because their graduates were thought not to be employable in the labour market in Uganda and internationally, and that they were irrelevant to development. In his state of the nation address of June 2014, the President of Uganda, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, called for a major reduction in scholarships to students taking arts and humanities courses, in favour of sciences. This is because he believes the natural sciences have an explicit trajectory of return on investment in education, yet the “humanities do not put food on the table.” With this, the proportion of the 4,000 government scholarships for public universities going to science students has grown from 53% in 2006 to over 75% now, and the rest go to law students. However, the sudden loss of interest in the humanities in favour of the natural sciences could probably be because of the fact that the disciplines not only question everything and are unafraid of self-reflection on the insights they can unearth, but are also always optimistic of how research and scholarship of humanity based phenomena can envision a better society. This is almost completely contrary to the ideology of the current regime which encourages less criticism. In short, the status of the humanities in my country Uganda is staggering with very limited or no internal funding at all.

"The problem of research funding"

L.I.S.A.: Have you ever encountered problems in the realization of your academic career?

Charles Kinyera Okeny: Yes, the problem of research funding. This is because, the nature of my research (Archaeology) is quite technical and multidisciplinary. It involves a series of ethical clearance, good number of research assistants, transport, survey and excavation equipment and laboratory analyses. All these require financing, which is not readily available.

"The north was seen as ethnographic with no history"

L.I.S.A.: What is your PhD project about and what got you interested in the chosen topic to begin with?

Charles Kinyera Okeny: My PhD project is on the topic “Long Term Human-Environment Interactions: Understanding Palabek Cultural Landscapes in the Last 2000 Years”. It seeks to understand the nature of human-environment interactions by examining the archaeological records of Palabek cultural landscapes in the last 2000 years. Specifically, it intends to document and characterize the archaeological record of Palabek cultural landscapes; date the Palabek cultural landscapes and examine the relationship between the people and their environment on the landscapes in the last 2000 years. The study will employ an interdisciplinary approach such as archaeological survey, targeted archaeological excavations, oral interviews and focus group discussions, all of which will concentrate on the history of settlement patterns, subsistence and land use.  This will be the first study of its type in Palabek, and is essential if we are to understand how this landscape has been shaped by its history of use.

What got me interested in the chosen topic is that most of the archaeological researches in Uganda right from its inception in the 1920s till recently, mainly used the “site based approach” with more focus on the southern part of Uganda. This saw most archaeologists, both foreign and local, flock to well-known sites such as Bigo by Mugenyi, Ntusi, Nsongezi and Kansyore Island among others because their antiquity was established earlier on. The north was seen as ethnographic with no history. It is against this background therefore, that I saw the need for the use of the landscape archaeological approach to understand past human ways of life with their environment in Palabek county of northern Uganda. Northern Uganda is an area that suffered from the environmental determinist views that human beings in the area were majorly hunter-gatherers who kept on moving from one place to another without any traces of settled life and in recent years (1986-2006), the area was deeply devastated by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)’s civil war. The landscape archaeological approach in Palabek will therefore help to understand human activities as not only being confined to a single site, but scattered all over the landscapes.

"The seeds for my academic success was planted at Kyambogo University, weeded at the University of Dar es Salaam and will be harvested at Makerere University"

L.I.S.A.: What has your experience at Makerere University been like? Have there been any differences to Kyambogo University in Uganda and possibly other institutions you have previously attended?

Charles Kinyera Okeny: My experience at Makerere University has so far been quite fascinating. First, together with all other graduate students’ communities, we were oriented into our programmes by the Directorate of Research and Graduate Training (DRGT) on arrival, a thing that made me feel the warmness of Makerere University from the start. The DRGT continuously brings in certificate training in core cross-cutting courses such as Philosophy of Methods, Advanced Research Methods, Information Management and Competence and Research Writings. I am grateful to be one of the beneficiaries of these trainings and hope to continue being so. At the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHUSS), where my PhD is based, my group (the 10 Gerda Henkel 2017 Cohort) was well received. We underwent trainings in 4 different introductory cross-cutting core courses ushered in by a team of experts from CHUSS. This actually gave me a deep insight into the PhD programme.

From here, individual proposal writing started under the guidance of supervisors. Interestingly, I have received wonderful supervisors. They always have spare time for me despite all their different appointments. Much more importantly, though, is the timely, efficient communication mechanism and above all the professional academic relationships that exists amongst us. Through different forums at Makerere University, I have also been able to create a series of professional networks right from the department, school, college up to the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR). Amidst all the above, I am well aware that Makerere University is dominantly run by human beings and where there are human beings two sides of a coin are always available, i.e. opportunities and challenges. The major challenge so far has been the slow administrative clearance of our proposals before proceeding to the field.

In a nutshell, I wouldn’t say there are many differences to Kyambogo University and the University of Dar es Salaam, where I studied my Bachelor and Masters respectively, but it is worth noting that the seeds for my academic success was planted at Kyambogo University, weeded at the University of Dar es Salaam and will be harvested at Makerere University.  

"Most parents always feel obliged to have their children complete at least a first degree"

L.I.S.A.: What are the opportunities in Uganda to pursue different degree options (BA/MA/PhD)?

Charles Kinyera Okeny: I think there is high opportunity to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Uganda, because the government provides some few scholarships to students joining government aided institutions. And also most parents always feel obliged to have their children complete at least a first degree in order to attain status in the community as well as find jobs. The challenge now comes in furthering ones’ studies especially at the MA and PhD level in the humanities, which now attracts almost no funding at all from the government. The student either has to pay for himself/herself, if he/she can afford, - ceteris paribus - or look for funding elsewhere, which is another fight.  

"I would like to seriously engage in the real world of teaching, research and publishing"

L.I.S.A.: What are your plans concerning your future career once you have obtained your PhD?

Charles Kinyera Okeny: On attaining my PhD, I would like to seriously engage in the real world of teaching, research and publishing. Given an opportunity to teach, I would like give back to my country the archaeological knowledge that I have gained for over eight years. And in research, I would like to unconventionally collaborate with both international and national researchers to intensify archaeological research in the northern part of Uganda, which was hitherto believed to be ethnographic.  

Charles Kinyera Okeny has answered the questions in written form.

Kommentar

von Christopher Ssebuyungo | 27.11.2018 | 09:11 Uhr
What success minded Charles, am more than proud and happy in seeing this guy excell. I have known this guy for the last eight years. A guy with commitment, honesty and more importantly a professional. I am a victim of his love to support others by calling on me for archaeological engagement. Again, I am a victim of his passion to pass on the knowledge to others, I have learnt a lot from him, one of the guys who inspired me to study Archaeology at a bachelor’s level. I am really and honestly happy to see this guy today with his PhD in progress. Only one wish from me is that; May God see you through Charles, may you achieve your career mission and goals. You do not only inspire me but a cue of young men and women; we are proud of our generation because you are our generation mate.

Somewhat tears of joy because I really know all the sufferings and battles for this far. Go forth my brother, remain a light, stay focused and don’t forget you inspire many so what do I mean?? Disappoint not them, keep helping us see the fruits of Archaeology for that you will have created a long lasting Legacy living.

Rejoice in the Lord, he will deliver all your heart desires forgot not him Charles.
Chris.

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