Pontius Pilate and the Tragedy of the African Student

Fred Nyankori with John Otim


Fred Nyankori, Ugandan graduate of one Africa’s new colleges and universities, outdoor enthusiast, loves reading and telling stories



It was the beginning of a new school year. We were new students, on a new African campus, getting to know one another. Our country was decades into independence, was touted in the West as a new African democracy, led by a new generation of African leaders. Recently we marked our golden jubilee. Our leaders pulled out the red carpet and Champaign and insisted on a celebration though in reality our country was in a pitiable way. But that’s another story.

As the college clock stroke eight that fateful October day, our tormentor entered the classroom where we waited. Smartly and confidently he strode across the large lecture hall and made his way to the podium. From our various slouching positions we straightened up and brightened up. We watched him; ready to give him the benefit of the doubt. He frowned. I am Dr Silver Mukasa, he said curtly, barely opening his mouth. I will teach you philosophy of education. Pontius Pilate! A whisper rang out loudly from the back rows.

Pilate ignored this and asked us instead. “What is philosophy of education?” We stared at him blankly. We began to dislike the fellow. He shot his index finger at the girl seated next to me. Her name was Nantale, her fault; a strikingly beautiful looks, typical of a certain type of young African women, who naturally carry upon their young lips this ready smile, and whose entire frame seem to tease and to provoke the beholder. “Well you, what is philosophy of education?” Pilate practically roared at the girl. Nantale smiled with a face that said I don’t know and we all fell in love with her. At least the male folk in the room did.

Pilate did not like this. “Look, young woman”, He was angry now; “Do you think I am in love with you? Do you think I am looking for a woman to marry? Look!  I am a married man.” As though every word he spoke made him angrier. “I have four children and countless girl friends. Do you think I could fall for a girl like you?” “Look at your type!” A feeling of sadness swept through the rest of us. What kind of teacher is this? What the hell released the devil in the man? We hated Pontius Pilate now.

Pontius Pilate spent the rest of the morning insulting us, threatening us, and intimidating us, while he heaped praises upon his own head. We could not believe but he said to us. Do you realize your whole fate is in my hands? He held out his huge and callused palms. Do you realize I have the power on this campus to discontinue you and to ruin your career completely? Forget the Vice Chancellor! I can crush you on this campus. Once I step in through that door, he winked at the open door, I am the President. My powers are absolute. He frowned.

We remembered the many stories we had already heard from continuing students about this man. Stories of countless atrocities the man had committed against students. Stories of girls and married women he had seduced. Stories of those he failed because they refused his advances. Stories of boys he caused to be terminated because they would not bribe him. Where was the democracy in our country Bill Clinton and the West were talking about? Democracy is not a show of rigged votes staged for the benefit of Donor Agencies. Democracy must show itself in simple everyday things that affect the lives of ordinary people. Where was the New African Dawn that Thabo Mbeki was talking about?

In the days ahead Pontius Pilate bragged openly about his educational achievements. I went to the old Makerere University you know. Not this new unknown college of yours in the middle of nowhere, he said. From there I went to the centuries old Cambridge University. Do you know where that is? There I got my international qualifications, not the fake certificates we will award you at the end of three miserable years on this wretched campus you call a university. I got a Cambridge Masters in Education and a Cambridge PhD. “Do you know what that means?” Pilate asked. A student answered him. “And how sir may all these honors and praises you heap upon yourself be of benefit to us?”

“You are an idiot and a failure”, Pilate roared, really mad now. “You don’t belong here but to a bloody Presidential Guard Unit” “How dare you challenge me?” “Don’t joke with me. Shut that trap you call a mouth. Look! None of you, not a single one of you, will ever achieve half of what I have already achieved.” “Good-for-nothing idiots!” “God forshaken bastards!” he cursed us.

By this time we were really mad. We were on fire. To a man and woman we stood up. Someone shouted: Pontius Pilate! Get out of here! Who needs you? We don’t need you! Pilate saw the menace on our brows and the fury in our red eyes. He saw clearly the fate that awaited him. He fled without a word, tail between legs, pretences of His Excellency the President forgotten.

The next day, come what may, as we waited to hear from College Authorities Dr Silver Mukasa walked past our open classroom doors with beaten brows and averted eyes as catcalls of Pointius Pilate rang at him. And that was the last we saw of Pontius Pilate, the Cambrige Man, His Excellency the President.