null In the Spotlight: Herbert Makinda

Herbert Makinda has been the Programme Executive for East Africa since its conception in 2011. Hosted at the Center for Social Justice and Ethics (CSJE)Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Nairobi, Herbert is responsible for the development and implementation of strategy, as well as a portfolio of projects aimed at integrating ethics in higher education in the East African region. Below, Nefti Bempong-Ahun, Assistant Editor/ Communications Assistant at in conversation with Herbert on his journey to, what ethics means to him, and more on the opportunities and challenges for the educational systems in the East African region.

NBA: Thank you so much for joining us today and participating in the Spotlight Series! We're really hoping to learn more about you and your experience. So I guess to start off, what is your background, and how did it lead you to

HM: My background is in the area of research, but before that I studied for a diploma in philosophy and religious studies, and later on proceeded to study Theology. I graduated with a Bachelor of Theology degree from the Pontifical Urbaniana University through the St. Matthias Mulumba Senior Seminary affiliate. Following this, I joined the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, where I enrolled in a Post-Graduate diploma in education, and then a Master degree in Education, specialising in research and evaluation. I remember my first assignment after graduation was an international research project conducted in Kenya, South Africa and the UK, which focused on gender education and global poverty reduction initiatives. This three-year project had five different case study sites in both Kenya and South Africa. The study was focused on the provision of education in the context of poverty and gender inequalities. This study helped me gain experience in the area of my specialisation, and led me to start teaching evaluation and research courses at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa.

As a teacher, I started noticing the discrepancy between theory in class and practical aspects. Each student had to complete a research project as a requirement before graduation. I noticed that students were not able to translate what they learnt during their coursework to the empirical research exercise. Even students who were scoring ‘A' grade in the coursework experienced difficultly completing the research project. Students experienced challenges and started going to what we call ‘Cyber shops' to purchase their research projects. So somebody is producing a document and gaining credit for it, but they have not actually done the work themselves. That it when I started reflecting on the issue more deeply.

I started asking myself, what the problem was. Is the problem the teaching? I am one of the teachers. I looked at the course outline again, but we had two weeks dedicated for taking the students through the format and data collection for empirical research, taking them through the sections. But still, you would see many of them struggling. The main challenge for me was, what is leading them buy? This is dishonesty. When they are not able to do their own work, they end up copying others and presenting it as their own. This really made me start to think about ways of solving this issue.

Then, in 2011, opened an East African office. I saw this as an opportunity to gain knowledge but also share my experience, and so applied for the post. At the time, the organisation was covering five countries within the East African region: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. I believe I got this position due to my knowledge in philosophy, and a lot of experience in research and evaluation. That is how I joined, and how my professional background led me to

NBA: Thank you for sharing, really rich experience! You noted some of the challenges you were faced with, such as translating theory into practice and plagiarism, a major issue felt by many in academia. As you know,'s mandate is to integrate ethics into education, which also includes addressing some of the challenges you mentioned. So my question for you is, why does ethics in education matter and why does it matter to you, personally?

HM: I want to begin by saying that, ethics is concerned with other people. Ethics is not about oneself, but ethics is really about the benefit of others. So we could say that, at the heart of ethics, the concern is about something or someone other than ourselves or our own interests. And I think, that is why ethics is important, that is why ethics matters.

Knowledgeable as one may be, wealthy as one may be, blessed as one may be, if that does not translate into helping others and sharing in the goodness that has been bestowed on one, then we are at a loss. Ethics is really concerned with other people. In other words, being ethical is being human, and being human is fulfilling God's original plan for creation.  Therefore, we become ethical to fulfil that which God has planned for all of us. When we read the book of Genesis, we see an account of creation. On the 6th day we are told, he creates man and woman, and says they are indeed very good. This is the climax of creation. Human beings are placed in a special position of conquering and subduing this earth, and most importantly, making it good. But we know our selfishness has led us to the opposite direction. Ethics is what puts us on the right course, geared toward God's initial plan.

Ethics is not about doing the thing right, but doing the right thing, making the right decisions. The mandate is geared towards forming a generation that makes the right decisions, does the right things, and therefore enables that original plan of God to be actualised. That is what motivates me personally, and that is what I think ethics is all about – an endeavour to supporting others.

NBA: Thank you so much! It was really interesting to hear you talk about ethics as being something detached from oneself, and as something to benefit all. Going back to what you were saying earlier, regarding translating ethics from theory to practice, I believe you have contributed in doing this work through your various publications with, such as the Mainstreaming Ethics in Higher Education volumes. I wanted to learn more about your motivation for contributing to these projects, and your experience with Publications?

HM: First of all, I would start by saying that part of our mandate is to consolidate and collect literature on ethics in various fields and share it with others. At the end of the day, what is doing is aligned with the framework I mentioned before, that ethics is concerned with other people. Having books available to others for free, and this is what does.

It is important to have people write on contemporary issues and experiences that they have had. In 2018, organised a big conference on ‘Mainstreaming Ethics in Higher Education'. There was huge interest from many academics and administrative staff working at the university, to write and publish. This was an opportunity for the East African Regional office to consolidate their writing in the form of a book. It attracted so many people, and we thought it was important to capture this, and thanks to the books have been published and are now available for free. It was a really wonderful experience, consolidating and building connections on how different people view ethics in different professions, different disciplines, from theology, to education, to management, to medicine and the like! Very exciting and very interesting.

In 2019, organised another conference on ‘Preparing Ethical Professions through Higher Education' in Nairobi at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa. We are currently in the process of consolidating the articles for another publication. Publications is one way of supporting others and society.

NBA: I definitely agree that providing access to knowledge resources for all is at the heart of what we do. The book projects do a great job of capturing the rich diversity present within our regional offices. And following on from that, I would love to know more about the East African regional office. How has it developed over time and what are some of the major milestones for East Africa?

HM: Our regional program started in 2011, and around then we had about 300-400 participants within the region. One of our first mandates was to popularise in the region, and have as many people as possible register to join our network. In the earlier days, Kenya and Tanzania were doing really well, followed with great success in Uganda also. However, we experienced some challenges in the other countries due to low internet connectivity. In Rwanda and Burundi especially, we experienced restrictions on Internet use and content from outside was not very welcome at the beginning. 

But in 2013-2015, we had many activities in Burundi that were targeted at the youth and teaching them about Responsible Leadership. We could really feel our impact in Burundi; our events were captured by the media, and we even had the opportunity to be addressed by the Minister of Education at one of our events. So despite the fact that many did not register due to Internet connectivity, we had a great experience with engaging with the community.

However, this has changed with the pandemic and everything transitioning online. With regard to Internet connectivity and access, the pandemic has been a blessing in disguise for many of us. People now have access to Internet and are able to connect. Like right now, I am working from home. Due to COVID-19, we now have Wifi. I still have to pay for it, but before I was unable to access it. Not because I could not pay for it, but because it simply didn't exist in my area. Sometimes I still have issues with connectivity, but access to the Internet has still greatly improved.

Conferences have been another major activity over the years, and we are attracting people beyond the five countries in our region. The conferences have added to the richness of activities in our region, and our reach continues to grow. We also had the pleasure of hosting the African Church Assets Programme (ACAP) here in Nairobi. The programme focused on strengthening church related organisations in issues related to ethical investment. We know that our churches have been relying on missionary funding and often looking the West. But now, we are seeing the financial support dwindling over time, and now many churches are beginning to think about their self-sustainability. 

NBA: It's great to see such great growth over time. Coming to my last question: are there any exciting opportunities and upcoming activities?

HM: We are planning a roundtable discussion. Last year, we hosted the International Council for Open and Distance Education discussions on recalibrating educational leadership for resilient education. Following this event, many contacted us regarding challenges at secondary school level. Schools and educational institutions have been closed since March 2020, and one of the things that shocked the nation was the increased number of pregnancies. Two months after lockdown, a single county reported that 4'000 girls were pregnant. That is a huge number. The question was, is this because of school closures, or is it because of lack of guidance? 

When schools finally opened for all in January 2021, a new set of issues arose. Students were coming into school fighting teachers; there were increased reports of violence and students carrying weapons to school.  Could it be as a result of a prolonged stay at home? Children had gone a long time without rules or guidance, and some had gone into business and were making money in the meantime. Now at school, they have money and don't respond to the authority of teachers. This is something that needs to be addressed, and so East Africa is organising a roundtable discussion in July 2021. We hope to be joined by various head teachers and teaching professionals, to learn from their experience, discuss the issue and also identify mitigation strategies.

NBA: COVID-19 has definitely had long-term impacts on the educational system, and certainly beyond lockdown. We look forward to learning more about their experiences, and how we can help and be part of the solution. Thank you again for your time and participation ‘In the Spotlight' series! We learnt so much more about you and East Africa through your experiences. Stay tuned for more activities from our regional programmes!