By Yasiri J Kasango
In 2012, two key things happened in the life of Emilly Comfort Maractho.
One, she realised she was not going to benefit much from a master’s course she had enrolled into. Her sixth sense told her to change courses. She obliged.
The second thing to happen was that Maractho received communication from someone she had never met. Prof. Monica Chibita of Uganda Christian University (UCU) was convincing her to take up a PhD scholarship opportunity after completing a master’s course she was pursuing in Kenya. This communication was followed by Chibita’s physical visit to Maractho.
When she met Chibita in Kenya, Maractho had only one option – to give the greenlight. Her positive response on both occasions have a bearing on who Maractho is today. The holder of a PhD in Journalism and Communication from South Africa’s University of KwaZulu-Natal is UCU’s newly appointed Director for the Africa Policy Center (APC). The APC, initiated by American Lawrence Adams, is the university’s center that grooms policy researchers and political thinkers and provides a platform for learning and discussion of modern-day issues.
Maractho’s switch from MA in development communication to MA in development journalism at Kenya’s Daystar University in 2012 was premised on the belief that she was not learning anything new in the communication course. This was her second master’s degree course. Five years before, she had attained Master of Arts in Development Studies at the Uganda Martyrs University, Nkozi.
After bagging her second master’s at Daystar University, Maractho headed to the University of KwaZulu-Natal for her doctorate, sponsored by UCU, under a capacity building scheme for staff.
No sooner had she graduated with a PhD than she was, in 2018, named the head of UCU’s Department of Journalism and Media Studies, replacing Chibita, who had been promoted to the position of Dean in the Faculty of Journalism, Media and Communication, which had just been created.
For 13 years, Dr. Maractho has lectured at UCU, starting out with teaching development studies before switching to journalism. And she says she is not about to call it quits.
Maractho is not a sleeping scholar. The result of her efforts was the introduction of new course units in the department, such as Journalism and Political Communication, Economics and Business Journalism, Media, Gender and Social Justice. The new curriculum that Maractho masterminded was a direct response to the requirement by government regulator, the National Council for Higher Education, that institutions review their curriculum after every three years.
She also often participates in debate and writes on public and social issues afflicting society. One such platform is the Daily Monitor newspaper, where she currently has a weekly column. In one of her recent articles, Maractho made a case for a national policy on public-private partnerships in the health sector, so as to ensure they complement public service.
Maractho hopes that the Africa Policy Centre will grow into a center that public policy actors will look to for alternative policy positions and still serve the university community. “My plan is to expand the centre’s reach and increase its relevance in research and policy engagement,” she notes.
Maractho was raised in Nebbi district in northern Uganda. She says in her community, education is not highly valued. Therefore, she did not have many people to look up to for inspiration.
Maractho studied at Muni Girls Secondary School and Mvara Secondary School, both in north-western Uganda. At Mvara, where she had her A’level, the headteacher had tried to convince Maractho to study science subjects but she was not one you could easily dissuade from her goal – she wanted to be a communicator, so the natural choice were arts subjects.
Maractho overlooked many challenges on her way to academic achievement, including financial constraints in the family and being raised by a single mother – Philemona Kapacho who was a civil servant.
Maractho had intended to pursue either a Bachelor’s of Law or Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication, but the funds to meet the tuition requirements were not available. As such, she settled for Bachelor of Arts in Development Studies at Makerere University.
She would later become the first woman in her family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, to the joy of Kapacho.
“My degree was disheartening because I was the first girl to graduate from my community, yet there are families where everyone has graduated with a doctorate,” she says.
After her university education, Maractho worked briefly with The West Niler, a local newspaper based in north-western Uganda. She was later employed by the Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Limited (UEDCL) as a billing officer while still keeping her job at the West Niler.
In 2004, when she was persuaded to teach at Makerere University, Maractho dropped the West Niler job, but maintained the one at UEDCL. In 2007, she resigned from UEDCL to fully concentrate on sharing knowledge at Makerere University, before later switching to UCU.
We wait to see how Maractho’s innovative mind will lead the university’s Africa Policy Centre.