Prof. Omara-Otunnu, Leading Ugandan Intellectual, Awarded South Africa’s Top Honor

Dr. Amii Omara-Otunnu
Amii Omara-Otunnu, a University of Connecticut history professor who hails from Uganda is one of several luminaries –South African and international– who have been awarded the country’s highest national honor; the awards will be presented by President Cyril Ramaphosa in a ceremony later this month. 
Professor Omara-Otunnu is recognized for the contributions he made through the years in the struggle to liberate South Africa from apartheid dating back to his days as a Harvard student and later as a university professor who worked closely with the African National Congress (ANC) and South African educational institutions. The winners of the awards, called National Orders, were announced in a press statement by the office of the South African Presidency.  “The National Orders are the highest awards that South Africa bestows on citizens and members of the international community who have contributed meaningfully towards making the country a free, democratic and successful nation, united in its diversity,” the statement announcing this year’s winners reads. President  Ramaphosa will bestow the awards in a ceremony in Pretoria, the South African capital, on April 25. 
“I’ve been immensely humbled. Especially by the fact that the honor is bestowed by a national government in the continent that respects democracy, the rule of law and human rights,” Prof. Omara-Otunnu told The Black Star News. “The award indicates that the leadership in South Africa is conscious of the fact that Pan African solidarity in particular and international solidarity in general contributed substantially to both the success of the struggle against apartheid and progressive developments in post-apartheid South Africa,” Prof. Omara-Otunnu added.
Those who have received the honor, in person or posthumously, include: Kwame Nkrumah, Gandhi, Harry Belafonte, Maxine Walters, and Martin Luther King Jr. 
Dr. Omara-Otunnu was a tireless fighter in the international resistance against apartheid. During the late 1970s as student representative on Harvard University’s Shareholders Responsibility Committee, he spearheaded the successful campaign for Harvard to divest from apartheid South Africa. In the 1980s, as a graduate student leader both at the London School if Economics and Oxford University, Omara-Otunnu led campaigns for the release of Nelson Mandela from prison. While at LSE, he nominated Mandela to be appointed chancellor of London University. “This was a strategy to bring attention to Mandela’s unjust imprisonment and to the human rights violation in apartheid South Africa,” Omara-Otunnu recalled. 
After the democratic election of Mandela as South Africa’s first Black president in April 1994, Dr. Omara-Otunnu established a partnership between the ANC, the liberation movement that led the struggle to defeat the apartheid regime and the University of Connecticut. The partnership: awarded 15 scholarships to South African students; carried out an oral history project to document the struggle against apartheid; established a  reciprocal capacity building international linkage with the University of Fort Hare (UFH), the oldest university created in 1916 to educate Black people in South Africa; and, established a sisterly business partnership between the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa and Connecticut. 
The Presidency Director-General Dr. Cassius Lubisi announced that the South African honorees this year include: the late Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa; the celebrated artist Yvonne Chaka Chaka; journalist Mathatha Tsedu; Thandi Lujabe-Rankoe; Anthony Andrew Trew; Mary Mhlongo Twala; and Jacques Kallis.
All were honored for their various contributions in “the struggle for democracy, nation-building and building democracy and human rights.” The six national orders are the Order of Mendi, Order of the Baobab, Order of Ikhamanga, Order Mapungubwe, Order of Luthuli and Order of the Companions of OR Tambo. 
Dr. Omara-Otunnu is one of seven foreign nationals awarded “The Order of the Companions of OR Tambo,” which “recognizes eminent foreign nationals and other foreign dignitaries for friendship shown to South Africa.” Together with Omara-Otunnu others honored with a Silver order are: Klaas de Jonge of The Netherlands;  Khotso Makhulu of the United Kingdom; Paulette Pierson-Mathy of Belgium; and, Lucia Raadschelders, of The Netherlands, awarded posthumously. A recipient of the Order in Bronze is Riccardo Sarra of Italy for “his consistent contribution to the fight for the liberation of the people of South Africa and the Southern African region.” 
Honored with the Order in Gold is Admiral Didier Ignace Ratsiraka of Madagascar for “his outstanding contribution to the struggle for democracy in South Africa.” 
Oliver Tambo was the long-time President of the ANC during the 27 years when Mandela was incarcerated.

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