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Soon after Uganda gained independence from Great Britain in 1962, Makerere University hosted its first significant international gathering, the first African Writers Conference.  The conference was a milestone in African literature dealing directly with the legacy of colonialism.  It attracted a number of African writers such as Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka who would eventually become internationally famous.  Other prominent African writers who attended include Ezekiel Mphahlele, Lewis Nkosi, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o (then known as James Ngugi) and Rajat Neogy (founder of Transition Magazine).

The Conference also helped spread the institution's reputation beyond East Africa.  By the mid-1960s Makerere University was the largest and most distinguished university in Sub-Saharan Africa.