designing the link between our university education and the real world


LAST week I received this electronic flyer (above) for the Makerere University Endowment Fund Run set for Sunday, May 14, 2017. That flyer didn’t make me lace up my running shoes or unfurl my thin wallet.

Instead, I checked carefully to make sure that this wasn’t a flyer from 1999 as its two-dimensional presentation was very dated and, to me, uninspiring. I do not mean to put down the person who designed it, because they were probably doing their best in circumstances I neither know nor can describe.

My disappointment was that the University, the seat of higher learning ranked number four on the continent of Africa, could produce work of this quality. Again – the work was not terrible, but it was a clear sign that the potential of the students of higher learning at this university was being wasted.

A few years ago one of my kid brothers, Paul, ranted about the education format at the university, and this flyer reminded me of that rant with some pain.

See, the Universities ideally take up the best brains from secondary schools countrywide and then give them a platform to develop their knowledge and demonstrate it in various ways even as they learn.

My brother’s rant was to do with the Engineering department. He outlined what he felt should be the system: when a student joins the university Engineering or technology department they should pick a project within their first year that they will do over the duration of their course.

The projects the students would be encouraged to choose, he said, would be projects that could be applicably put to real-life use. At the end of their four-year course, the students should leave the university with their projects and, as much as possible, deploy them in real-life.

That approach, he said, would have the Engineering lecturers spend more time supervising students closely and using their vast knowledge to nurture and develop the intelligence, curiosity and innovative capacity of the students.

When I was at the Makerere University we had a newspaper called The Makererean that students of journalism were expected to produce as part of our hands-on experience and learning.

I even edited it – or carried the title ‘Editor’ even though we didn’t produce more than two editions of it for “budgetary” reasons. I once got involved in a short discussion about diverting faculty allowances (given to individual students) to producing this newspapers, but it was a very short discussion.

The Agriculture students at the university should be producing food crops, not necessarily by digging it up using hoes, but producing them anyway; leading up to the School of Food Technology, Nutrition and Bio-Engineering which would develop or package that produce and send it straight to the market.

The story should go on and on in that way.

Coming back to the Flyer that disturbed me last week, I figured that Makerere University offers (that’s what we say) courses in Economics, Business, Computing and Information Science, Fine Art, Visual Communication, Design and Multimedia, Industrial Art and Applied Design, Liberal and Performing Arts and Film, Languages, Literature and Communication, Journalism and Communication… the list is long.

Any and every one of these departments should have students that can be made to apply themselves to simple tasks such as designing flyers and advertisements, that would count towards their learning experiences and build their portfolios for the future.

If all projects at the University gave these students the opportunity to apply their design skills, then there would be thousands, if not tens of thousands, of entries of various designs. This free platform that the University can give to the students to apply themselves is invaluable, and would make a massive difference to their entry into the real world.

Many of the people that we employ in design and creative firms actually come from this same university and do a superb job, in instances.

While thinking this through I went by the Makerere University website (www.mak.ac.ug) and got to a page that had a snazzy countdown to the Endowment Fund Run, which was impressive – at least THAT was being done right, but still didn’t work well enough to make me tie up my shoe laces or unfurl my thin wallet to contribute to the cause.

It did, however, make me feel like contributing to a strategy that will harness these bright, hopeful minds at the University so that their potential is converted!

new technology in buliisa, uganda!


A FEW days ago I received a short video clip via WhatsApp that I inadvertently opened almost as soon as it arrived. Normally I let these videos pile up till I have enough time to watch and delete them in a pile.
I was very pleased with this one. In the clip, a young fellow was manipulating a ‘wire car’. I put the phrase in quotes because when we were children we had a knack for finding bits of loose metallic wires either from clothes hangers (discarded or stolen) or broken up bits of fencing material, and we made wire cars.
There was always one boy in the neighbourhood who taught the rest of us and kept making modifications every so often without explaining where he had learnt them.
The first wire cars we made used ‘chokolos’ (soda bottle tops – I still don’t know why they were called that) for wheels and we had to squat to push them along. The upgraded wheels were cut out of bits of sapatu (rubber or foam slippers), then the ones above those had chokolo rims inserted into the rubber or foam sapatu.
The next level of tyres were made of metallic wire rims and had rubber tyres made from strips cut from the rubber inners of actual car tyres, wrapped around cuttings of buveera for the off-road variety.
It took us about an hour to fashion a good car complete with steering wheels to drive it as you walked along, axles and even side mirrors and number plates if the materials were available.
In my case that was thirty years before what I saw in this WhatsApp video.
The teenager in the video was operating a ‘wire car’ that was a fully operational excavator! Standing at one end of the truck, he actually had a boom arm lifting the soil carrying bucket an the other end, and drove it round picking and dropping soil!
The amazed onlookers made various exclamations in Runyoro and Luganda, proving its authenticity, and one fellow in overalls walked round the young technician to marvel at his creation.
Eno yagikola nga tatunulidde bu lad bwo!” (He made this without looking at your instructions/manual/readings!) exclaimed one fellow.
The commentators even knew the parts of the excavator such as the “boom” and “circle drive” (I had to google to learn them).
“New technology in Ngwedo, Buliisa!” another declared, before my favourite by one who was as overwhelmed as I was: “Eh! I love Uganda, allo!”
I can only guess that the young man had probably spent time observing some road construction for a while and worked out a way of replicating the truck.
Sadly, I am not sure if there is a village called Ngwedo (thats what it sounded like) in Buliisa, and whereas I will ask people at the district to find the young fellow, I fear success may be limited.
This is the type of chap that needs to be located, nurtured and supported to take his technical prowess to a level of global commercial proportions. Not only could he set up an entire industry of local toy manufacturing, if a wise entrepreneur funded him, but perhaps he could enhance technical education by becoming a trainer (NOT a student) at our institutions.
The automatic steps some would take would be to place him into a school or university, but without proper planning there is a high chance that his creativity and innovation would be stifled there.
How else can you explain the existence of so many qualified Engineers, some with Masters Degrees and Doctorates, with so few wire truck excavators of this nature?
In fact, this chap would most likely be the type to create a host of technical solutions in agriculture, manufacturing…you name it!
Simply by observing and trying things out.
And rather than pick him up and out of his village in Buliisa, we (you, me, an entrepreneur, a university, the government…) should pick up from people like Emmanuel Angoda and implement what he is seeking Ushs65million for.
Emmanuel Angoda is a teacher of ICT who has been at work in Lira Town College for the last five years teaching, training and mentoring young people in his chosen field of ICT.
I have not spoken with him yet but find him heroic for many reasons: over the years I have noticed his name popping up quite humbly in professionally elevated circles because of his noble work. His students have won Awards at the Annual Communication Innovation Awards, they have stood out during ICT and Academic events and also Science Fairs.
This week, he sent out an email unveiling his dream of setting up an ICT innovation hub in Lira Town, called Walktrack Innovation Hub, in which his partners are some of the said students. The cost of setting up that dream is only Ushs65million. That is 1,000 times less than the cost of tarmacking one kilometre of road, which process probably spurred the innovation of the Buliisa technician.
Seriously, people, read his blogpost here: https://angodaemma.wordpress.com/
If we had a hub like Angoda’s in every district, imagine how many times we would hear the exclamation, “I love Uganda, allo!”

two journeys, one path – different destinations


TAKING a walk through Mutungo for health reasons – exercise, I must declare – I found myself at the top of a road I had ignored countless times before, and ventured down its lead.
The short walk was uneventful besides the number of people I had to prompt into responding with “Good evening!” as I walked past grey and brown walls shielding what appeared to be regular residential houses with regular grass gardens.
Then, quite suddenly, the grey and brown was broken by a burst of thick shrubbery. I believe my breathing changed before my mind had fully taken in what my eyes were seeing. The thick hedge ran for a regular distance but I slowed down my paces to take it all in, and to peer through it out of curiosity.
There was much more behind it than just grass and a house; the flowers and shrubs were not rare and in some cases not in bloom, but it was interesting to observe. So interesting, actually, that when I got to the gate and found it was wide open I took that as an invite.
Inside, the neat garden exceeded my expectations, as it came with many pots and plants,img_20160121_170250.jpg all of them obviously made (the pots) and nurtured (the plants) within the perimeter fencing. The house was obviously old, probably built when my grandparents were youths, but it was well kept. Against the front of the house, someone had carefully fashioned an archway of flowering shrubs that arrested my attention for a while before I called out, “Koodi?”
There was a stirring in the sitting room and a young man peeped out of the window to return my greeting and inform me that the person behind the pots and plants was probably in the smaller house at the back – and he left his television set on to pop out and check.
The fellow, who this young man identified as his cousin Joe of Jowy Creations, was indeed away but could be found on Facebook.
A few days later I returned, this time deliberately, to view the garden again and try to meet this Joe of Jowy Creations.
Again, the gardens were still but there was sound in the sitting room. This time I didn’t have to call out before the very same young man, possibly wearing the very same vest, stood up from his television viewing position.
His cousin was in, this time, and came out to meet me though I first summoned the TV watching youth to interrogate him a little bit. Top on my mind was the question: Had he been watching television non-stop since the last time I had been, a few days ago?
He laughed and said he hadn’t. He was on holiday, from his university course studying “IT”, and was therefore chilling. Did he have a laptop or something else to occupy his time? He chuckled a bit but became irritated at my lugezi gezi, but I made it clear to him that I had an endless supply of it and would return to him after meeting his cousin properly.
img_20160121_170421.jpgHis cousin, Daniel Joe Semakadde, listened quietly to the exchange while behind him I noticed the garage held about fifty concrete pots in formation which hadn’t been there the last time I was.
He then took me round the garden to see his plant creations, his pottery and even
ironmongery! This was their grandparents’ home, and they now live there with a sectionimg_20160121_165903.jpg of the family.
Semakadde, a graduate of Food, Science and Technology, took to interior design as a child and made his first sale at the age of fourteen by putting together some dried twigs, colouring and arranging them in a pot. He still went through school dutifully, taking a difficult professional course, but during that time img_20160121_170446.jpgtaught himself how to make pots, weld metal, grow plants and design art pieces.
He has lived off that income very comfortably ever since.
As he spoke, his cousin was back at the television, and I could not understand how the fellow had let me leave the first time without trying to sell me any of the Jowy Creations. So I cut short the visit and called the young man out of the house for some more lugezi gezi.
To begin with, he had only Ushs15,000 to his name at that point, and confessed that he didn’t know enough about pottery and plants to earn any money from me doing it.
Long story cut short, we made arrangements for his cousin to train him for the remainder of his holiday, and I offered to ease the process by paying for his transport from the television set to the garden for the training course.
Today marks the end of Week One, and I am praying I don’t find him in front of a television. I also need someone to give me lessons in understanding how these two young fellows can grow up in the very same home and take such different paths in life – one to wealth and success through sweat and hard work, and the other likely heading to a despondent declaration of a lack of opportunities.

keep an eye on exceptional Ugandans made in Uganda – and bring them back if they’re away


Photo by James M. Dobson for the Garden City Telegram - Isaya Kisekka
Photo by James M. Dobson for the Garden City Telegram – Isaya Kisekka
AT THE end of the first day of presidential election nominations this week I caught up with my emails and found a notification with a link to this article titled, “Ugandan engineer works to save Kansas aquifer”.
I could understand the words well but the day had been long so I took a while to unravel the confusion; the service that sent me this link normally updates me about white Americans, Australians and Britons saving Ugandan villages with shoes, compassion, brassieres, and very many other such items.
For the very same service to suddenly be declaring that a Ugandan was out there “saving” Kansas was odd – unless Kansas was short for Kansanga.
But it turned out to be a true story; a chap called Isaya Kisekka was working at Garden City, the story read, as an irrigation engineer for the Kansas State University Research and Extension’s Southwest Experiment Station.
Not Garden City in Kampala, Garden City in Kansas, the United States of America.
The entire story is a good, refreshingly surprising read. Kisekka studied agricultural engineering at Makerere University, having arrived at the course without the combination of professional career guidance and personal passion that normally helps people fashion paths to successful, enjoyable careers.
But he liked the course and eventually worked with a private company and also the Ugandan government. It was as a government employee that he opened his mind and eventually pursued further studies well enough to get employed in the United States and achieve such veritable mention online.
But now, I think it is important that Uganda keeps tabs on this guy (and others like him).
It is obvious right now that Uganda needs engineers of his kind to channel El Nino to stem the effects of drought in places like Karamoja.
But more long-term, people like Kisekka should be appointed inspirational ambassadors for Uganda to both Ugandans and the rest of the world. All government employees should strive to be as good as Kisekka at what they do, not so they get jobs in the United States, but so that they are good enough to do so.
The Kisekka’s of this world should be used to inspire other Ugandans to realise that even if you do study and live and work in Uganda, moreover in a government job, you can be good enough to stand out for doing your job well even without being submitted for an Award or a Medal.
The young man studied in Kampala and was good enough to go and work in the United States NOT doing kyeyo – that’s the type of image our children need to see.
Plus, the government needs to get such fellows back into employment over here, to sort out the aforementioned link between El Nino and droughts elsewhere.
Rather than continue being the butt of internet memes and snide remarks by people wishing to take over the management of the country, this government should attract all the efficient, useful and committed people like Kisekka into its employ and retain them there so that they save Ugandans rather than Americans.
In the article about him, he said a number of significant things, but one of my favourite quotes was:
“If you have opportunity, it’s up to you to work hard and use those opportunities. Education for me was very important. A lot of people without work look to America as this idea that you can make it regardless of your background if you just take the opportunity.”
Right now, today, we have the opportunity to be like Kisekka, to make our children follow the path Kisekka followed, to employ people like Kisekka, and to attract the Kisekka’s back to Uganda to save Ugandans rather than leave them in America saving Americans while Americans come here to save Ugandans.

let’s celebrate Philly Lutaaya again on December 1 – and take up his challenge to DO SOMETHING ABOUT HIV/AIDS


This coming December 1 will be World AIDS Day once again, and you might (should) wear a red ribbon to commemorate the day.
A short while ago I was in a classroom in Bweyogerere covering the visit of the RTI International Chief Executive Officer, Wayne Holden, and some of his Global Executives. Part of what they do, along with USAID, DFID (UKAID) and the government, is support educational programmes.
One of those programmes, strangely enough, promotes reading in vernacular. So I was in this classroom full of children reading schoolbooks in Luganda while a group of Americans who had no clue of the language, nodded in appreciation of something.
I was nodding at something different – the story the teacher was reading out to them, in Luganda, was about Philly Bongoley Lutaaya, and his role in raising awareness about HIV/AIDS.
The children were reading along and looking up in silence and serious attention as she enunciated her words carefully for their learning benefit, and they imbibed everything about the Ugandan hero.
I knew for a fact, as I watched those children, that my own did not know much about Philly Bongoley Lutaaya besides the comments I kept making every time I played his music.
As the teacher read his story I recalled his visiting us at King’s College Budo, and how I felt when I got to shake his hand. That was a mark for me that helped me overcome the stigma of how contagious the disease was.
And I still feel the rush of adrenaline I felt when he played cricket up there, with John Nagenda, and after swinging for one ball, collapsing in a heap to a collective gasp that seemed to go round the whole school.
He got up smiling after a panicked group had raced to him, unsure what they were going to have to do – it had been a small prank.
But when he eventually passed on the gasps we exhaled went round the whole world, as did our tears.Philly Lutaaya III
The man was a hero. A heavy-on-the-mind Ugandan hero.
I was sad that my children don’t know enough about him and that their schooling in english was neglecting these lessons, but I was happy that many other children in the countryside are getting this exposure.
And then it hit me that the gap was my responsibility.
That evening, I went home and asked them if they remembered him – and the name was familiar, so I assigned them the task of doing research on Philly Bongoley Lutaaya and presenting their papers to me within a couple of days.
To help them along, I played his music for a couple of days and was myself refreshed by how much he promoted tourism in his songs and videos, how much he promoted Uganda’s (not just Buganda) cultures, his contribution to health awareness, and how he ably demonstrated the fun and creative side of Ugandans.
I eagerly awaited the children’s papers and was pleasantly surprised when they handed them in Saturday morning – and I discovered from them that that very day was Philly Lutaaya Day!
Philly Lutaaya
As I was reading through their papers, celebrations were being held in Kanoni, Gomba District, which the official flyer I eventually received said were “to mobilise wanainchi to take action by coming out openly to share what they are doing as individuals, as communities and as a nation to STOP HIV as Uganda moves towards zero infections, zero discrimination and zero deaths.”
I couldn’t go to Kanoni that day, but we spent the day thinking about Philly Lutaaya, and that evening lit candles in his honour as we watched his music videos and appreciated further – adults and children alike – his importance in our history.
On World AIDS Day this December 1, we will pay attention to him again, as our Ugandan hero of the day, as well as address the challenge: “What are you doing to stop HIV?”
All triggered by a Luganda story book being read out to schoolchildren in a classroom in Bweyogerere, by a schoolteacher whose name I did not get but who also represents another group of Ugandan heroes out there making a massive difference in this society of ours.
Philly Lutaaya IV