Life in Uganda


Part 6 University Library and Farm

In my previous blog I mentioned the university library and the university farm. It was a challenge to put up a library worth the name of university library. In fact, one cannot talk of a university if it does not have a top rated library put at the disposal of students, researchers and staff, a library worth the name! We had some initial ideas but as new technologies were developing fast we thought that we should incorporate all these in our plans. A member of the faculty of architecture drew plans for a new library building. I wanted it to be a state-of-the-art space that would give its users all the means to gather the information they needed. I mentioned earlier that we had to pull down one building, in fact termites had had a major share in this work, and as the land was on a rather steep slope, the planner used this natural terrain for the project. A structure of one floor would be sufficient at the main quadrangle level, but but with two levels below. This would fit perfectly well amid the structures already existing. As we had to dig serious foundations, it was also decided to have this space as storage for library materials, a small museum to exhibit the artefacts that had been donated to the university, and some spacious reading space. At the centre of the main library hall we installed a set of computers for access to information and data. This required us to purchase important uninterrupted power supply (UPS) equipment to support the IT equipment we had installed. It all worked out very well and after one year we could proudly inaugurate the “Archbishop Kiwanuka Memorial Library”. On inauguration day, presided over by the Apostolic Nuncio to Uganda, the librarian, in her speech, said “There are not many librarians who can say: I have a new library!”. She did a wonderful job making sure things would be a work of class and high professionalism. Our stock of books was impressive and we concentrated on what was needed to support the various programmes we were offering. On top of that we had access to internet, even if still slow by today’s standards, but it worked, and the doors of international information flew open!

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Another major development was the university farm. As we had 600 acres of land down in the valley it would have been a shame not to put this to use. It was not difficult to set aside one big chunk for the farm. A Belgian NGO offered to assist us in the setting up of the farm, and a young agronomist with his family soon joined the university community. What a man he was and what energy! He used his skills to the maximum and soon we saw the fruits of his work and initiatives blossom. Cattle, pigs, fields of maize, a plant for animal feeds, a milk place etc. Then came the poultry department which soon reached the number of 10.000 birds! My goodness, what was happening? We had eggs and milk in plenty for the university community, and the surplus had to be disposed of. A marketing plan had to be developed and soon “Equator Valley Farm” acquired a good name in town for the quality of its animal feeds, its eggs and milk products. After some years we hired a Ugandan General Manager for the farm and he put his heart into the development of the project. During my time, various buildings came up on the site and I understand that, at present, the faculty of Agriculture has moved its premises to the farm. Well done folks! But more important, the impact of the university was felt in the local community. When we started at Nkozi in 1993, the neighbouring village of Kayabwe along the main road from Kampala to Masaka, comprised some twenty shops; today it has become a major commercial centre with its streets and economic facilities such as bank, petrol station etc. Really UMU was contributing to the development of the region and its importance cannot be ignored.

Other projects we realised included the setting up of a police post in Nkozi, the distribution of franchises for businesspeople to build halls of residence, the development of an eco-system down in the swamp (you could actually take a short boat ride to see the water wildlife), the start of the UMU Press where we published six volumes on various topics, the setting up of a School of Postgraduate Studies, an outreach programme for an orphanage in the vicinity, student exchange programme with the Netherlands, the first PhD programme, numerous new buildings were built further up the hill (the students called this part of campus ‘West Nile’ because it was far away from the admin building, a dining hall extension, a Nursery school that eventually became a full primary school, a fully-kitted out football team, we hosted five international conferences, started the first programme on democracy for politicians and aspiring politicians (some of whom are in key posts today) … I could go on.

But slowly I could feel that my time as Vice Chancellor was coming to an end – there was no need to cling to the place and maybe get set in my ways. It was time to look for a replacement, and by 2006 we had found a Ugandan university professor, oncologist by training and then working in Canada, who was willing to return to Uganda and take over from me. He would bring on board what we had not been able to do, maybe out of fear of the magnitude of the enterprise or simply because of lack of guts on my part, the setting up of a post-graduate school of Medicine linked to Nsambya Hospital in Kampala. But this is not my story and history will certainly remember it.

A last thing which had to be considered, if we wanted to reach more students, was the development of the university beyond its walls of Nkozi. We already had a study centre in Kampala for evening courses for professionals (Mas and MBAs), but to reach as many people as possible, it was felt necessary to set up upcountry study centres, which could eventually become university colleges. The four corners of the country were targetted and, in using existing premises offered by dioceses, we were in a position to give the opportunity to young women and men to pursue university studies. My main idea was to keep a unitary institution with a series of constituent colleges around the country. This would give to the university a stronger base and a wider outreach.

I can say at the end of these few lines that Uganda Martyrs University will always hold a special place in my heart. With all my colleagues we worked hard and the fruits are there to be seen today. I am aware that there will be ups and downs in the life of the university but with what we planted I believe the roots are strong enough to withstand the tempest and hardships of time. Thirteen years to set up a university seemed to me a good time to say thank you for the experience and the many good moments and times spent at UMU. I would certainly use this experience and my further work in Uganda would benefit of these precious moments in my life. All these things might come in another blog post! !

For the moment, au revoir Nkozi

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