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Life in Uganda

UGANDA MARTYRS UNIVERSITY

Moving to Kampala, August 2006

So our time in Nkozi was over and we had to decide what next! In the meantime we had tied our lives together for better and for worse. The most reasonable solution was to find a place in Kampala and move ourselves and the canines to the capital. We went house hunting and quickly found a place which we could rent in the periphery of Kampala, the suburb of Bugolobi. If you look on a map of Kampala, you will find that Bugolobi is situated on the outskirts of Kampala and giving you access to the road to Jinja in the East of the country. It also gave easy access to the centre of town. Its greatest asset was a nearby Shell petrol station which had next to it an exquisite Pizza place and they delivered home! Very often when giving directions we would tell people to “go to Bugolobi Shell Petrol station” and take it from there. We had no idea for how long this house would be our abode, but it suited us for the time being. A strange building it was, with different levels in the house, clearly showing all kinds of additions. One had to be very careful in the kitchen not to walk too fast as you would end up tumbling down an uneven step or hit your head on a low ceiling which was cutting the kitchen into two. We learned very quickly how to manoeuvre in this environment. The garage was the strangest of places. You could enter via the kitchen but to get out you had to take a big step up and then down. Now how you get a car in there remains a mystery to me! In any case we needed space to put our many things and the garage turned out to be a very good storage place. Within this garage there was the strangest little room with shower. It had a small window to the outside and would have to do as a study for the time being. The defunct shower room then became storage for our boxes of books!

When we got there with two lorries of goods, having travelled all the way from Nkozi, offloading went smoothly, even if goods had moved throughout the trip. Not too much damage (our guys at Nkozi were far from being professional movers!) But the goods got to Kampala and this was the main thing. I had followed with the dogs, which was another story! I must say they were not always happy in the back of the car, but they too got safely to Bugolobi. And so we were there for our first evening; there was not much as a welcome meal but at least we could have a small drink! Do not talk about the first night’s ‘sleep’ in Kampala. I have never been mosquito infested like this. I think we spent most of the time hitting and flapping our arms to chase those little pests! Also do not ask me how we felt when the morning light came up! Relief, but at the same time with faces, scalp, arms and legs pocked with mosquito bites. Luckily it seems Kampala mosquitoes do not carry malaria and we did not have any after effects of these little invaders presence and attacks. Quickly we found out that where we were located we were at a stone’s throw of the nearby swamp, so this certainly explains the many mosquitoes. For those living nearer to the swamp (and it was supposed to be a residential area) life must have been a continuous war zone.

Quickly we settled down into our new place and arranged things in such a way that the house would be comfortable and welcoming. And so it was! We would be able to invite some friends for a house warming party. It also turned out that one of our neighbours was the Belgian Ambassador and quickly we became friends. Our housekeeper from Nkozi followed us as well as one gardener. So there we were, a small new community in the capital of the land! The gardener quickly found ways and means to plant vegetables and after a few weeks we had some fresh produce at our disposal. Not bad for a start in the big city! Our housekeeper had a place behind the house where she set up quarters, rather comfortably. Behind that, another place was arranged for our gardener and he too was a happy punter in his new abode! At the end of this place there was a small open room in which we installed a generator as Kampala was prone to power cuts at unannounced times and for unspecified periods of time.
I have never understood people who build houses in Uganda. Next to the master bedroom was an enormous bathroom, almost the size of the bedroom. In it there was a jacuzzi which did not work and a slippery floor where your life was in constant danger! You learn very quickly where to put your wet feet! Next to the master bedroom there were two bedrooms and one bathroom. A living room and a dining room next to the kitchen completed the place. All in all not too big but certainly sufficient to put all our belongings. So the garage and other rooms were fully used as storage spaces.

So time had come for us to start a new life. My “Irish colleague”, Dee, was to take some months off after the 13 years at Nkozi, and I would take on a new job at the National Council for Higher Education as Deputy Executive Director in charge of Quality Assurance. And so on the first day of September I set off to my new work place and was looking forward to meet my new colleagues. I was welcomed, sure, by those present, but the Executive Director was absent and there was no office space foreseen for me. So my first day was rather brief with a look around the place, meet a few colleagues, read a few papers and back home in the early afternoon. There would definitely be work to be done in the months and years to come! After two weeks I came back home and my better half told me she had received a phone call from a businessman in town, asking her to set up a university for him. Consideration would be given to this project, and the few months rest saw their way out the window!

Our stay in Bugolobi did not last very long as one day a pleasant young couple turned up and informed us they had bought the house! When are you moving out? No, not again just after having moved in. So house hunting started again and this time we decided that if we could find a place we could purchase we would do it. Given the job I had it should be near enough to reasonable access roads to my place of work. After serious consideration, Dee accepted the challenge to set up a new university. So our place should not be too far from where she would work. One afternoon she phoned me at the office. “Please come over immediately, I think I have found the ideal place!” So there we were at a beautiful residence, up for sale, with all the amenities you could dream of. A bit big with four bedrooms and bathrooms, a kitchen through which a lorry could be driven, a massive sitting room and dining room and each bedroom with its own bathroom and direct access to a private terrace. Not bad at all. We fell in love with it and rather quickly the needful steps for the purchase were completed. We had no money, but then a solution is always to be found and we found it. So in March 2007 we moved again to a place called Bunga at the other end of town and near Lake Victoria. It was a stone’s throw away from the place I had worked years earlier, Ggaba National Seminary. Life’s twists and turns can be strange. One feature of the house which really enthused us were the wooden floors: thick mahogany parquet floors and a massive wooden staircase to the top floor. What a mansion! It was rather a big difference with what we had before but then why not! At least, for the first years, our families would be able to visit us and have some space to breathe while with us, and so they did – many times!

Really for both of us a new life was starting, and over the years we would try our best to contribute in a positive way to higher education in Uganda. All this for other blogs! Just relax for now and wait for new stories later.

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Life in Uganda

UGANDA MARTYRS UNIVERSITY

Some corrective after-thought, not so random!

A few days ago I was reading a blog, Jacana Days, from my “Irish colleague” on her experience in Nkozi. Well I must say the picture was pretty grim and one wonders how she managed to stick it out there.

I must admit that there was a lot of truth in what she wrote and I do remember the rodents scouting the then kitchen of the university. They were in fact well fed and healthy! I remember too the pitiful state in which the infrastructure was found; it really was a war zone. Two armies, the Obote 2 army and the National Resistance army were facing each other in the early 1980s. The first one was camped on the then Teacher Training College campus, now UMU, the other in the valley of the Katonga river. When travelling from Masaka to Nkozi you reach a point where you see a hill with radio masts: that is Nkozi. That was where the armies were camped and it is not difficult to imagine how this hill became a perfect target point for exact and precise shooting and bombing! Sure, roofs were blown off and buildings collapsed, but we still had something left when we took over. Walls can be rebuilt, roofs replaced and amenities restored. As we were the new occupants and did not know much about the past of the place, except that it was a former Teacher Training College run by the Sacred Heart Sisters and later became a National Teacher Training College, run by Government, we were entering with an almost clean slate! Not so clean in fact! Bats had taken residence on campus and we never managed to really get rid of them. At one time we did remove all the tiles of roofs and wash them as well as the concrete roofs of some buildings, disinfecting them with the strongest possible chemical! All very good for the environment (not)! The bats returned, seemingly happy to settle down once again in a clean environment! So you learn to live with them and that is what I told our students on many occasions.

I must admire the stubbornness of my “Irish colleague” (she is from Belfast!) to bite through all these difficulties and stick it out not only in this unwelcoming environment but also with my own stubbornness in wanting to see the university get off the ground. In fact, it brought us together and over the years we did manage to set up a class university. Maybe the sight of rubble, bat dung and all other unpleasant objects, made us both appreciate the efforts made to clean it up and make it a place where it was good to be.
She is also a musician and composed the university anthem; in the second stanza she wrote:

“May we remain faithful to the name: Uganda Martyrs University,
a place of love where it is good to be,
guide us in wisdom to lead the world. Virtute et Sapientia.”

I am sure that the thoughts of the first months at Nkozi gave her some inspiration in writing this and were constantly at the back of her mind.

In my blogs about Uganda Martyrs University I have been rather factual but her blog brings a breath of fresh air to it all. Maybe the two combined give us a more exact picture of Uganda Martyrs University. I attach herewith three pictures one of the original gate to the university when we arrived there, and two of the administration building before and after renovations. On the first photo of the admin building are the very first visitors to campus in 1993, we amongst them, and another photo of cleaning and beautifying the campus. Maybe this gives a better picture of the place! But if you go today, you are entering a marvellous world of green, flowers and shrubs. The campus is back to its old glory: a beautiful botanical garden. And in fact one of our pioneer staff got all the trees on campus identified and marked with their scientific name! Could you have a better environment, conducive to study?

The Gate in 1993
Administration building as received in 1993
Beautifying campus 1994
Administration building restored
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Life in Uganda

UGANDA MARTYRS UNIVERSITY

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!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is library.jpeg
Before
After

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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Life in Uganda

UGANDA MARTYRS UNIVERSITY

Part 5 Setting up Faculties and Institutes

So there we were: Uganda Martyrs University was up and running. All things were progressing smoothly, and we were creating a good routine which we hoped would be helpful for the development of the university. Infrastructure and rehabilitation works continued, and during the first academic year some interested donors visited the university. I never thought it would be so easy to fundraise when you have a good and solid project with clear objectives. And so we finally saw some light, and the works started by the Steering Committee could be completed, or at least given a final touch with the necessary adjustments. You have to know that not all people are of the same physical build and that some are taller than others. So when fixing doors this should be taken into account as not everyone is a dwarf. But the first developers of UMU did not realise this. Some door frames had to be removed and the open space widened and heightened so as to accommodate people of a certain hight, such as myself to avoid breaking heads or necks. All these little things took time and we finally completed the administration building. The basic rule I used was simple: Do not destroy anything and see how best you can renovate and use existing structures. At the end of the day we had only one major building to pull down and that gave us space for what would become, at a much later date, the university library. Donors who believe in what you want to do make your task so much easier! You know who you are. Heartfelt thanks.

But let us go back to our academic world. Setting up faculties is not just the result of a dream that materialised during a fertile out-night! We had to plan for the future with a fair degree of seriousness. We arranged with one of our major donors to have a meeting at Nkozi with some twelve academics from various universities the world over, and together we hammered out some basic ideas on how best to develop the university. Exchanging ideas with colleagues who have a good experience in academia, did produce results, and this gave us a really well worked out (if basic) Strategic Plan. The donors were delighted with the work done and we concluded this dialogue with a two-day visit to Queen Elizabeth National Park, with all the trappings to make it as nice and comfortable as possible. Staying in “the wild” for a few days did everyone the greatest good and contacts were created that would be precious for the future growth of Uganda Martyrs University. This one-week session was formally concluded some weeks later by an internal work session of our own academic and senior administrative staff where we finalised the future plans for UMU. By then we had a more developed Strategic Plan and we would base the future of the university on it. My goodness, how great we felt after all this work; enthusiasm to see the university grow was so visible in everyone involved.

We had started the university with an Institute of Ethics and Development Studies and were well aware we were trail blazers with this innovation. Other universities would follow later but we were the first in Africa to link Ethics and Development Studies. This came from the basic idea we had on how best to help Uganda with its problems of dealing with mismanagement and corruption. We were aware that education was the key to development, so we thought that linking Development and Ethics might pay off in the training of young women and men who could make a difference in society. And indeed, some of our graduates would later stand up for ethical values in their professional life.

Developing Business Studies brought us to think of the sciences. We were fortunate to have the offer of a university lecturer working in South Africa who was ready to leave her institution. She offered to come to UMU, and with her an impetus was given to science studies, especially mathematics. Soon after, the idea of Education as an important component in higher education became evident and the Faculty of Education was born. As we were living in a country which needed some basic services and one of them was a good health sector, Health Sciences, especially Public Health, was brought on board. It took some time to move from a simple certificate in Health Sciences to a fully fledged faculty offering both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes of study, but with the assistance of outstanding academics from Italy this became a reality.

Through the assistance of some donors, “Engineers without Borders”, we welcomed into our midst a team of young architecture students from the university of Ghent with their professor. He himself had already visited us before and drawn up plans for our university farm. This group drafted for us a master plan for the development of the university campus, and proposed a series of new buildings which would fit within the existing campus. They, in turn, brought up the idea of a Faculty of Architecture which, with the help of other donors, soon saw the light of day at Nkozi. This would later become the Faculty of the Built Environment. And so by 2000, we had five faculties and a variety of programmes at all levels. It was at this time that our first PhD students enrolled and soon two of our own staff would become the pioneer PhD candidates. But when you think of PhDs why not think of honorary degrees? In the year 2000, the university was proud to present two honorary degrees, one to the former Secretary of the Steering Committee, for his contribution to higher education, the other to a colleague from the university of Ghent in Belgium, who had been instrumental in initiating the faculty of Architecture, for his contribution to Development and Sciences. Visitors were congratulating us on our achievements and I must say that we were proud of it all. At this time one of the contributors of the Faculty of Architecture, would design the plans for a new university library. A word about this in another blog.

One last link was still needed in our academic developments. We were living in a rural area and it seemed logical that we would give a hand to the development of agriculture in the region. And so the last faculty set up during my tenure saw the light: Agriculture. It started with a certificate programme to assist local farmers and indeed it attracted a good number of people who wished to see their skills improve. Since it was a practical faculty we linked it to the university farm which was developing nicely on the lower part of campus. I will devote a blog on the setting up of the university farm and all its developments. That’s for a later story.

Well, there we were in the early twenty first century with a new university which could claim some real status in the world of higher education in Uganda and East Africa. Our staff had been working hard and they could be proud of the work they did in helping setting up Uganda Martyrs University. There had been tears of sorrow and joy, difficult times and misunderstandings, but it was all worth it! Uganda Martyrs University was a reality and no longer just a dream Archbishop Kiwanuka had in 1941!

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Life in Uganda

UGANDA MARTYRS UNIVERSITY

Part 4. The First academic year

We were all set up by the end of August and had just a few remaining things to put in place. The Registrar, Bernard, was finalizing paperwork for the first students and I had had some Senate meetings to discuss academic matters.
The first official start of the first academic year was to be on 18 October 1993. This date was chosen as it was the anniversary of the canonisation of the Uganda Martyrs and it would be the feast day of the university for a number of years to come. So students were expected to be on campus a few days before that date to enable us to lay some ground rules for all. Surprise, surprise, on 8 September 1993 a first young man appeared at the gates of UMU. “I have come to study at UMU and come from Koboko”. “Wow all that travelling, Koboko is at the border of South Sudan, but you are one month early! You must have received a note from the Registrar informing you of the postponement of the opening of the university till mid-October.” “No Sir, we do not receive post regularly at our place and it is far away!” “Well then you have to go back to Kampala and wait for the opening date” “But how do I live in Kampala?” “Well let us be good to you and we will give you some pocket money for one month if you find your own accommodation in town” And so our first student, now Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic Affairs at UMU, returned to Kampala for a month’s waiting. This incident gave us some impetus to make sure all would be in order to receive the students. On 15 October the first group arrived, some with their parents and suitcases and some on their own with little baggage. One had a simple cloth at the end of a stick hanging over his shoulder, his clothes were the ones he was wearing, and in the little bag some small things he would need during his stay. Rooms were allocated and students shown to their respective places which would be theirs for the next three years! There was excitement all over campus and some people even complimented us on the quality of the surrounding and the infrastructures. I must say that our team had worked miracles in revamping what little infrastructure there was and made it as habitable as possible. At least we had running water, the quality of which was not the best, and electricity, at least in an interrupted form due to load-shedding and the poor state of the poles! We had lecture halls, a computer classroom, and a small library. For the arrival day, the kitchen staff had prepared a nice meal and the caterer would, over the coming years, create an atmosphere of welcome through succulent meals, which would soon become the envy of other Ugandan universities. I will say something more about this later.

So there we were, a small team of staff and 84 new students, on a campus which resembled in some aspects a real battle field interspersed with decent buildings but the whole was set in a lush green environment resembling a botanical garden. Over the years it would be greatly improved and become a benchmark in university infrastructures in Uganda. The first evening was left to the new students to meet and get acquainted round a good meal. A meeting was scheduled the next morning where I would meet with them all and explain a few basic rules of the institution. The Registrar would do his part in addressing the students and so would the Assistant Registrar, Students’ Affairs. And then the first official act would be to register all students and give them their identity cards. It makes me smile today at what we did then, but it was good and efficient and within about three hours all students were registered and had their official students’ card. With a polaroid camera we had a photograph of each one taken, at the next table a little card was printed and at the next table the photo and the card were passed through a small laminating machine. We heard oohs and aahs from the students amazed at this “modern” technology! We thought we had achieved something by being so efficient and it was up to us all, staff and students, to be true to it and ensure that the university would take off in the best and strongest conditions. Well this became the rule for us all: quality work produced by all. This was my message and the message of the team. The students quickly jumped on this bandwagon and would really put their heart into their work and make of UMU a place “where it is good to be!” As we were a Catholic-founded institution we had a nice chapel on campus, and the chaplain, the former secretary of the steering committee, my friend Hilary, would make sure that a spiritual tone be given to activities on campus. But I insisted that we were open to all philosophies and faiths and never would we discriminate against someone not part of the catholic community, be it at the level of selection or during their stay on campus. A Church of Uganda minister would visit campus regularly and the Muslim students could attend prayers at the nearby mosque. This would pave the way to a strong sense of community spirit which would prevail all through my years at Nkozi campus. And here I am grateful to our first staff who fully backed me in this! On 18 October 1993, a solemn celebration took place in the chapel to mark the official start of the first academic year and the university was placed under the protection of the good Lord. Simplicity in what we did and said would soon be the general rule, and there would be not much need to repeat things, as all, staff and students alike, were eager to see the place take off well. All wanted to pave the way for the future and a real spirit of community took hold of us all. And the next day, on Monday 19 October 1993, the first lectures were give at Uganda Martyrs University. We had taken off!
You will recall what I said about the infrastructures in an earlier blog. Well there were the women and men who would work hard both intellectually and manually, to make the place their home. Community work was done by all and even my dog “Lady” was keen on helping all in their labour. During this first academic year we would clear a few more buildings and soon a small shop was opened and a staff club installed in one of the buildings. We felt good with this and thought we had really become a university! Landscaping was done in front of what was to be the administration building after having moved a mountain of rubble from the site. Within a year the whole place was transformed into a really nice and classy place.
I told you earlier that the caterer was doing wonders with the little means she had. Sundays became know as “Chicken Sunday”, as lunch served succulent chicken. Students are students, and some of them went to Kampala for the weekend and soon the news travelled that Sunday lunch at Nkozi was special. Friends turned up on Sunday mornings and soon the dining hall was overcrowded by people. Soon we found out that this number, greater than the actual student population of UMU, had been reached by visitors from other universities who came to see their “friends” at UMU. It turned out quickly that their purpose of the visit was the “chicken Sunday” lunch! We had to put a brake on it as it would be unsustainable for us to feed so many who were not part of our community. You can allow a few visitors but when the number of visitors equals the number of residents, there is a problem. But yes, we had indeed acquired a good name through the class and quality work of our caterer! God bless her for this generosity, but our budget had to be adhered to if we wanted to survive a full academic year! We struggled through the year and our resources were drained quickly. Thank God there were donors who helped us, and they would always come in at the right moment to make our lives what they were. A fair share of my work during those early years was given to fund-raising.
Time flew past us and in no time we had reached May 1994 and time for the first exams. I have never seen such quiet place as that examination room where all students were seated to write their papers, supervised by the Vice Chancellor, the Registrar and all academic staff. None had the intention of cheating in any way and this too became a norm at UMU even if there were incidences where some tried their luck at unnecessary cheating! Some young ladies had notes written on their thighs, while others asked for a short call to read notes taped inside a toilet cistern! All very inventive!
But we had made it, and now that we had completed one full year it was time to think about an official opening/launching of the university with the installation of the university officials and invite a special guest for the occasion, the President of Uganda, His Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. He graced this occasion with his wife and all were happy that outsiders had witnessed the event and seen that officials from the Ministry of Education and Sports had endorsed the university. The then Minister of Education, thanks to a good word from the Director of Higher Education who had backed us all the way, became a good friend of the university and this helped us to grow properly in the years to come. We could all say “ad multos annos UMU!”

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UGANDA MARTYRS UNIVERSITY

Part 3 Arrival of the containers

In no time we had reached the end of June and already repair works were in full swing at the campus. Three halls of residence were cleaned, and water and electricity checked and repaired. There is no need to tell you the condition in which we found this infrastructure but our plumber was not a man afraid of dirtying his hands. So by the end of August we found ourselves in possession of some decent places to accommodate the first students. Two blocks for classrooms were cleaned up and painted, one of them becoming the first library. My colleague from Ireland would take on the responsibility of helping the newly-appointed librarian. So we had the physical space for our first academic year; now we had to furnish all this so that we could operate in a more or less reasonable fashion.
As we were cleaning up a hall of residence I received information, somewhere in mid-July, that the two containers were on their way to Kampala and would arrive the next day. Could I arrange to be in Kampala to receive them and move them to Nkozi. Now this was naïve on my part to take this for granted, but I did. Had I forgotten my past experiences? How could a container arrive and in one day have customs’ clearance and all necessary paperwork completed! Anyhow I went to Kampala with my packing lists and a promise from President Museveni who had given us a full tax exemption to import all goods for the university. It was on this basis that I naively thought things would be easy but Murphy was on duty big time!
The office of the forwarding company was visited and I was informed that the containers were on their way but that they were in no position to tell me when they would arrive. “It may take from one week up to three weeks” Oops! First piece of bad news! “Come back in a week and maybe the containers will be here and we can then clear them!” “How will I know they are here?” “Just phone us!” Yes but we had no phone in Nkozi and mobile phones did not exist! So back I went to Nkozi in the hope that after a week I would have good news. We arranged a special trip to Kampala for some shopping and I popped into the office of the forwarding company. “Good news, the containers have arrived! We will do the needful and then they can be moved to Nkozi!” How long will that take? “No idea! That depends on the customs officers and all the needed paperwork”. “But I have a tax exemption, so it should be fast” “Yes but papers are needed and they have to be fully stamped. Come back in three days and things should be fine.” Second piece of bad news! And so it was back to Nkozi without anything, apart from some goods for us at home and for the university.
After three days I ventured back to Kampala and to the office where I hoped to have good news. “Well, customs cannot clear anything yet as the papers from the President’s office have not arrived yet!” Oops, again! “Maybe you could contact them and ask for the papers?” “Yes, but I do not know anybody there and then what!” But just then I had a stroke of good luck when I bumped into the commissioner of customs whom I had known in Mbarara. I explained my case and he took it upon himself to arrange things. He phoned to State House and within a few minutes instructions were passed on to customs to release the two containers. Hourrah for this! I asked when the containers would be released and he answered me “Well give us a few days to complete the paperwork!” Third act of said Murphy! “But do not get upset; things will work out for you and the university will have everything it needs when the containers are released.” Well this I knew as I had done all the shopping myself. “Come back tomorrow morning and maybe things will be completed.”
Could I believe this or was it just a tactic to calm my nerves and impatience? Ok, the next morning I was at the customs’ office and proudly the commissioner handed over all documents to me. You can go to the clearing office and they will release the two lorries with the containers. At 10.30 am that same morning we were on the way to Nkozi, me sitting in front in the first lorry together with a customs officer and a guy form the forwarding company and an insurance guy plus two armed policemen, just in case! It took us some three hours to reach Nkozi but we got there and proud as anything we drove up the road to campus, welcomed by the few staff and big smiles.
“Where do we offload these two boxes?” I was asked by the company man. Let us reverse down to my house where there is ample space to put everything. Moreover, one container was mine and could be used as storage. So we moved to the designated place and the customs officer broke the seals of the first container. If ever you had a shock in your life, this was it. Stations four, five, six and seven of the Way of the Cross in one go! Opening the door of the container, a big black void! What happened and where are the goods? I climbed into the container and found my academic gown crumpled on the floor with a few books and two big wooden crates but nothing else. Where were the boxes with computers, printers etc. Nothing to be seen. The guy from the company flatly told us that maybe the things had been stolen on the way! “Yes but the seals were on the container!” “That does not mean anything! Anyone can remove them and put them back.” So what next? The company man, after agreeing with the customs’ officer, then said “let us empty the two containers and tomorrow we make an inventory with the insurance guy.” “Yes but can the driver not give an explanation?” He insisted vigorously that nothing had happened on the way and he was not aware of any theft. It took us another hour to get my container off the lorry because some bright spark had welded it on the lorry! The second container was almost complete with my car at the back. It was emptied except for the car. “Why?” “Oh, this has to be cleared by customs!” I could not believe what I heard. Oops another blow! So the lorry drove back to Kampala with my car which was placed in customs’ bond until all papers were cleared. In the meantime we filled in insurance papers and the guy from Lloyds was good enough to compile a full report which was sent to the headquarters of the insurance company. Lucky me that I had taken a full insurance before leaving Belgium and this against the advice of the forwarding company. “We never have any problems with lost goods!” Aha!
It took a few more days to have my car cleared and this should have been very fast as it was more than a year old and thus tax exempted. Again my friend the commissioner intervened and got it cleared immediately, but not before a customs officer had spent, I do no know how long, filling in unnecessary papers. But my car I got and drove it back to Nkozi myself.
Now what was the damage done by all this saga. Some 36 computers lost and 36 printers. They were intended to set up a (then) state-of-the-art computer classroom. Pallets with all personal goods for my Irish colleague, most crates with my library and household goods. The books for the university as well as the goods of my Irish colleague and of the students returning to Uganda after completion of their studies in Belgium. I visited the manager of the forwarding company in Kampala and explained the story. He just looked at me and baffled me when he said “I cannot do anything as I am sure the goods were stolen in Kenya and I am responsible for Uganda only!” “But all was CIF Nkozi!” “No Sir, this is not my problem”. My answer was prompt and sharp “You will hear from me soon, I am flying to Belgium and will go straight to the HQ of your company!” Hear from me he did and within a week he was dismissed from his job. I am sure he never forgave me for that! I had a long talk with the company lawyer who discussed with the insurance people. I got a fair amount back but as for all insurance policies it is never what you would like to have. This enabled me to go on a shopping spree in Belgium and fill up some crates with goods to replace the lost ones. In the meantime I had met another Belgian in Kampala who was director of another forwarding company. I had explained my misfortunes and generously he offered to bring all the goods I would purchase into Uganda by air at no cost. This would be his company’s contribution to the university. All this had brought me to the end of my Way of the Cross and to the Resurrection. We could now start putting everything in place and by the time the first students arrived in October 1993 we had a small library with the books we had salvaged and a container of books received from World Vision. A computer classroom was installed and offices equipped so that work could start. We were proud to have reached that point! Students were welcome! But at a huge personal cost!

Categories
Life in Uganda

UGANDA MARTYRS UNIVERSITY

Part 3. Arrival of the containers

In no time we had reached the end of June and already repair works were in full swing at the campus. Three halls of residence were cleaned, and water and electricity checked and repaired. There is no need to tell you the condition in which we found this infrastructure but our plumber was not a man afraid of dirtying his hands. So by the end of August we found ourselves in possession of some decent places to accommodate the first students. Two blocks for classrooms were cleaned up and painted, one of them becoming the first library. My colleague from Ireland would take on the responsibility of helping the newly-appointed librarian. So we had the physical space for our first academic year; now we had to furnish all this so that we could operate in a more or less reasonable fashion.
As we were cleaning up a hall of residence I received information, somewhere in mid-July, that the two containers were on their way to Kampala and would arrive the next day. Could I arrange to be in Kampala to receive them and move them to Nkozi. Now this was naïve on my part to take this for granted, but I did. Had I forgotten my past experiences? How could a container arrive and in one day have customs’ clearance and all necessary paperwork completed! Anyhow I went to Kampala with my packing lists and a promise from President Museveni who had given us a full tax exemption to import all goods for the university. It was on this basis that I naively thought things would be easy but Murphy was on duty big time!
The office of the forwarding company was visited and I was informed that the containers were on their way but that they were in no position to tell me when they would arrive. “It may take from one week up to three weeks” Oops! First piece of bad news! “Come back in a week and maybe the containers will be here and we can then clear them!” “How will I know they are here?” “Just phone us!” Yes but we had no phone in Nkozi and mobile phones did not exist! So back I went to Nkozi in the hope that after a week I would have good news. We arranged a special trip to Kampala for some shopping and I popped into the office of the forwarding company. “Good news, the containers have arrived! We will do the needful and then they can be moved to Nkozi!” How long will that take? “No idea! That depends on the customs officers and all the needed paperwork”. “But I have a tax exemption, so it should be fast” “Yes but papers are needed and they have to be fully stamped. Come back in three days and things should be fine.” Second piece of bad news! And so it was back to Nkozi without anything, apart from some goods for us at home and for the university.
After three days I ventured back to Kampala and to the office where I hoped to have good news. “Well, customs cannot clear anything yet as the papers from the President’s office have not arrived yet!” Oops, again! “Maybe you could contact them and ask for the papers?” “Yes, but I do not know anybody there and then what!” But just then I had a stroke of good luck when I bumped into the commissioner of customs whom I had known in Mbarara. I explained my case and he took it upon himself to arrange things. He phoned to State House and within a few minutes instructions were passed on to customs to release the two containers. Hourrah for this! I asked when the containers would be released and he answered me “Well give us a few days to complete the paperwork!” Third act of said Murphy! “But do not get upset; things will work out for you and the university will have everything it needs when the containers are released.” Well this I knew as I had done all the shopping myself. “Come back tomorrow morning and maybe things will be completed.”
Could I believe this or was it just a tactic to calm my nerves and impatience? Ok, the next morning I was at the customs’ office and proudly the commissioner handed over all documents to me. You can go to the clearing office and they will release the two lorries with the containers. At 10.30 am that same morning we were on the way to Nkozi, me sitting in front in the first lorry together with a customs officer and a guy form the forwarding company and an insurance guy plus two armed policemen, just in case! It took us some three hours to reach Nkozi but we got there and proud as anything we drove up the road to campus, welcomed by the few staff and big smiles.
“Where do we offload these two boxes?” I was asked by the company man. Let us reverse down to my house where there is ample space to put everything. Moreover, one container was mine and could be used as storage. So we moved to the designated place and the customs officer broke the seals of the first container. If ever you had a shock in your life, this was it. Stations four, five, six and seven of the Way of the Cross in one go! Opening the door of the container, a big black void! What happened and where are the goods? I climbed into the container and found my academic gown crumpled on the floor with a few books and two big wooden crates but nothing else. Where were the boxes with computers, printers etc. Nothing to be seen. The guy from the company flatly told us that maybe the things had been stolen on the way! “Yes but the seals were on the container!” “That does not mean anything! Anyone can remove them and put them back.” So what next? The company man, after agreeing with the customs’ officer, then said “let us empty the two containers and tomorrow we make an inventory with the insurance guy.” “Yes but can the driver not give an explanation?” He insisted vigorously that nothing had happened on the way and he was not aware of any theft. It took us another hour to get my container off the lorry because some bright spark had welded it on the lorry! The second container was almost complete with my car at the back. It was emptied except for the car. “Why?” “Oh, this has to be cleared by customs!” I could not believe what I heard. Oops another blow! So the lorry drove back to Kampala with my car which was placed in customs’ bond until all papers were cleared. In the meantime we filled in insurance papers and the guy from Lloyds was good enough to compile a full report which was sent to the headquarters of the insurance company. Lucky me that I had taken a full insurance before leaving Belgium and this against the advice of the forwarding company. “We never have any problems with lost goods!” Aha!
It took a few more days to have my car cleared and this should have been very fast as it was more than a year old and thus tax exempted. Again my friend the commissioner intervened and got it cleared immediately, but not before a customs officer had spent, I do no know how long, filling in unnecessary papers. But my car I got and drove it back to Nkozi myself.
Now what was the damage done by all this saga. Some 36 computers lost and 36 printers. They were intended to set up a (then) state-of-the-art computer classroom. Pallets with all personal goods for my Irish colleague, most crates with my library and household goods. The books for the university as well as the goods of my Irish colleague and of the students returning to Uganda after completion of their studies in Belgium. I visited the manager of the forwarding company in Kampala and explained the story. He just looked at me and baffled me when he said “I cannot do anything as I am sure the goods were stolen in Kenya and I am responsible for Uganda only!” “But all was CIF Nkozi!” “No Sir, this is not my problem”. My answer was prompt and sharp “You will hear from me soon, I am flying to Belgium and will go straight to the HQ of your company!” Hear from me he did and within a week he was dismissed from his job. I am sure he never forgave me for that! I had a long talk with the company lawyer who discussed with the insurance people. I got a fair amount back but as for all insurance policies it is never what you would like to have. This enabled me to go on a shopping spree in Belgium and fill up some crates with goods to replace the lost ones. In the meantime I had met another Belgian in Kampala who was director of another forwarding company. I had explained my misfortunes and generously he offered to bring all the goods I would purchase into Uganda by air at no cost. This would be his company’s contribution to the university. All this had brought me to the end of my Way of the Cross and to the Resurrection. We could now start putting everything in place and by the time the first students arrived in October 1993 we had a small library with the books we had salvaged and a container of books received from World Vision. A computer classroom was installed and offices equipped so that work could start. We were proud to have reached that point! Students were welcome! But at a huge personal cost!

Categories
Life in Uganda

Uganda Martyrs University

Part 1 Preparations

So there I was, appointed to set up a university in the heart of Africa. Sometimes you wonder why you are asked to do certain things, but do not think too long because you may not do anything! My first plan was to complete my current assignments, university teaching until March 1993 and the tribunal work to the same time, so I had almost a full year to prepare a “few things” I felt necessary to make things work. As I had visited the place in March 1992, I had a fair idea of what would be needed.

First, some work on academic programmes: which ones to set up? Given the situation in the country it appeared that some fresh ideas in management and in ethical behaviour might be a good thing. Thus two faculties were proposed: a Faculty of Business Administration and Management a Faculty of Ethics, which later would become the Institute of Ethics and Development Studies, a first in the world at that time! I submitted my ideas to the steering committee and they were approved. This gave me an open road to write some notes for a first academic catalogue. I had it printed and sent some copies to the chair of the steering committee for use and distribution to potential first students.

Now came the big beast: where do I get the money for this venture? I had been assured that there were funds available in a university account in Uganda but was never told how much! Maybe it was a bit naïve on my part, but I worked with that assumption in my head and set out planning what basic things I would need, ranging from computers to lecture rooms and a library, to printers and a good photocopier. Of course for such big printing jobs you need paper, I ordered two pallets of good A4 paper, alongside envelopes and all manner of office supplies (these lasted around 10 years!!). Offices had to be equipped and the small bits and pieces were purchased not forgetting some decent office chairs. Once I had placed the order the owner of the business asked me: “But how are you gong to pay for all that?” “Well, how much do I owe you?” was my answer. He gave me a figure and I wrote him a cheque for the said amount. The next day I received a phone call from the Missionaries of Africa in Brussels, who were aware of my foraging for office goods, if indeed I had made such big order. “Of course and you know that I have been asked to start a university in Uganda!” was my answer. “But who pays?” “I wrote them a cheque, so what is the problem?” “Are you sure you have the money because we will not foot the bill”. I just said: “Watch me!” and put down the phone. I must say in hindsight I had some guts to do that, but then it was the truth, a truth that would cost me blood, sweat, and tears to bring to reality!

Now a university needs some basic books to set up a library with relevant materials. As I was teaching at Louvain University I went to see the librarian. Kindly she told me that there was a fund in the vaults of the Institute of Nuclear Physics, where all kinds of books were waiting collection. I was free to go there and take whatever I wanted, free of charge. Boy, did I raid the place! I felt good after that and thus more boxes went to the collection point for packing into the containers.

Now, I had to set up residence on campus but the house was under construction and I doubted very much there would be practical facilities such as a kitchen and bathroom installed. So I trotted up to IKEA and bought the needed furniture for kitchen and bathroom. In another shop I purchased a fridge, cooker, freezer, and washing machine. A few extra kitchen implements were also bought to make life more practical. But life has also to be palatable. At home I still had a fair amount of good wines and decided to have them packed as well. To ensure they would arrive safely all the boxes were labelled “Books” and indeed made the trip safely. At least this made life much more pleasant once settled down at “home”.

All in all a sizeable amount of goods which would have to be crated and sent to a central place to be placed in a container. With a friend working at a freighting company I ordered for a 20 foot container. At the end of the day I had two containers of 40 feet each, one being my property for storage in Uganda. In one container my car had to be crated. In it I packed more valuable things and I would never regret doing that! Small things can become big and I have learned that things expand as time goes by! In any case as I had two containers I offered my Irish colleague to have things sent to Belgium and then to the container for travel to Uganda. Two pallets arrived a few weeks later at my place. Some Ugandan students, completing their studies in Belgium, were offered to put their goods and possessions in the containers and so have them shipped to Uganda. Now one thing I had been warned about was the uncertainty of moving goods in East Africa. So, against the advise of the freighting company, I took a comprehensive insurance to cover travel and goods. I will never regret it! The company told me they never had had any problem with the goods they were transporting. Maybe my suspicion was a premonition for what would happen later.

As for the cheque I wrote to pay for all the goods, I had contacted a Dutch charity, I have already mentioned them in an earlier blog, and within twenty four hours I managed to fundraise some one hundred thousand dollars, which covered generously all expenses. My lesson in this: “Do things the way you think best and trust that some will be standing behind you to support you, financially if need be, otherwise certainly!” Over the years that one charity gave Uganda Martyrs University the sizeable sum of about three million dollars which enabled me to set up a super institution. Others chipped in so that we could always cover the expenses we thought necessary. Maybe I have always been very trusting, maybe too trusting, and I remember my family asking me “Are you sure?” I think they really meant “Are you mad?”.

With all these preparations behind me, I finally drove my car to Antwerp where the goods would be crated and placed in the containers. When I saw the mountain of goods waiting to travel, I just could not believe my eyes and there I was with a car to be added to the lot. One thing struck me: a huge wooden crate with Rank Xerox written large on the side. What was that? Just a suitably-sized photocopier for a university I was told!

So there I was with what I had planned as necessary for the setting up of such project. I knew there would be many more things needed, but then I was sure I could find them later when they became really needed. I could complete my tasks at my office at the tribunal and my teaching at university and start looking at my own suitcases to get me on the way back to Uganda. This would happen on 1 June 1993.

Categories
Life in Uganda

EXILE

In 1982 I had been “kindly” requested to leave Uganda. So on 11 August 1982 I found myself onboard a Sabena flight to Brussels, and I arrived there in the late hours of the day. The reception was low key, no flowers nor red carpet! I explained in simple words what had happened and everyone accepted quietly! So for me the main thing was some days rest and then make plans for the future. I will not recall everything in detail but just highlight some events that were to have significance for my future life back in Uganda.

My initial instinct was to make a tour of higher educational institutions on the great island, Britain. If you can read Bill Bryson’s marvellous book Notes from a Small Island, you will realise that there is a lot to be experienced from living on the island! I planned to travel to Edinburgh, Dundee, then Glasgow, and finally Oxford, where I had already been some years earlier, and explore what options were available for me. In Dundee I was met by two marvellous people, Jim Robertson of the Law Faculty and David Ward, the university chaplain. They used all their charm, and with the help of some local “brew”, they persuaded me to stay in Dundee and take up a teaching position at the university. I accepted and never looked further to Glasgow and Oxford. I quickly learned about the richness and warmth of Scottish hospitality and had no problem to integrate into the life of the “Faculty of Law and Accounting”. Strange combination but then why not? I took on some lectures in Comparative Law, Roman Law, and English Criminal Law. This made sense as the Scottish legal system is based on Roman Law, and the use of English Criminal Law in Scotland is wide. I had some really nice colleagues and all of them were more than happy to assist me in settling down. Jim did not take long to introduce me to the immense variety of the Scottish golden liquid (uisge-beatha, literally, the “water of life”). I have no idea how many types there are but certainly one for each day of the year. The pub not far from uni was called the “Town and Gown”, and often we congregated there for some serious legal discussion under the cloud of vapours emanating from the bar. After these sessions Jim often took me back to his home, where Anne, his wife, knew how to put together the most sobering meals!

During my stay in Dundee some family members visited me, and this gave me the opportunity to visit this beautiful land, Scotland. I have never fallen out of love with Scotland although my most frequent visits in the last thirty years or so have been to that other great island: Ireland. But this idyllic life was about to change: one day in 1985 I received a phone call from Louvain University where the Dean of Theology/Canon Law asked me to come to Louvain University in Belgium to take up the position of professor in Canon Law. I hesitated but Jim convinced me it was a good step in an academic career. This was a decision I bitterly regret because when I got to Louvain some two months later, I was informed that the position had been given to someone else and that I could teach one subject a year! Now as a blow this was one of seismic proportions. Having nothing else on my plate and no options in Dundee where I had resigned, and so I bit my lip and settled at Louvain University. But things can change very quickly and, quite unexpectedly, in no time I had a full time teaching load and settled in a very nice apartment in town. This all gave me new opportunities and new contacts with international organisations which later would support me when back in Uganda.

During my time in Louvain (the new campus was, in fact, called Louvain-la-Neuve), I was asked to be visiting professor at Fribourg University in Switzerland. The Swiss are amazingly well organised, and not a single thing was left to chance to cover the work I was doing there: twice a month from Thursday to Saturday – all in all eight hours of teaching. Travel expenses, by plane, were covered, and my imparting of some knowledge to young people which resulting in me remunerated handsomely in hard Swiss currency! I learned to appreciate real Swiss cheese fondue accompanied with a good Swiss white wine. And a must was a visit to Gruyère itself, an exquisite little place, where in winter you have the best cheese fondue in the world, and in summer the best strawberries with fresh cream. All to die for! I do not think that the Swiss can easily be upset by anything as they take everything in their stride and everything in its correct time!

So here I was full time at Louvain and visiting in Switzerland. I thought I had achieved a good status and that I would continue my academic career in peace in Belgium and Switzerland. No sir, someone was watching me, and one day I received a phone call from the Vicar General of Malines-Brussels Archdiocese in Belgium. I was summoned to his office the next day at 11 am. What did I do to receive such an urgent call and especially to appear before the man responsible for good order and discipline. It was with some trepidation that I appeared in front of the little old man, Monsignor Paul Theeuws, who told me to sit down and listen. What was coming? I recall here his exact words. “You are young and well qualified, and you speak French and Flemish fluently. I am an old man and after fifty years in this job I wish to retire. So I am telling you that you have to take over from me as soon as possible.” You can guess my surprise! “I am taking you to Cardinal Danneels to introduce you immediately. He will appoint you as my successor”. Not much choice was given but I managed to get 24 hours to think it all over. The next day I was back in the same office and told the old man I accepted. Within the hour I sat with my new boss who, with a smile, told me: “how can I say no to the old man, he has been running this place for so long and knows all the ins and outs!” And that’s how I was appointed President of the Ecclesiastical Court of Appeal of Belgium with immediate effect. For the next five years I would work there, continuing my teaching work at the university. I must say I got used to this task, in fact I enjoyed it, even if it was sometimes nerve racking. At that stage of my life I truly did have full time work with my teaching both in Louvain and Fribourg, plus my work at the Tribunal. I must say that I had a really fine team to work with and after two years I had the first woman judge appointed to the Court of Appeal. It was a big step forward, and I am sure that even today people will think we were far-sighted for our time.

But all this was not without small problems, especially on the part of my dean at the faculty in Belgium. He tried one day to tell me that I needed his permission to teach in Switzerland and to be President of the Court of Appeal! I wondered why he said this, as nowhere in the university statutes was it stated that this was the rule. So I ignored him and he ignored me, but in fact made my life difficult in many aspects. I held out for five years till in mid-1992 I received a fax at my office in Malines. It came from Uganda and a certain Hilary Tibanyenda. I had known the man in Mbarara, and he had called to ask me to do some fundraising for a planned Catholic University in Uganda. How could I do this for a project I had no knowledge about? I knew the idea had been floated as far back as the early 1940s, but to talk about such a project in a time where the local situation was anything but stable and strong, seemed to me daydreaming. So I wrote telling him that I didn’t see how I could assist him. But the man was stubborn and did not give up. Some weeks later he wrote back submitting a project document for a university. “Maybe this could help you to raise some funds”, having just ignored my previous rejection of the request. Since he was so persistent and did not give up on me I wrote back telling him that I would see what I could do. I went to see my boss Cardinal Danneels and told him the story. His answer came immediately and very clearly “If you want to go back to Africa I will not stand in your way and will give you all the support you may need!” The final blow came some weeks later in another letter from Kampala, where the chairman of the Steering Committee of the planned university offered me the position of founding Vice Chancellor of the planned Uganda Martyrs University. In his letter he wrote: “We are aware that your teaching contract with Louvain University is ending in March 1993, and the same is true for Fribourg University.” How on earth he knew this I don’t know, but it was indeed a fact that both contracts were due for renewal. Sometimes you wonder how things happen in life, but in mine it seemed that things certainly happened in mysterious ways.

So there I was at the end of 1992 with an offer for a new project and it just stirred something in me pushing me to move in that direction and accept to change the course of my life. I talked to some colleagues at the university and all stood behind me and offered whatever support they could give. In November 1992 a colleague from the Faculty of Philosophy at Louvain introduced me to an Irish philosopher visiting Louvain. We talked about the whole project and she offered to come and help me in Uganda for one year. Today she is still in Uganda but in a different position I must admit! Immediately I got back into contact with old friends who had assisted in fundraising in the 1970s and 80s and soon I was well on the way to making the project a reality. Hilary had won! By March 1993 I had completed my contracts with Malines, with Louvain, and with Fribourg, and was free to move in the direction I thought best for me. This forthcoming project would become an important part of my life in the years to come. But this is another story and some blogs will follow to meander through all the intricacies of setting up a university on The Equator in Africa.

Categories
Life in Uganda

GGABA NATIONAL SEMINARY

In 1975, after eights months in Europe for some leave interspersed with a six-month stint at Oxford University where I followed a course on medical ethics, I returned to Uganda to take up a new post at Ggaba National Seminary. The rector of the place came to Mushanga to pick me up with all my belongings. I am always amazed at the amount of things a person gathers in just a few years. The Canadian sisters had left Mushanga and had also given me some of their nice furniture as well as some kitchen implements. These would come in handy over the years. So there I was moving to the big city full of ideas about what I was going to do. I had been asked to teach Canon Law to the four groups of students, some two hundred in total, as well as give them some practical experiences of my life in Mbarara and introduce them to real parish life.

But first I thought I should settle in at Ggaba where I was given a small apartment: one biggish room to serve as office and sitting room, one bedroom and a bathroom. Next to it a small store which I would use to its maximum capacity. I got myself a fridge and a microwave, stocked the store with some goodies and repainted the whole place after installing some decent lighting. New curtains were bought during one of our car-acquiring trips to Mombasa, and after one week I was fully equipped and installed to start yet another phase of my life.

My colleagues at Ggaba were from different nationalities: Ugandan, Austrian, Dutch, Spanish, and Canadian. We quickly became a good team, and work together was easy and pleasant. Certainly a positive sign when working in a new environment. As I have always enjoyed receiving people, I had the opportunity to organize many small gatherings with some good food and drinks. You can make life as pleasant as you want when you make an effort to get there! My place became known very soon as the “real ice cream” place. In fact, I had brought with me some ice cream powder from Belgium and with condensed milk managed to make an exquisite sweet substance which we called “ice cream”. Now to make this sustainable I had to find a way to get supplies in regularly. A friend from the French embassy gave me a catalogue of a Danish company supplying embassies. I wrote to them and asked if a private individual could benefit from their services. The answer came “Yes, no problem.” So there I was with a regular route to some little extras to make our lives more pleasant. Entrepreneurship has always been part of my life!

Of course I also sat down at my desk and started serious work; in fact I spent many long days reading and writing my lecture notes. At that time there was no Internet or email, hence we had to rely on our books. As during my stay in Belgium I had managed to buy some good reading materials, I thought I was well equipped for the task. And then my colleagues were always willing to help and put at my disposal what they had. Also the library of the place was well stocked and they subscribed to a good number of journals and purchased books regularly. I had landed in a really good working environment with all the facilities I could dream of for the moment.

Soon we realised that given the size of the campus it might be good to try to install some internal telephone system. I was charged with the task to find a system and so we purchased a complete telephone system, both internal and external. It made life easier for everyone. My boss, the rector, had sniffed out that I had been involved in the bringing of vehicles from Mombasa for Interservice. So one evening he came to see me and asked if I could get a fourteen-seater minibus for the place. I must say I was taken aback by this request and asked candidly “who is going to pay?” No problem, was the answer, tell me where to transfer money and it will be done. Soon Ggaba Seminary had its own means of transport. But then the question arose in my mind: “if we can purchase a vehicle like this who is going to service it?”, given the state of maintenance in the country. The solution came to my mind immediately: we should build our own garage, equip it well, and do the service ourselves. I had enough friends in Uganda who were good mechanics and their assistance would certainly be no problem. So I got down to it, and soon we converted an old building attached to the garages of the seminary into a good mechanical workshop with service pit, metal shop, and carpentry section. I ordered a small compressor from Belgium and a friend at the transport company (he was the former Belgian consul to Uganda), informed me that it had been shipped by plane in the boot of a brand new Mercedes vehicle … destined for Amin! Now this was great news, but how on earth could we get it out of that car and over to our place. I went to the ever-resourceful boss at Interservice, and believe it or not within three days the compressor was at Ggaba and soon the garage was in full swing. He had simply gone to the vehicle holding centre, talked to the guys there, and then opened the boot and took what was ours! What you can do with a bit of initiative is phenomenal, and the guys of Interservice certainly had plenty of it. I was a happy punter, and sometimes in the evenings after my lectures, I would spend some time in the workshop doing small repairs and servicing lawnmowers and other small equipment. I eventually learned how to service my own car and did so for some years to come. To get things really moving we hired the services of a full-time carpenter who proved to be most reliable and really a super craftsman. The amount of savings this made for the seminary was enormous. I remember years later when visiting Ggaba in the early 90s, I went to the workshop and, believe it or not, my carpenter friend was still there and proudly showed me all the tools I had left behind when leaving Ggaba. Everything was still in excellent condition and used to the maximum!

All these activities made my teaching life more pleasant and varied; I remember one staff meeting where a colleague asked if we could find a way to store foodstuffs in greater quantity so as to avoid travelling around the city to find supplies. I came up with the wild idea of building a cool room. In fact, I had noticed that space had been already been built for that purpose in the main kitchen but the equipment had neither been purchased nor installed. So the green light was given and again through Interservice we got all the needed materials for a cool room: insulation, cooling equipment, special door etc. A local workshop had some really nice galvanised sheets which could be used as the shelves in the cool room. I must say I spent some long hours fixing insulation, the electrical equipment, and the compressor, and after some three weeks the place was finished and functioning well. My friend the rector decided that we should store some beef and he dutifully trotted off to a local village with the seminary lorry and came back with two cows. The meat had still to be carved properly and hung in the cool room. But boy did we enjoy excellent steaks in Ggaba! But I also learned that bones can prick your fingers badly and infection is quickly a part of your physical being. You learn through experience, and my carving skills improved greatly during my time at Ggaba, even though butchery was not to be much use for my later life, I must admit! Now that we had a cool room, I suggested that the seminary should have a good vegetable garden, and why on earth don’t we raise some pigs and hens for our own consumption. So my little skills in construction proved most useful in setting up a nice piggery and hen houses. What law studies can bring you to do will always astonish me! This was the beginning of a nice little farm on campus and the students benefitted from it not only by way of good food, but also by way of their involvement in the farm. I myself had some eager students helping in the workshop and some proved to be excellent at their work. Practical skills would certainly be a positive asset for these young men once they joined real life in a parish!

It was also during these times in the workshop that we, students and myself, discussed matters concerning the life of the seminary and how we could bring new ideas to bear fruit in our lives. It was great to have willing young minds willing to be involved in the improvement of their training and future life. One thing my students learned was that there is no shame in having your hands dirty and doing manual labour. We need that type of pastor in our parishes, and I am sure many one of them used their skills to the maximum in their future life. But don’t think I didn’t do academic work too: each week I had some five hours of lectures plus seminars and guidance sessions – a full time table if you want to make a good job of it!

During my stay at Ggaba I got involved in teaching at Makerere Medical School where I was asked to give some lectures on medical ethics and law. I had obtained a small grant from a German organisation and with it purchased a good amount of books for the small library we set up at Makerere. But teaching in a state university can be tricky and I was not the kind of person to let just anything pass me by. I had been asked to give some lectures on constitutional law as a guest lecturer and I accepted with great pleasure. This was, perhaps, a bad move and would prove to be my downfall. One Friday morning during one of my lectures in constitutional law, a student asked about the legality of some actions taken by political leaders in the country. My response was clear, “it is unconstitutional!”. Not the correct answer, as I was “kindly” asked by the powers that be to leave the country. Thus it was that by the next Wednesday I was on a plane on my way back to Belgium. A short-lived assignment I must say! I was to lose most of what I had in terms of worldly possessions, especially my library, but my life was intact, and for that I gave thanks. This was another new beginning for me, and in my next blogpost I will briefly recall some of the activities I undertook from September 1982 to March 1993 when I returned to Uganda under completely different circumstances. Looking at it now, those years of exile were God sent, as they enabled me to create contacts and build up a network of people who would be most helpful in my later life in Uganda.