‘I ended up in construction by accident, but feel satisfied’

Wednesday March 13 2019

Justine Namabasa Kalanzi (left), a site

Justine Namabasa Kalanzi (left), a site engineer, explains a building idea as a colleague looks on. She is one of the 24 female engineers out of the 842 registered engineers in the country. Photo by Shabibha Nakirigya 

By Eric Kyama

Justine Nambasa Kalanzi is a Ugandan architect and civil engineer whose experience in construction spans to close to 12 years. Her success in the real estate sector is one that she says came as an accident given that neither architectural nor civil engineering work (her areas of specialisation) sparked her interest as a young girl growing up. Instead, she had interest in another field.
“As a young girl, in my high school, my interest was always in becoming a pharmacist. Things turned out different years later,” she shares.

Ending up in construction
Nambasa’s dream of becoming a pharmacist came to an end upon receiving her A’Level results. The points she had garnered could not enable her pursue a bachelors’ degree in Pharmacy.
This having happened, she opted for an academic programme - a diploma in architectural studies, a field she never thought she would end up in.

“I never thought I would end up in construction, however, everything changed after I failed to get the required points that would enable me pursue a pharmaceutical academic programme at any of the universities. Instead, I opted for a diploma in architectural studies at Kyambogo University for two years. My family was disappointed that I failed to get to do what I loved, but then supported me through this and here I am today,” she recalls.

Love for construction
Architectural classes mostly involved subjects such as maths and physics. Nambasa says she managed to develop love for architectural work.
“I think this was partly because of the kind of subjects involved. Then another thing that made me love what I was studying was the field work. This deeply ignited my interest to the extent that by my second year, I had already decided to settle for this kind of work,” she says.

“The fact that I started working while still at school is another reason why I ended up liking what I was studying. This was in 2004 and it was with Gepoka Associates Company limited, an architectural firm. I managed to gain enough experience for close to two years. I worked at the company, something I am grateful for,” she adds.

Growing up
Unlike some of her friends and colleagues, Nambasa did not grow up with both her parents. She was raised by her mother, Naome Namyalo Kalule, although sometimes her grandmother, Norah Kalule, helped out. “As a child, I didn’t have a chance to spend time with my father. Actually, I only saw him twice before they told me he died. Being raised by a single mother was tough. At times, I faced challenges like lack of school fees/tuition for my studies. My mother and grandmother, however, made sure I made it through school despite some of the challenges,” she shares.


For primary school education, Nambasa attended both Namirembe Infant primary school and Mengo primary school, where she finished her primary education.
For O’Level education, she attended Our lady of Africa Rubaga Girls Secondary School and Mengo Senior Secondary School for A’Level. She joined Kyambogo University, where she pursued a diploma in architectural studies and there after enrolled for a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at the same university.

Balancing family and work
On a normal working day, Nambasa, who is married with four children, wakes up at 5am to get her children ready for school, do housework before going to work at 7am.
Her day usually ends at 5pm when in office or later, when she spends it in the field. “I haven’t found it challenging at all to balance work and family. This is because I make sure I don’t mix the two. Secondly, I am also good at programming myself. Balancing work and family is mostly about your capability as a woman to programme yourself,” she says.
Upon finishing her work for the day, Nambasa returns home to do home chores such as cooking and others that may need to be put right. Surprisingly, she says she does this alone. I don’t have a house help. “I do almost everything in the house and I don’t find any difficulties,” she says.

Stereotypes affecting her
Being a woman in a male dominated field, Nambasa says, has come with its own challenges for the last 12 years of practicing both as an engineer and architect.
Some of these challenges, she says, include being stereotyped by some employers who don’t think women can actually perform in the construction sector.
“Our work is too physical. In some cases when on site, you are expected to climb a building being constructed to fix something. Other things like being in field most of the time doing mostly manual work, I think, is what makes some employers think most women can’t handle,” she says.

The industry imbalance
There are 24 female out of the 842 registred engineers in the country, and 49 female architects out of 201 registred architects, according to the architects and engineers registration boards.

Advice to women
“I think women should step up and join the industry. There are a lot of opportunities for women in the real estate sector. I, therefore, advise women to come and take on different slots in the industry,”Nambasa says, adding: “When you get into this kind of industry, as a woman, you are likely to get mileage since the industry has few women in it.”

Her views about the Real Estate sector
“I think one of the challenges the real estate industry is facing today is lack of creativity. It is easy to find the same designs being used when constructing houses. This is a sign that there is a lack of creativity which in some case may come as a result of laziness,” she says.
Asked what she thinks about the industry in terms of growth, Nambasa says the industry has grown though a number of issues such as regulation and fraud among others have to be sorted if its to move to another level. “The industry too lacks a certain level of organization which has played out badly mostly affecting the ordinary Ugandans. Some people have taken advantage of the disorganisation,” Nambasa adds.