Kamatenesi: Bishop Stuart’s VC rises from grass to grace

Sunday June 15 2014

Professor Kamatenesi at her office during the interview last week. PHOTOS BY RAJAB MUKOMBOZI

Professor Kamatenesi at her office during the interview last week. PHOTOS BY RAJAB MUKOMBOZI 

From grace to grass. From a humble girl whose mother could not afford school fees, Associate Professor Maud Kamatenesi Mugisha, who was last week installed as Bishop Stuart University vice chancellor, says her journey has been guided by God whom she can never thank enough. Sunday Monitor’s Rajab Mukombozi caught up with her.

“I did not have much vision, I did not even look up to something because I did not have hopes of going to secondary school, so how could I have a dream when I was not seeing any future?” “I can describe my background as simply from grass to grace.”
These are the words of Associate Professor Maud Kamatenesi Mugisha, the just-inaugurated Vice Chancellor of Bishop Stuart University in Mbarara.

Clad in blue outfit, Prof Kamatenesi, who says it is because of God that she is where she is, cuts a figure of a person full of vigour and thirst for excellence. Prominent on her office desk is a bible seated among the stationery and just above her seat on the wall are frames of religious leaders and President Museveni.

With a repetitive references to the bible verses like Mathew 7:7-12, Jeremiah 29:11,Jeremiah 33:3, Romans 10:11-13, among others, the soft-spoken lady at the helm of the Christian university says she can never thank God enough for what He has done for her.
“Seating at this desk, looking back at my background, I fail to understand how this could have been possible if it was not by God’s will. God changed my destiny. In my family, the most educated person stopped just in Primary Six”.

The lady
So who is this lady Maud Kamatenesi Mugisha?
Born to Medius Tibigwisa (RIP) in 1969 in Kitagata, Sheema District, Kamatenesi was raised by a peasant mother of four. She is now married to Dr Balaam Mugisha and together have four children.
She went at Kyeibanga Church School up to Primary Three before completing at Kasaana Primary School.

At Kasaana Primary School, Kamatenesi was taken care of by her uncle Francis Bekyengyesa (RIP) who offered a helping hand to her struggling mother. Having no hopes of joining secondary school, Kamatenesi says at Primary Seven, she opted to put Nganwa High School as her first choice, neglecting other good schools like Bweranyangi and Mary Hill.
However, when results for Primary Seven came, she was one of the 12 best girls in the region (greater Bushenyi).

It is upon this performance that her uncle decided she should join secondary school, much to the surprise of her mother who remained baffled as to where the money was ever going to come from.
“My uncle (Bekyengyesa) told my mother that I had passed my exams and I should be taken to secondary school. My mother laughed and said: mutwaare (just take her), implying it would not be easy,” Kamatenesi says.

Armed with a wooden box, few clothing and books, she joined Nganwa High School in 1984. This was also the first time her feet ever tasted shoes.
At Nganwa, Kamatenesi got a lifeline after she survived bullying on the account that she was saved.

“I got saved in 1983 when I was in Primary Seven, so when I joined secondary, I easily fitted into the group of the saved people and the bully boys never teased Balokole. They just used to leave us alone,” she narrates.

Though school fees remained a challenge, Kamatenesi says she was liked by the school administration mainly because of being disciplined and excelling academically.
“I could finish fees for first term in second term but I was never chased because of fees. I remained focused, maintaining high level of discipline and academic excellence. I never went past Number Three in class throughout my O-Level,” she adds.

The iron lady in Kamatenesi soon showed when she defied the notion that science subjects were a preserve of the male students. “I was strengthened and Inspired to take on sciences by the bible verse Romans 10:11-13: “Whoever believes in him will not be put to shame, for there is no distinction between Jews and Greek ,for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call him...”
Focus, God and determination was all she needed to excel at O-Level and that is what Kamatenesi accorded her studies. She passed in Division One and joined Mary Hill School Girls in Mbarara for her A-Level studies.

“After getting admitted to Mary Hill High School, I even failed to raise transport to collect my admission letter. So I sent my cousin who stayed in Mbarara to collect it for me,” she explains.
However, being a Christian-founded school, the administrators were reluctant on releasing the admission letter to the ‘stranger’. Kamatenesi says the school administrators thought the cousin was her boyfriend; a thing which later made her well-known in the school.
“I became a point of attention after sending a cousin to collect my admission. They thought he was my boyfriend later when the school realised I was unable to travel for the letter, they understood I was poor,’’ she says.

The school head teacher, Sister Felice Wright, soon developed a chemistry with Kamatenesi that she helped her study albeit with a huge school fees debt. She would clear the debt during her vacation with money she got from teaching at Nyamitanga Muslim Secondary School and contributions from guardians.

When the A-Level results were released, she had performed well and was admitted at Makerere University to do Botany and Zoology from 1993. It is this admission to Makerere that made Kamatenesi see light at the end of the tunnel. Though she joined university on government sponsorship, she still had to teach during holidays to make ends meet.

Kamatenesi’s journey, however, got a major boost when just after writing her last paper at Makerere, she took on a Teaching Assistant role in the Faculty of Science. She would later pursue a post graduate Diploma in Education and was later posted to head Entebbe Fisheries Training Institute. Kamatenesi would become Dean Research and Graduate Studies Makerere University, before serving as deputy Dean of School of Biosciences, Makerere University until May 2, 2014.

Looking forward
Ms Kamatenesi’s focus is now on the new assignment to see Bishop Stuart University not only as an academic giant in the region but also as one that produces graduates who can make a difference in society.

“I want to see this university grow as a strong Christian university where moral values are upheld, produce graduates who are hands-on, with skills to make a difference in society,” explains Ms Kamatenesi, adding: “I don’t see a mistake if someone doing education, can also have practical skills in brick laying, agriculture. This is my focus to see graduates live this university with hands on skills.” She adds that she will also embark on research especially food and medicine, focusing on solving society and people’s problems.

Kamatenesi also says her other area of focus will be on environment conservation beginning with the management of River Rwizi, and making more collaboration with other higher institutions of learning and government.

She says the mentality of getting educated for office work is killing the whole essence of education and she challenges government and parents to provide hands-on and life skills to the children at an early age if they are to realise better results.

Kamatenesi’s cv

• Doctor of philosophy (Medical Ethnobotany and Ethnopharmacology) Makerere University, UNESCO-MAB
• Diploma in scientific research, UNESCO –MAB, France
•Master’s degree in Environment and Natural Resource Management, Makerere University,
• Postgraduate diploma in Education, Makerere University,
• Bachelor’s of Science Degree (Botany and Zoology), Makerere University,
Working experience.
• Teaching Assistant Faculty of Science, Makerere University Lecturer and Head of Department, Fisheries Training Institute, Entebbe.
• Head of Fisheries Extension Education and Administration, Fisheries Training Institute, Entebbe.
• Deputy Dean Research and Graduate studies, Faculty of Science, Makerere University.
• Dean School of Biosciences, College of Natural Sciences, Makerere University.