Before he returned to Makerere University in 1989, architects were trained abroad. However, if you meet an architect today, chances are high they received their training under the tutelage of Prof Barnabas Nawangwe at Makerere.
“At the time there were only 20 architects in the country, and the construction sector was in chaos.We have since trained 300 architects in this time, which is my contribution to the sector,” says Nawangwe.
And he is quite modest about this. Nawangwe, who is now a full professor and has written so much about architecture, is plugging away at his job as deputy vice chancellor for Finance and Administration at Makerere University.
“When I was first appointed to this job, a lot of friends and family thought [the job] was hard, but that is why I want it, so they can see what I am capable of doing beyond [what I did in Technology].
A few are apprehensive – but I am confident I will be alright,” he says. Prof Nawangwe became deputy vice chancellor last year after his predecessor, Prof Sandy Stevens Tickodri, retired from Makerere.
Before this, the two men had taught in what was then the faculty of Technology (now the college of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology).
“He taught Engineering Mathematics, while I taught Architecture,” Nawangwe explains. “I have to admit he encouraged me to take up this new job after him, but I had to go through the process like everyone else.”
Prof Nawangwe opted to take the job after losing out in the race to succeed Prof Venansius Baryamureeba as vice chancellor, two years ago.
Born into a humble family in Busia, he started his education at Busia Integrated primary school, where he became head prefect in 1971. His contemporaries remember him as inquisitive but not necessarily loud.
“He often beat us in class, and had such incisive arguments during conversation, it was hard to keep up with him,” recalls Thomas Oundo, a former schoolmate and retired teacher in Busia.
From there, the young Nawangwe went to Busoga College Mwiri, which he credits with his leadership skills.
“They [literature and history] were my favourite subjects but my father insisted that I had to do sciences instead [of the Political Science and Law he was interested in] due to the political situation at the time… I think he thought it was safer,” he recalls.
Nawangwe excelled at Physics, Economics and Mathematics at his A-levels, qualifying to join Makerere, where he was admitted to study Civil Engineering. He survived there for one term, before he got caught up in the heady university politics.
“It was 1977 and we were protesting against a situation that most of us saw as hopeless,” Nawangwe explains. But the Idi Amin government would have none of the planned strike they were involved in and he soon became a hunted man.
Fearing for his safety, Nawangwe fled to Russia to continue his studies.
“I had always been involved in fine art, so one day a lecturer of the Russian language found me making some drawings and advised me to switch from Civil Engineering to Architecture. I had never even heard of the subject,” he recalls.
Eager for a change, Nawangwe changed to Architecture and has never looked back. The subject took over his imagination and he went on to obtain a PhD in the subject before returning to Uganda in 1988.
He first worked for Habitat consultants before he returned to Makerere University in 1989, to start his biggest achievement yet; starting the Architecture programme in Uganda. To date, it remains the only course at Makerere with international accreditation.
The training on this course is the most rigorous. All students must undergo field training. After graduation, they must work for two years before sitting an exam so they can obtain certification from the Uganda Society of Architects.
Following his appointment as lecturer at Makerere, he became head of the department of Architecture in the faculty of Technology from its inception in 1989 to 2002. During this time, he also chaired several university committees, including the University Research, Administrative and Financial Reforms Committee.
He would later rise to the position of acting principal of Cedat from 2009 to 2013. Before his appointment as deputy vice chancellor in charge of Finance and Administration, Nawangwe acted on several occasions as deputy vice chancellor in charge of Academic Affairs.Away from Makerere, Prof Nawangwe is a consulting architect and chairman of the Architects Registration Board (ARB) and a past president of the Uganda Society of Architects.
He is also an external examiner at Nairobi University, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, and Oslo Schoolof Architecture.
Over the past year, Prof Nawangwe has had a rollercoaster ride as deputy vice chancellor. He has been involved in tempering the storms facing the vice chancellor, such as the strike over delayed salary incentives and complaints over students’ welfare.
“Government needs to contract researchers here, formally, so more funds come to Makerere, instead of sub-contracting them on projects. We would like memoranda of understanding with government so they are dealing with us formally,” he explains.
On further funding options, he believes Makerere needs to be more creative.
“Makerere has 300,000 living alumni – we need to bring them onboard. We need to remind them that Makerere made them, and if they each contributed just Shs 10,000 each year, we would raise Shs 3bn instantly.”
However, Nawangwe is a firm advocate of continuing academic advancement at Makerere. He believes the 92-year-old institution has a lot of untapped potential.
“Only 40 per cent of staff is actively involved in research. I would love to see this rise up to 100 per cent,” he says.
“We would like to ensure that the curriculum is reviewed and overhauled to put it in line with the current trends – learner-based training and e-learning, rather than trainer-based teaching.”
Despite his hectic workload he remains in touch with Cedat, supervising his PhD students and continuing research on developing low-income settlements.
“It has been my home for 27 years – I’ve enjoyed a good working environment here and developed numerous networks. I know almost everyone personally.”
In his free time, which comes rarely, he is to be found engaging with Makerere colleagues at Technology Consults, a firm he has led for 20 years, helping it raise its share turnover from Shs 2m to Shs 2bn per year with 80 shareholders. He prefers to say little of his family. He is married, with five children.