At just 33 years, PETERSON MWESIGA has an extraordinary academic record with a first-class degree in electrical engineering plus a master’s with distinction in the same field.
He also recently graduated with a first-class degree in law, a feat last achieved by anyone in 2006. Yet, in spite of those achievements, he doesn’t think he has made it in life, writes Yudaya Nangonzi.
One fairly cool Sunday evening finds me at Makerere University. Yes, this is the only convenient day Peterson Mwesiga allotted to this interview, given his busy schedule.
It is 7:03pm as I approach the university guesthouse, his preferred venue. I spot him seated out in the gardens enjoying coffee and snacks.
I am four minutes late, and he does not let it pass.
“Oh! You are welcome. We agreed to meet at 7pm but you didn’t make it,” Mwesiga starts.
“I have a lot of issues with young people like you. They don’t keep time and do a lot of unserious and stupid things with an excuse that they are young. For you, I respect you because I even didn’t expect you to accept this night meeting.”
It is on this note that we exchange pleasantries as he emphasizes that he feels uncomfortable to be portrayed as someone who has made it in life, whereas not.
Mwesiga has been glorified all over social media for his academic brilliance. With pictures of him still making rounds online, he feels his private life has been encroached on.
“If I had the powers, I would recall them [his pictures on social media]. If we are talking of people achieving, I don’t think I have made it yet in life,” says the 33-year-old assistant lecturer at Makerere’s College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology (CEDAT).
He, however, attests that his ‘much-admired’ life today is primarily a result of events he experienced while growing up. Memories of him losing both parents at a tender age are still fresh on his mind, as he has had to toil and earn everything on merit in pursuit to success.
“In my life, I don’t know about free things. The day I lost my parents and had to stay with another family [his uncle] is when I learnt to be serious [even with his education] at an early age,” he recalls.
FIVE PRIMARY SCHOOLS!
Ideally, Mwesiga’s parents would have loved their six children, him being the third born, to study in one school and graduate to another after every level of education.
But circumstances that befell the family could not allow this to happen. Mwesiga started school at Rwamabondo nursery school in Kibatsi sub-county, Ntungamo district. Unfortunately, the school only stopped at primary one, leading to his transfer to Kibatsi model primary school.
During this time, his mother got terminally sick, prompting his father to take her with him in a shop he operated in Ishaka town, located about 15 kilometres from their village home in Ntungamo. The shop was partitioned in a way that they work from the front and sleep in the backroom.
“This meant that we had to stay in the village with neither a father nor mother, although dad would occasionally come to visit. It was a trying time, but how we managed, it was God’s grace,” he reminisces.
As he was completing primary three, his mother became so sick that she requested all her children shift to the shop and she sees them before passing on.
This situation meant that all the eight family members had to squeeze in the single rented room. No sooner had Mwesiga joined Katungu primary school in Ishaka to study primary four than his mother died.
Her death coincided with the day the late Pope John Paul II visited Uganda on February 13, 1993. A few months later, Mwesiga’s father also died, leaving them under the guardianship of their uncle who resides in Bushenyi town.
Here, he joined Bweranyangi primary school, a fairly high-end school, but the head teacher recommended that he repeats primary three after failing primary four interviews. He studied at Bweranyangi for two years (P3 and P4) before his uncle took him to Kashenyi model boarding primary school.
At Kashenyi, Mwesiga’s performance drastically improved.
“I started becoming the first in class. Yet, in Bweranyangi, I was either number two or three because of this one girl Rhonah Mbabazi who would always be number one. I for once accepted that there was someone who was so smart and I could never beat her,” he says, bursting into laughter.
His performance saw the head teacher at Kashenyi request him to sit for Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) in 1997, despite being a primary six pupil then.
Today, Mwesiga believes that had he been allowed to fully study primary seven, he would have performed better than what he describes as a “bad and funny” aggregate 11 he got in PLE.
This marked the start of a life for a young man who decided to overlook his childhood setbacks and focus on education, which has seen him make headlines to date.
When Mwesiga joined Bishop Ogez High School for his O-levels, he topped all classes and capped it all with aggregate seven in the six compulsory subjects then.
The marks got him a straight pass to Ntare School, where he got 24 points out of the available 25 points in Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and French. He also emerged the best French student countrywide, something that won him a fully-paid trip to France and some assortment of gifts, an annual culture by the French embassy aimed at promoting the language in schools.
Upon return from France, Mwesiga joined Makerere University to pursue a four-year Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering programme on government sponsorship.
He says being extremely humble coupled with hard work and keeping a low profile enabled him graduate with a first class degree with about six other course mates in 2009. One year later, he joined four colleagues to start a private engineering firm, where he is still a director. At the same time, he was retained as a teaching assistant at CEDAT.
“At such a young age, I started getting some good money to earn a living...I pursued a fully-paid two-year Masters of Science in Electrical Engineering under a joint programme between Makerere and the University of Pretoria, graduating with a distinction in 2012,” says the father of three, who boasts of marrying his wife Phionah, also an engineer, around the same time and owning a permanent home.
Even then, Mwesiga was not satisfied with what he had achieved. In the academic year 2013/14, he decided to bring to reality something he had long contemplated in 2006 – studying law at Makerere. He sat for the law pre-entry exams and emerged the best student, scoring 89 per cent.
According to Prof Christopher Mbaziira, the principal of the school of law at Makerere, Mwesiga’s pre-entry performance was exceptional.
“This was a striking mark for the school because pre-entry is a hard exam. It is not easy to find a person who is so good in all areas we examine such as English comprehension and composition, logical reasoning, numerical skills, contemporary affairs and aptitude to earn such a mark,” says Mbaziira, adding that Mwesiga proved on the onset that he would be a first-class material student.
While he had passed the exam, Mwesiga says, he had mixed feelings and fears of any working mature student on how to pass the four-year course. At the time, he was working as an engineer, technology professional and consultant.
“With a science background (unlike most of his classmates), I was quite obviously worried that this would put me at a disadvantage to pursue a law degree which I thought to be a pure arts and “wordy” discipline. Surprisingly, law is more of a science,” he says.
“The rigor and intensiveness of the course gives little time to relax but the four years have [instead] passed like a fleeting wind.”
Indeed, his management style of planning ahead of the next semester and then ‘firefighting’ on a daily basis saw him excel with a first class law degree this year, the last one having been recorded by Kenneth Ssebagayunga in 2006.
According to Mwesiga, success in law has more to do with discipline and teamwork than individual brilliance; and “if my success reflects anything, it is that I have perhaps received the greatest support from my fellow students…”
He urges working students to always be disciplined by dedicating time to the course (however little) consistently every day, rather than allowing the work to pile.
WHY STUDY LAW?
Mwesigwa is currently pursuing a PhD in engineering and one wonders why an accomplished engineer would be interested in studying law.
“Such disciplines like engineering prepare you for a man who knows numbers and before you know it, you have hit the wall and get bored on the job after 15 years. Of late, engineers have tried to do MBAs because it is good to dilute yourself but I refused,” he says.
Quoting The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business, a business training book by Josh Kaufman, Mwesiga says it would be useless for him to study an MBA for two years, yet he would, instead, add two extra years to pursue a degree in law.
In his book, Kaufman argues that if you want to master the art of business, you don’t need to go to a business school for a master’s of business administration.
“With a little time and effort, you can easily learn these skills on your own, without eye-popping tuition and student loans,” he writes.
Mwesiga says reading Kaufman’s over-200-page book helped him form a vital decision of enrolling for a bachelor’s degree in law.
He likens his academic journey to that of renowned actor Rowan Atkinson alias Mr Bean, who holds a degree in Electrical Engineering and a master’s degree in the same field, only to become everyone’s favourite comedian.
“Society has compartmentalized us in certain fields, a trend that needs to change,” he says, adding that the most celebrated English judge of the 20th century, Lord Denning, was a mathematician.
Locally, he commends six people; for they have managed to transcend beyond their fields and had influence in other spheres.
These are Elly Karuhanga (lawyer), Eng Dr Dorothy Okello (senior lecturer at CEDAT), Eng Dr Charles Wana-Etyem (Makerere University council chairman), Dr Martin Aliker (first Kyambogo University chancellor), Prof Winnie Tarinyeba Kiryabwire (lecturer school of law, Makerere) and Joseph Kyazze, a lawyer.
Asked why Peterson stands out, Mbaziira said: “He is a unique and exceptional student in a number of respects.”
He explains that Mwesiga struck him as an academically mature student, hardworking, intelligent but, most importantly, he was impressed with his humble lifestyle.
FUTURE CAREER PATH
In the next five years, Mwesiga sees himself as a private practioner of engineering, but with influence beyond his profession.
“It should also not surprise anyone if I run for political office soon,” Mwesiga says. “In my life, I make rules and when I want to break them, I do. I could even change my plans because it is okay at any point in life for you to do anything, even if anyone else does not understand you. We live once.”
Although Mwesiga seems to have planned on where to go, Mbaziira advises that it may be wise for him to focus on one career path at a certain point.
“He can specialize in engineering or concentrate on legal practice in areas like construction law, and not into areas of criminal practice or general law practice,” says Mbaziira.
He advises that he can as well start a law firm that specifically handles legal services in the engineering sector as well as position himself as a legal academic committed to ensuring that there are legal reforms in the laws relating to construction.
Beside his academic life, Mwesiga confesses that he enjoys rock music.
“I am very musical and it ranks higher than even the grades and academics. I get a collection of songs on a flash disk, raise my [car] glasses and off I go. If I find a good song [even when it is not rock] that I like, I can play it for one week. I find it odd, but that is Peterson.”
Meanwhile, since his law degree graduation party, Mwesiga says many people have requested for inspirational talks but he has turned them down.
To those who look forward to being like him, he has a message for you: “To anyone looking at me in awe, you should know I have not yet made it in life, but struggling like you. You sit down, get serious and create your own path because success happens in private and it only gets manifested in public.”
As we wind down the interview, the chill in the guesthouse gardens has, indeed, reached down my nerves. Time check: 11:56pm.
What an evening, Peterson!
But this Peterson; as if having two bachelors degrees in completely different fields is not enough or even having first classes in both! He went ahead to break a decade-long drought at law school. Now, that’s real stuff of a legend.
I must admit we have some geniuses in this world but not the level of Peterson. He is a super genius with first class degrees in completely different disciplines. That’s very rare to attain such a kind of achievement in academics.
This hell of a bwart Peterson is a living wonder. The ‘thing’ has finished books in Engineering and now has started law things.
Peterson is now doing things just for fun… but I dare you! Don’t step in medical school. After law, go to Arts, then political sciences and keep there. Congratulations brother.
I am so happy for you my brother because you never let me down. Even as your sister, I wonder; if God was creating human beings in models which one would you be? You have refused to bow to your past.
A first class degree at law school is not easy, congratulations.
Cosmus Namanya Bakantu
Congratulations Peterson! You must have definitely deserved what you got. Thanks very much for that rare, strong and great record step taken. You made all people who know you proud.
MAKERERE LAW SCHOOL FIRST CLASS HOLDERS
- Prof Edward Kiddhu Makubuya (pioneer first class holder, 1974)
- Apollo Nelson Makubuya
- James Mugira
- Phillip Karugaba
- Frank Mugabi
- Sandra Kiapi
- Joseph Isanga
- Joseph Kyazze
- Ronald Karungi
- Festus Akunobera
- Busingye Kabumba
- Brenda Ntambirweki
- Kenneth Ssebagayunga (2006)
- Peterson Mwesiga (2017)