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Meet Dr Musheshe, the man transforming lives in Kagadi

DR MWALIMU MUSHESHE is an Ashoka fellow and proprietor of 91.7FM Kagadi-Kibaale Community Radio. Also the founder of Uganda Rural Development and Training Programme, Musheshe talked to Capital FM's Simon Kasyate, the host of Desert Island Discs programme. 

Good evening and welcome to the programme!
Thank you. It is my pleasure to be your guest.

Dr Mwalimu Musheshe

What exactly do you do in Kagadi?

I am Muwalimu Musheshe. The business I have here in Kagadi started way back in 1987. My colleagues and I figured out that development in Africa has been distorted. There is a lot of dependence on aid on one hand and a lot of dependence on government, which didn’t have the capacity to deliver (we are talking about many years ago and very little has changed).

So, we said where can we demonstrate the visionary approach to development? …In the visionary approach, you have a holistic view of what needs to be done and therefore every step you achieve, you ask the question what next rather than saying thank God it is over. So, we made a survey in Uganda and we felt this place was the best place to start.

Kagadi was then part of Hoima when we came here. And what was the attraction? Because it was an area of what I have called silent violence, where people were dying of different diseases, high infant mortality, high maternal morbidity and they never made the news, yet if one expatriate in Kampala was shot, it would be all over the place.

That can be said of many places across Uganda: why Kagadi?

There was a liberation that was incomplete. How? Historically, this was part of the lost counties – Buyaga and Bugangaizi. In 1964, there was a referendum and the two counties were returned to a non-existing Bunyoro.

The actual Bunyoro went with Kabalega; so, they returned the counties in 1965 when there was no Bunyoro. So, we came here and set up what we call Uganda Rural Development and Training Programme. There are two key concepts in that name. One, is training. Two, is development.

Why give it a broad name of Uganda when you are stationed in Kagadi?

We developed the name before we came to Kagadi and at the same time it was not the peculiar problems of Kagadi we were addressing per se but we were looking at problems of Kagadi which mirror problems of Uganda.

So, what do you do here?

The precursor was to work with the communities and we ask people ‘if the situation could change at all in your village, family and your life, how would it look like?’ So that they have a vision for their future. So, we started with extension work. Working in the villages, working with the people.

And the more we went into the villages, the more we found out that ohhh, we are working with the wrong segment of the people because if you call the meetings, you will get the old people and the young people were left out.

We said, what would be the best intervention? We, therefore, have the extension work which triggered the design for dealing with the young people. That is why we have education facilities now. We started with the Institute for Vocational Training and Leadership Development. That is what is important. You don’t just train people.

You educate a person who gets skills, who is an entrepreneur, who is a leader, who is an innovator, who is an inventor and creator….I will tell you a story when we brought here 200 leaders of rioters in Kampala in 2011 and we trained them for three months. As we are talking now, one of the trainees is displaying his merchandise in the multipurpose hall. He is transformed.

So, we have the institute. Then we have the girls’ school, which has three sections – primary, secondary O-level and secondary A-level. We admit one child from every poor family; not everybody comes here.

They can afford to come here?

We sponsor them, it is free education. We train them with their parents. Orient them in making vision and in three years, what was called poverty is transformed into prosperity and then they can afford to take every child to school, not our school, private.

We have other schools besides this campus, secondary school and primary – one in Kakumiro and another in Muhoro. We then have the famous Kagadi-Kibaale Community Radio, it is the by-product of the Rio de Janeiro conference of 1992 when we participated in the earth summit looking at what needs to be done to turn around the environment and looking at the creeping desert and we figured out that all these protocols have been signed, the ministers have gone and the heads of state, but how does the information actually reach the rural person.

That is how this radio was born, but it was not born alone. We have what we call the East African Community Radio programme and as we are talking, we have this KKCR, we have another one among the Maasai in Kenya and another one among the Wakamba women in Tanzania. We brought together 11 groups of women to start a radio station. So, in East Africa we have similar radio stations.

Plays Different Colours by Lucky Dube

You are an Ashoka fellow: what is that?

There is an international organisation that is unique in terms of its understanding, in what people can do to influence change in this world. As it is all known, we have two or three dominant sectors: we have the government, the private sector and of course we have those guys of the fourth estate.

These have been known to have impact on the social, economic and political change. The civil society organisations which were originally called non-governmental organisations were in the periphery, receiving rules and regulations on how you should operate and conduct yourself…This guy Bill Drayton figured out in 1987 that there are people out there who are investing differently, without expecting profits per se but investing for public good.

So, he created an organisation called Ashoka, which is an Indian expression of an emperor who was very busy fighting wars and one time he thought: is this the way to run the world? He turned the swords into shears and ploughs. Therefore, they look around the world, they are now in about 87 countries, to look for people who have innovative, novel, creative ideas that these ideas are put into service of the community, not for profit, but to see social economic change. 

So, they choose someone and you go through a very rigorous interview. So, I can tell you as we are talking, we are less than 4,000 globally. As an Ashoka fellow, I am an investor for the public. Everything I do, I don’t take a cent home; it is recycled for the public good.

How do you survive?
I am part of the public.

Musheshe with President Museveni

By the way, let’s go to the quintessential DID question. Who are you, where, when and to whom were you born?

I was born 60 years ago to parents who were living in Kasese in the hills called Nyamuhuga. My father is Musheshe Sr and I am Musheshe Jr. Unfortunately, because I produced other Musheshes, now I am the senior and they are the juniors.

I went to school in Kilembe and from there I went to Makerere [University] where I did agricultural engineering. I hold a master’s in development management and PhD in environmental leadership.

Any childhood memories?

At 12 years, I went to school late, we had a big drought and as it were in culture, when there is  drought, you look for rainmakers and so on… the rainmakers were not doing much. They arrested some people who were responsible for the drought.

One of them was on the ropes. At around 1am, I tip-toed the hut where he was and I said to him, are you God? He said, why? I said because they say you stopped rain.

You brought drought. He said that all those are lies. I am not God. Why did I ask that question? Because in school they had told us that rain comes from heaven and it is made by God. I cut him loose. That was the beginning of what later I understand to be fighting for justice.

But what kind of childhood did you have?
I was born last by the old couple. Therefore, I was spoilt by default. I even tell people that I suckled until I was five years and they can’t believe it.

That partly explains why you went to school late. How many siblings did you have at home?

We were seven. The one I follow was 15 years when I was born. Therefore, there is a very big gap. Actually I played more with my nieces and nephews than my brothers and sisters.

Do you have another name?

Why were you named Mwalimu?

My father was not heavily religious. I think my father liked teachers and when I was born, I think he figured out that I would become a teacher…because when I played with my nieces,  I gave directions even when I was younger than them.

Why then did he take you to school?

I don’t think it is him; it was my mother. My father was so busy with so many things. The other thing which played out for me is that she had her own resources.

Therefore, she could afford to buy me what I needed. There were not many things that we needed, they were basics such as uniform, books. I used to walk eight miles to and from school. I went to Kyanjuki primary school.

Why not Kilembe primary school.

Kilembe primary school was in kizungu and that was for workers in high class – directors, managers, etc. Bulembiya primary school was exclusively for the Indians and Kyanjuki was for others.

After primary, where did you go for secondary school?

I went to Nyakasura and it was the best in the region because then we were in Tooro kingdom. I was one of the best students and that is how I got the scholarship from Tooro district. There were challenges for me. I think I came from a village and family where I didn’t have anybody to look up to for guidance.

Dr Mwalimu Musheshe with President Museveni

But you had elder siblings!

They never went to school. Everything was in plenty. The sons of a chief! Everything was okay. So, why should they go to school? So, I was the only person and I remember going to the bookstore to get books. I used natural wisdom, I pulled myself out of the line to see which books others are picking because I didn’t have any idea... I would hear other boys say Atkinson, Abbot and I am like what are they talking about? So, I was disadvantaged.

But I am good at networking. I am friendly. Growing up in Kilembe had exposed me to a number of issues and I could speak good English. I was a sportsperson, I played football up to university. I also did boxing. My model was a Ugandan from Tooro called Leo Rwabwogo. I was also a debater, very argumentative. But then something happened. I didn’t finish S1. I dropped out and started an independent life.


I had half my school fees and when I went back I didn’t have enough money to take me back and  I didn’t want to go home to ask for money. What I did, I started a restaurant in Kilembe with Shs 100.

For one year, I raised money and went back to school. I remember I went directly to the office of the head teacher, Mr Bachelor from Scotland, and he looked at me and adjusted his thick glasses and said: ‘young man, what can I do for you?’ I said I have come to study. Where? Here? Where are you from?

I said I am from this school bud I had left because of A, B, C, D. He said, go out. He calls for my file and then he calls for my Maths teacher, Ms Merchant, and she says if he has come back, I am offering half of his school fees.

Then the question is ‘should I go to S1 or S2?’ they called a staff meeting and said here is a brilliant boy who was doing A, B, C, D, he dropped out for one year, he had studied only one term. Should we take him to S1 or S2?   A certain man who was teaching us English said no, take him to my class, which was S2. I never looked back since then.

And Ms Merchant?

She paid half of my tuition and I had to pay the other half. I had money for first term, year-two, but I had to look for more money for the other terms. The head teacher calls me in his office and says, why don’t you go to the district and ask whether they can renew your scholarship?

I walked from Nyakasura to the district and talked to the district education officer and he picked the phone, called Mr Bachelor and he said that is one of our unfortunate students but we think he has potential. There and then the DEO said go back to school, your scholarship has been restored. So, what I am doing here is in remembrance of what I have gone through.

Plays Freedom by Salafina

By this time at school, did you have an impression of what you wanted to become in future?

By S3, I had already chosen what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a lawyer. By then we had a lot of expatriates because we had lost a lot of teachers during Amin’s regime.  One expatriate man calls me in his office and asks me what I want to do in future. I say I want to be a lawyer.

He then says but I can see you are doing well in sciences. He tells me this statement, “You can be a lawyer anytime, but you cannot be a physicists anytime.” From them, I took chemistry, physics and biology... When I finished S4, I had chosen to go to King’s College Budo but the school refused. They took me back to Nyakasura. I was head prefect and doing all other things…I went to Makerere University to pursue agricultural engineering. My original dream was to do medicine but there was some confusion…

Here you are at Makerere…
I had to go through some difficult times. I was a guild representative for Nkrumah in year-one and in those days it was heavy politics.

Which year was this?

It was 1980. And Mugisha Muntu was our president of the guild. He started as a vice and then the president misbehaved and Muntu became the president. We have worked closely for many years.

In my second year, I contested for guild president on the ticket of UPM. The reward for that, I ended in Mbuya military barracks for 13 months incommunicado….so, we were in that struggle to make Uganda, Makerere a better place.

After 13 months, did you find a place for you at Makerere?
Interestingly, I came back to Makerere and pursued my degree to its logical conclusion.

But there was a choice for you to go to the bush...

I chose two things. The struggle to liberate a country is not just handling the gun alone, there are several fronts…contacts, sending people food…so, my work was, among other things, to reach students…

Again at university you were a busy man, did you ever get time to enjoy life with probably a lady you fancied? 

No. I took my things very seriously. If I chose sports, if I chose to do my work, if I chose politics… that is my nature. But of course I had my girlfriend, we are still together down the road, thirty-something years; she is the mother of my four children.

How did you meet?

At Makerere, I was at Kabanyolo university farm. I was the chairman of the hostel. Her father was a lecturer at Makerere. She was working with the ministry of health. So, we used to organise social evenings; I actually knew her father before I knew the girl. So, it was through the father…we have lived together with very few kids, the eldest is a lawyer, the following one is also a lawyer, we have someone pursuing Phd and the last one is learning to be a pilot.

Plays Wale Wale by Jose Chameleone

After Makereere, did you get any formal employment?

Actually when I finished, I was supposed to work in Kasese district at Mubuku irrigation scheme. Then someone had started an organisation called Uganda Food and Peace Project. They asked me to join them as a volunteer and actually I abandoned the idea of going to work in Kasese. I worked there for eight months…we went to communities.

Where was this?

In Kamwenge in a place called Kahunge. I can tell you on graduation day, because I couldn’t step there when Obote was still there; so, I couldn’t go but we were listening on radio.

We were at work, protecting a spring in the village and the villagers collected cassava and beans, we cooked a meal, we had our tonto and some waragi and as soon as they read my name that I had graduated, we celebrated…the proprietor of this organisation eventually gave me a job. That deal was my first employment and the last. I worked with them between 1983 and 1987…

What annoyed me then is that I discovered a lot of corruption in that organisation. And remember our slogan then in UPM was ‘clean leadership’. Guess what, when I exposed corruption, they hit me with a hand grenade. That is how the organisation closed and we started ours.

Wait a minute, they hit you with a real hand grenade or you used it as a metaphor?
No, the real one. I still have scrap nails in my body. Sometimes I couldn’t pass through the security checkpoints.

What is your favourite meal?
I eat entula, I eat katunkuma, avocado, and karo.

How do you wash that down?
I take some wine. And if I have crisis of indigestion, I can take some whisky. Then I do exercises, I ride, I walk…

If you were marooned on a desert island and you are allowed to carry one thing or one person, who or what would you take?
My wife or books titled The Path of Least Resistance or The Fifth Discipline.

Plays What Shall We Do by Oliver Mutukudzi


+1 #1 Ntirenganya V.Gabrie 2017-03-29 11:43
Thanks for leaving a practical experience, most importantly I have noted is working/leaving against all the negative acts and ideologues as experienced.

Keep walking the talk and we shall a always be proud of you in kagadi and greater kibaale district
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+1 #2 monday deus 2017-04-01 09:45
Thats my Ashoka fellow....
Well done Mwalimu
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