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Meet Hussein Nsamba, the 40-year-old lecturer with two PhDs

Nsamba at his school in Nsangi

Nsamba at his school in Nsangi

When you meet Hussein Kisiki Nsamba, there is nothing striking about him on first sight; he is as normal as any other person and ordinarily no one would be interested in his story.

But when he starts to talk about himself, you gain interest. He has a unique story. A story of determination and self-confidence, tenets that dodge many people. He is proud of his story; in fact, he puts it on display on his business card. When he gives out his business card, those with curiosity normally ask.

“Why do you call yourself Dr, Dr?” He does not tire of explaining it with a beaming face. Nsamba has two doctorates of Philosophy – PhDs – in Industrial Chemistry. Getting one PhD is hard enough; having two is something else.

According to research done by the Makerere University College of Education and External Studies, Uganda with a population of close to 45 million people, has only 1,179 PhDs. So, Nsamba having two puts him a class apart in this exclusive club.

WHO IS NSAMBA?

Nsamba is one of eight children of Muhammad Kaluuma and Tijarah Nansamba (RIP) of Nsangala village, Mawogola county, Sembabule district. He was born 40 years ago and went to Nsangala primary school, Kibulala primary school, Biina Islamic primary school before sitting his PLE at Sydney Paul primary school, Kinoni, Masaka.

With aggregate seven, Nsamba was the best candidate at the centre in 1997. For secondary school, Nsamba enrolled at Masaka Secondary School, where he was for all the six years of secondary education and was a head prefect.

In his Uganda Certificate of Education which he sat in 2001, Nsamba got aggregate 15, and for Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education in 2003, Nsamba performed below his expectations, managing only 10 points in Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and General Paper.

With his 10 points, Nsamba did not despair or consider repeating; instead; he applied as a private student at Makerere University, where he was admitted for a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. Before university could start, Nsamba got a job at Hannah International Secondary School to teach mathematics and chemistry.

“I saw a signpost in Nsangi reading Hannah International School and I said to myself, let me go and ask if they can employ me. I met the headteacher Hajji Male Hussein and [asked him] to teach his students. I told him I can teach chemistry and mathematics at all levels,” Nsamba remembers. Male then told him he was not qualified going by his 10 points at UACE.

However, he relented when he read determination in Nsamba’s face.

“The person he referred me to actually didn’t give me an interview; the guy looked at me and said you are a young man who is looking for what to eat...I will give my boss a go-ahead to appoint you; it’s up to you to fail yourself,” Nsamba says.

He was given a salary of Shs 150,000 and by the end of the year it had been doubled to Shs 300,000 because of his stellar performance. With this performance, he got another opportunity to teach the same subjects at Kinaawa High School Mugongo and was paid Shs 200,000. He taught at the two schools concurrently until 2007 as he pursued his degree at Makerere.

Teaching while at the same time studying took a toll on his performance and his CGPA [Cumulative Grade Point Average] by the time he graduated was 3.5, earning him a second lower degree.

But this, Nsamba says, did not get in his way of trying to achieve the highest academic excellence. Many universities across the world don’t consider students with second class lower degrees and below for master’s degree admission.

“I knew that most of the universities were looking for first class and second-class upper students. But there was a section where they ask for a motivation letter for why you would want to study further. That gives you chance to explain beyond what the CGPA can explain. I felt I had very strong reasons as to why I was not a first-class student, but I knew there was nothing a first-class student could do that I could not do. Actually, I felt I was better than them because I had three years’ experience,” Nsamba says.

Undeterred, he applied to a number of international universities seeking admission. At the same time, he sent the motivational letter to the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) applying for a scholarship. He was admitted as a private student to pursue a master’s degree in Chemical Engineering at the Universiti Putra Malaysia, one of the most prestigious universities in Malaysia. At the same time, IDB accepted his application and gave him the funding he needed to study in Malaysia.

“I graduated in January 2008 and in December I was on a plane to Malaysia for further studies. Now that I had all the time to concentrate, I was the best candidate in our class and won so many awards while there. I presented the best paper at the International Conference of Science and Technology,” Nsamba says.

By the time he graduated in May 2011, he had turned around his misfortune of underperformance so much so that out of a CGPA of 4 he got 3.8. This performance earned him a fully funded scholarship to pursue a PhD in chemical engineering from two universities; the Universiti Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and the University of Life Sciences in Oslo Norway.

He chose the one in Malaysia but the other one in Oslo was also giving him tuition and a stipend. He successfully defended his PhD which looked at how to convert palm oil plantation waste into a soil conditioner that adds value to the soil. Meanwhile, in his second PhD year, he wrote to IDB again asking them to fund his research.

“I applied for funding hoping that they would support my candidature, but they replied saying...they were afraid that I would have to seek admission afresh in another university because they only sponsored students in the top 100 universities in the world and according to the ranking of the time, Universiti Kuala Lumpur was not among the top 100,” Nsamba remembers.

He zeroed down on Nottingham University in the United Kingdom. He had wrestled with the idea of pursuing another PhD; moreover, in the same discipline. Those he talked to questioned the rationale of going through another gruelling three years. In the end he decided to take the offer.

“I asked myself, assuming that I’m working, how much money would I earn per year? when I looked at the over Shs 500 million these people were going to invest in me, I realised that I would not make this money even in ten years if I chose to start working. Common sense told me I was better off taking up the other investment,” Nsamba remembers.

His PhD research was not very different from the first one. This time he looked at how to convert agriculture waste into electricity. He was at Nottingham between 2013 and 2017 where he was also the president of international scholars on IDB study programs.

“I have not yet met anyone with two PhDs because when you remember the process you go through to have it, nobody would want to go through that twice. It was a little easy but I think the ease is just phycological because each baby comes with his own labour pains,” Nsamba says.

JOINING MAKERERE

While at Nottingham University, Makerere University advertised a job of lecturer in the industrial chemistry department. Candidates were supposed to have a PhD in chemical engineering. He applied and was given the job almost two years later in 2015 when he had even forgotten about the application.

By that time, he was in the middle of writing his PhD. He was then forced into making a critical decision of whether to accept the job or not.

“I said, if I could do two PhDs which are very rigorous, I can still teach while studying, even if it means spending all my money in buying air tickets. I would not mind because after the studies, I would have the job. I was looking at how I could excel both as a student and as an academic,” Nsamba says.

In the end, he took up the job and got used to juggling between Kampala and London. He finally returned to Uganda in 2017 to start a life as an academic. At Makerere, other than teaching, he also represents the College of Natural Sciences in the Makerere University Academic Staff Association.

But with the kind of fast-moving life he was used to, Nsamba felt concentrating on Makerere alone would be underemployment. He also hated the life of academics that retire after years of service and have nothing to their name.

“Someone dies and they say many good things about them but when there are so many pages you would not want to read in their life’s journey book. I said, I have to be different,” Nsamba says.

That is how he decided to operationalize his long-time dream of starting his own business. For the time he was abroad, he had heard stories of how Ugandans in the diaspora get cheated by relatives when they ask them to buy them land and build for them houses. He thought about how to use his knowledge to provide a solution to a perennial problem and that’s how Invention Plus Group of Companies came into being.

The company seated on a three-acre piece of land in Nsangi helps its clients construct houses on their behalf.

“When you contract us, we give you a full house with all components covered; we negotiate the price and then you start depositing money with us. If it reaches 50 per cent of the budget, we start building. We have constructed a lot of houses using this model in Kampala and across the country,” Nsamba says.

Invention Plus Group of Companies has also diversified into education with the start of Invention Plus Junior School, Nsangi. Nsamba says it was started to offer practical education to leaners as early as possible.

“We have produced candidates who are competing very well with those who have attended purely secular schools, yet ours can do so many things for themselves.” Nsamba says every scholar must be looking in this direction of not only offering academic wisdom but also contributing to solving real societal problems.

“We must get our knowledge away from the books; this will spur economic development in our country. The government and the people will benefit far beyond our competences as conventional lecturers at the university.”

mmkakembo@gmail.com

Comments

+6 #1 Nsamba 2023-01-04 16:10
But why not put his 1st phd into practice. Why study and teach chemical engineering then invest in real estate???

Am of the view that lecturing should be a part time job.
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+3 #2 John 2023-01-05 14:25
Two PhDs and non has never been implemented looks a waste of time. Why going into fabrication of steel windows and doors!!!, building with mud bricks with no any value addition in technology just for the sake of getting money!!!! It beats my understanding anyway
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0 #3 rubangakene 2023-01-05 20:21
He is on the right track; keep at it and you will be rewarded. You teach these people Chemical Engineering and after graduation , they are off to The Middle East to do menial work! So what's the point?

Actually the two PHDs help him solve problems over a wide range of fields, in fact he is better than twenty of our useless MPs!
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