By Irene Best Nyapendi
Hard work rarely goes unacknowledged. For the Rev. Canon Assoc. Prof. Olivia Nassaka Banja, the sweat that she has been breaking in the academic sphere has yielded results with her appointment to the apex management position of a university in Uganda.
Banja is the new Vice-Chancellor of Ndejje University. Her appointment makes her the third Vice Chancellor of Ndejje, and the first woman to hold that position in the university. Banja was the Dean of the School of Education at Uganda Christian University (UCU) for about a year prior to her new position.
“I’m grateful to God for giving me the opportunity to serve at UCU, where I have been groomed, shaped, mentored and equipped with skills that I am taking with me to serve and lead in another institution,” said Banja, who was headhunted for the position because of her stellar performance and tested legacy as an administrator at UCU.
Banja became the first female dean of UCU’s Bishop Tucker School of Divinity and Theology in 2008 and served in the position till June 2014, when she became UCU’s Director for Teaching and Learning. It was from this position that she switched to head the UCU School of Education as its dean in September 2021.
Formerly Bishop Tucker Theological College, the school, which started in 1913, gave birth to UCU, in 1997. Looking at Banja’s academic journey before becoming the dean of UCU’s Bishop Tucker School of Divinity and Theology, it was evident she was undergoing formative preparation for the big job. For instance, as early as 1993, she was the curate of St Andrew’s Cathedral Mityana Diocese and was made the acting vicar of the same cathedral the following year.
Banja was part of UCU’s inaugural staff members, serving as a lecturer and also the Female Students’ Warden. In 2004, she was promoted to the position of Senior Lecturer. She was part of the team that developed the first PhD program at UCU, the Doctor of Ministry.
The holder of a bachelor’s degree, three master’s and a PhD was ordained deacon in the Church of Uganda on December 19, 1993. She says that the day she committed her life to God was the day she “saw her path.”
Also in 1993, she was a recipient of a First Class in Bachelor of Divinity at the Bishop Tucker Theological College Mukono. In 1996, she earned a Master of Arts in Religious Studies of Makerere University and added another master’s degree, MA, Mission and Ministry of St John’s College, Nottingham University in the UK, the following year.
And Banja was not done yet, with her master’s degrees. In 2000, she earned her third, Master of Theology by Research of the University of Edinburgh. In the same year, she started her PhD course in the same university, graduating in 2004.
As she leaves UCU, Banja looks back with great pride at the first graduation ceremony of the university in 2000. She remembers typing and printing all of her exams before heading to the nearby Mukono town to photocopy because the university did not have such services at the time.
“After all we had done, seeing the university produce its first graduates was a great joy to me,” she said.
For all that the 55-year-old has achieved, she thanks her parents, James Lwanga and Daisy Ndagire. “My father didn’t have gender stereotypes, and he believed in me to be an achiever at a very young age.”
For her primary education, Banja attended Bat Valley Primary School and Nakasero Secondary School for both her O’level and A’level. Both Bat Valley and Nakasero are located in Kampala.
She married the Rev. Canon Venerable Moses Banja in April 2001. Banja says she spends her free time cooking and reading when not busy with academic or religious work.