By Kefa Senoga
In 2005, when Uganda Christian University (UCU) wanted to start a master’s program in literature, the institution sent some of its academics to convince alums they thought would take advantage of the course.
Abel Wankuma Kibbedi, who had graduated the previous year with a First Class degree in Bachelor of Education with English and Literature, was one of the alums approached. At the time, Kibbedi was residing with other undergraduate students in one of the hostels in Kauga, a suburb near UCU’s main campus.
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When Prof. Timothy Wangusa, who was among the people overseeing the start of the master’s course at UCU, visited Kibbedi, he advised the latter to leave the hostel where he was residing. At the time, Kibbedi had just been offered a position as a teaching assistant at UCU. Wangusa rhetorically asked Kibbedi if he intended to continue sharing the same space with the students he was teaching.
To follow up on his advice, Wangusa offered Kibbedi, who had taken up the opportunity to enroll for the master’s course, the guest wing at the professor’s residence. Two years later, Kibbedi, who was part of the pioneer class of master’s in literature, was a proud recipient of the postgraduate degree, an achievement made possible courtesy of a scholarship through the staff development committee at UCU.
Again, in 2017, Kibbedi — and two other colleagues — was part of the pioneer class of the PhD in literature course at UCU. And at the most recent UCU graduation held at the Main Campus in Mukono on October 13, 2023, Kibbedi was among the graduates who earned a PhD. Kibbedi’s other two pioneer doctoral colleagues in literature were not present at the October 13 graduation. Mary Naula had already graduated in 2021, while the third PhD student lost her life two years into the course.
Between Kibbedi’s master’s degree in literature and the PhD, he earned another degree — Masters of Divinity and Theology — from the Pennsylvania-based Westminster Theological Seminary.
“While attending a conference in the United States in 2007, Church of Uganda Archbishop at the time, Henry Luke Orombi, asked the president of Westminster Theological Seminary if they would offer a scholarship to a Ugandan student,” Kibbedi said during an interview he granted Uganda Partners after his October 13 graduation.
The answer to Orombi’s question was in the affirmative. However, it was not a direct pass for Kibbedi, whom Orombi had in mind as he asked the question. There had to be interviews for the scholarship, which, fortunately, Kibbedi won.
According to Kibbedi, upon his return to Uganda, with a second master’s degree in the bag, the vice chancellor at the time, the Rev. Dr. John Senyonyi, singled him out among the younger staff for departmental leadership as part of professional development. This is how he assumed the role of heading the Honors College, a position he held from 2012 to 2021.
To make his new master’s degree count, Kibbedi was taken in by the Bishop Tucker School of Divinity and Theology to teach Hebrew and Greek, primarily because the program he had pursued in the US at Westminster had an aspect of the ancient languages. Despite this, Kibbedi notes that he has mainly been involved in teaching literature at UCU.
UCU’s Support Fuels PhD Success
He is grateful to the UCU administration, without whose support, he says, he would have struggled to achieve anything. For instance, Kibbedi cites the example of UCU first Vice Chancellor Prof. Stephen Noll, in whose tenure the former pursued further studies in Pennsylvania. He said Prof. Noll decided that Kibbedi be left on half pay throughout the duration of his four-year course, as opposed to no pay, because the lecturer “had family members and dependants to take care of.” Kibbedi said the PhD now has buttressed his desire to continue sharing knowledge as an academic.
The achievement of the PhD did not come on a silver platter, though. “My wife had to bear my long hours of reading and absence; she has had to step in for many activities with the children,” the Rev. Kibbedi says.
He is married to Lydia Wankuma Kibbedi who works as an administrator of the Uganda Studies Program at UCU. They have a daughter, Atungonza Wankuma, age 15, and a son, Anunula Wankuma, age 14. Atugonza is in Senior Three at Wanyange Girls School while Anunula is also in the same class, at Busoga College Mwiri, his father’s alma mater. Both schools are found in eastern Uganda.
Kibbedi completed his primary education at Namalemba Primary School in eastern Uganda, before joining Busoga College Mwiri. From Mwiri, he pursued a diploma in education at the National Teachers College Kaliro, before eventually joining UCU.
Kibbedi is number six of a family of 12 children. His father, the Rev. JFJ. Kibbedi Nswemu, a politician and educator, passed away in 1999. He credits his interest in literature to his father. Kibbedi’s mother, Robina Christina Kibbedi, now retired, had a career as a social worker.