Janitor plays role in UCU alum’s academic success

By Pauline Luba
Janitorial work increased the chances of a university getting at least one student. That’s part of the story of Dr. Jonathan Tumwebaze, who shared the role of a building custodian in his enrollment at Uganda Christian University (UCU).

Tumwebaze’s father, Kaganda Bbala, was looking for a university where his son could pursue undergraduate studies, and UCU was among those on the list. During the university tour with his father in 2011, Tumwebaze said that as his dad walked into the bathrooms in the Mukono campus Nsibambi Hall, he remarked that if custodians could do their job so diligently without close supervision, then there was something special about UCU.

From UCU to University of Pretoria

The university journey that Tumwebaze started 12 years ago has seen him recently earning a PhD in a record two-and-a-half years. The course usually takes up to five years. The 31-year-old received his doctorate in public policy from the University of Pretoria in South Africa on March 21, 2023. 

Titled “A Framework for Child Participation in Child-focused Policy Design in Uganda,” Tumwebaze’s research focused on inclusion of children’s voices in child-focused, policy decision-making processes. He describes a developing paradigm of thought in Uganda’s child-focused research literature. 

Tumwebaze with Patty Huston-Holm, Uganda Partners communications director, when they worked together to conduct post-graduate writing and research clinics.
Tumwebaze with Patty Huston-Holm, Uganda Partners communications director, when they worked together to conduct post-graduate writing and research clinics.

Tumwebaze has a unique passion for cross-disciplinary learning and knowledge systems, and has a breadth of experience working with students. Serving as the Interim Global Health Coordinator for Uganda Studies Program and Christian University Partnerships Manager, Tumwebaze’s doctorate meant he was the first student to graduate under the Partnership for African Social and Governance Research. The partnership is a collaborative venture in public policy and is currently offered in three universities in Africa – the University of Pretoria, University of Nairobi in Kenya and the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. In 2015, Tumwebaze worked as an intern for a new UCU postgraduate thesis-assistance program.

Tumwebaze and four others enrolled for the program as full-time PhD resident fellows in February 2020 at the University of Pretoria. Even though Covid-19 affected many education systems, Tumwebaze’s PhD journey was never interrupted, which is something he attributed to the robust nature of the University of Pretoria’s academic programs. He benefited from the financial support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the University of Pretoria Doctoral Research Scholarship. The university has offered Tumwebaze a placement for post-doctoral research, an academic mentorship journey he will be embarking on soon.

Initially, he did not want to pursue a B.A. in Development Studies at UCU. He also had been accepted for the Bachelor of Laws degree, which is where his heart was. However, upon the advice of his father that the tuition fee for the law course was too expensive, Tumwebaze switched to Development Studies. 

“The first month at university was hard,” Tumwebaze recalled. “I saw myself as a lawyer and kept wondering what I was doing in another class.”

Agatha Ninsiima, a friend and an honors student, noticed Tumwebaze’s lack of ambition and encouraged him to avoid wasting three undergraduate years – to put zeal and energy into his development study. And Tumwebaze did just that.

Soon, his attitude shifted to positive and, since then, he topped his class until he completed the course. He was not just a member, but also the chairperson of the UCU Honors College, which is an interdisciplinary Christian leadership and mentorship program that empowers highly motivated and talented students to think critically and creatively about how their Christian faith influences their academic and professional goals. 

Tumwebaze is the third born of Bbala and Adyeeri Kaganda. He attended St. Jude Primary School Kyegobe in Fort Portal, western Uganda and Mengo Senior Secondary in central Uganda for his secondary school education. While at Mengo, Tumwebaze got an opportunity to spend some time in Norway as part of an exchange student program.