Kampala, Uganda | AGNES E NANTABA | Prof John Ddumba Ssentamu is one of Uganda’s long practicing economists. He is best known, however, for serving as the Vice Chancellor (VC) of the country’s oldest university, Makerere University Kampala from 2012-2017. He chose to bow out upon completion of one term.
He says “I would have loved to continue but, judging the situation ahead and the politics within the recruitment procedures; I chose to end it there”.
Ssentamu is an alumnus of the same university founded in 1922 and he spent most of his working life, more than 35 years, here. He rose from academic ranks to administrator and finally to VC. Prior to his appointment as VC, Prof. Ssentamu was the Principal of the College of Business and Management Science at the university.
Meanwhile, for the last 15 years, he has served as chairman of the board at Centenary Bank, the second-largest indigenous commercial bank in the country with the majority shareholding of the Catholic Church. He has also been Caretaker VC for Ndejje University; an Anglican Church founded institution and is vice chair of the council of Muteesa 1 Royal University; a Buganda Kingdom founded institution. His role is to steer the process of enabling the university to acquire a charter.
His tenure at Makerere University was characterised by having the highest number of strikes but he says some were engineered by people within the system because of internal fights.
He cites an instance when he made a decision to suspend some of the students who led a strike but unfortunately somebody within the system overturned the decision.
He says this is why, at some point in time, he appeared not to be moved by student demands expressed through strikes.
He prefers to dwell on his biggest achievements at the great institution.
“I worked with the council to introduce a system of external service providers for food so the strikes during my reign were never about food,” he says.
The other is that under him, Makerere never went lower that the 8th position on continental ranking because research at the college of health sciences greatly improved. He also points at the improved road system and the initiation of the construction of part of the university perimeter wall.
Today, he still lectures at post graduate level at the university and also is the chairman of the governing council for Kisubi University.
He prides in being a teacher who has shared and imparted knowledge with many lovers of economics both in Uganda and other countries.
It’s a journey that he embarked on in 1977 after being retained as a special teaching assistant at Makerere University. He had just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics at the same institution for which he emerged the second best student. The same year, he started teaching on part-time basis at Caltec Academy.
He says, “That is when I started enjoying teaching and those are the years that made me famous in economics because I taught many students from different schools; especially during holidays”.
About the same time, he furthered education graduating with a Master of Arts in Economics at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. He returned to Makerere to fill-up the shortage of teaching staff at the time.
He married in 1983 but unfortunately his wife passed on seven years later leaving him with two young children. He then returned to Makerere to pursue his doctorate degree, graduating with the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), also in Economics
Prof Ddumba was born and raised in Masaka present day Lwengo district to Edward Patrick Ssentamu and Teresa Ssentamu Nakalema both deceased. He went to Villa Maria Primary School and Kabojja and Savio Junior School in Kampala and Wakiso districts, and St Mary’s college Kisubi for secondary school.