Dr Moses Kizza Musaazi (1950- 2018)

Dr Moses Kizza Musaazi (1950- 2018)

Early this year in April 2018, Dr. Musazi was called into chair interviews of a board he led where I was on the committee too. He got to the office ahead of everyone, sat quietly in the boardroom, as he normally did. But as we exchanged greetings I could see that the over six-foot-tall gentleman had lost much of his weight and was not as agile as in the past. I had known him to walk to almost to any meetings in parts of Kampala from Makerere University where he had worked in the Faculty of Technology since 1975 as a fresh graduate Tutorial Assistant. He now seemed in pain to do the thing he loved so much

When we broke off for lunch, standing in the line waiting to be served he waved gently to me: “Have you noticed we do not have a warmer that keeps our served matooke soft. We need to come up with one such food warmer!” I nodded. Then he went on. “How come also people here are still peeling matooke using knives- by now we should have an automated slicer that can peel a dozen in seconds!” At that point, he started demonstrating with his hands the kind of object he had in mind.

Always his mind was racing with ideas for new inventions. Some years back Dr. Musazi had noticed that many girls were dropping out of school rather prematurely. He discovered that a major driver was the lack of sanitary pads. As he shared with me once in his sparse office, littered with an investor’s toolbox and various artifacts “I found most of the pads on the market were not accessible to our girls due to cost.” He set to work. Soon he came up with MakaPads towels- 75% cheaper than those on the market and produced from abundant papyrus and 95% biodegradable!

Dr. Musazi’s innovations were mainly motivated to save the environment which he cared for deeply. An area that disturbed him was how we use so much waste in putting up buildings in Uganda. For instance, the cement bricks that take up a lot of lime and water are not infinite resources. So he came up with interlocking dirt bricks which use less water and rely much on our soil. They also do not need to be fired like those on the market where one has to cut down sparse trees, build a kiln, which bellows out smoke affecting builders and the environment. It was a work of a genius as he one day demonstrated to me how these dirt bricks could hold up any structure.

From the times of Galileo, innovators have always been met with skepticism. Dr. Musazi’s inventions were not spared. Since his specialty was electrical engineering he shared with me how one accusation was over how could he come up with something, not in his field. “There was one professor from civil engineering who one day stormed here and started knocking hard my bricks with a hammer because he could not believe they could hold!” I wish you saw the look of mixed disgust and amusement on his calm face.

Yet behind his calm and soft-spoken personality was the steel resolve of the Wright brothers who came up with an airplane. He noticed that dairy farmers were losing a lot due to the poor preservation of milk and he came up with a more efficient pasteurization coolant. Seeing how we waste water here he went on to invent rainwater harvesting tanks and solar water heaters. One of his most remarkable inventions was an incinerator that turns Medical waste into ash, produce steam for electricity and sterile water. In his late sixties, he was young at heart and it seemed often like he was just starting out.

Initially ignored at last the world came to know and recognize this unassuming man whom you could easily pass as he walked about Kampala to various construction sites. For over three decades he lived in a simple townhouse on Makerere hill where he raised his five children with his wife Sarah. Finally, he received numerous local and Global awards like the President’s support to Scientists of $350,000. Most of those proceeds were poured back into his company Technology for the Future.

Yet Dr Musazi was more than a scientist. He was too a deeply civic-minded person and his steady presence was always felt on many boards of parastatals where he sat. Somewhere around 1995, he came into contact with an organization that had been founded to advocate against torture. Uganda was coming out of a ghastly period of gross human rights abuse and many were those who had been tortured for their political views. It irked him the things humans could do to each other to suppress those who do not share the same views. But then this organization had run into problems arising from mismanagement. International funding had been suspended. Dr. Musaazi was approached and asked by a Dutch funder to help rebuild Africa Center for Torture Victims ( ACTV). And so he did. At no point under his leadership was this organization ever queried on account of being mismanaged. Today it is one of the most prominent voices against torture in Uganda.

I must here add that on the board he chaired was also another spirited civic-minded lady. Dr. Margaret Mungerera, the psychiatrist. They were quite an act to see them artfully carry out their voluntary work. Unfortunately, both have fallen at the peak of their lives due to cruel cancer.

Now, aside from his family, if there was a thing that moved Dr. Musazi most, it was the school that he attended as a young man and shaped much of his values- Kings College Budo. In fact, Dr. Musazi never left Budo. Born to a bus driver and mother who passed on early in his infancy he had come to Budo, not from a privileged family. The story is told about how he traveled on a bicycle from Masaka with school fees for just one term. In the end, he could not afford to travel back home. As luck would have it one of the teachers adopted him to stay behind as a shamba boy. This is how he came to complete his education culminating with a PhD in Electrical Engineering from Imperial College, UK.

In appreciation of what Budo did for him, Dr. Musaazi would pay the school fees of many hard-up kids right from S1 to S6. (At one point he was supporting over a dozen kids in his neighborhood with school fees.) He also served on the Old Budonian Association representing his years and at the last Annual General Meeting as always, though now a bit frail, he attended and jovially sat through all the proceedings chatting with different generations of Budonians.

Because most of his innovations were radical and run against better-established outfits like Procter and Gamble they did not get as much traction. The MakPads would have died if UNHCR had not spotted their ingenuity and bankrolled them. The interlocking dirt bricks have never received as much attention as they deserve. It would now be a far greater loss that he has gone to see all his ideas are left to die. I, therefore, pray that in honoring this great man and his service some of his inventions are taken up by the government of Uganda or Makerere University and rolled out for posterity.

A family man, husband, father to a nation of children, philanthropist, teacher, mentor, environmentalist, entrepreneur, the inventor has left at an hour you wished he could still have lingered and given us more. When he started feeling unwell he walked up and down Kampala clinics and hospitals to discover what was wrong. The initial diagnosis could not point to the cause of his rapidly declining health. In fact, as once he shared with me the doctor’s first thought he had TB. By the time it was discerned it was lung cancer, the bloody monster had wickedly spread. But as with him, he took the news stoically and with a gracious optimistic smile. He even wanted to go for radical treatment in the US till it was decided against that option for no much could be done then.

I chatted with him about a month ago and there was not a shade of self-pity. His spirits remained buoyed, his fertile mind exploring ideas to better the earth. He will be buried today September 20th, 2018 not far from where his parents who left him young are resting.

There has gone a simple man whose contribution to his old nation of Buganda, the troubled country of Uganda, and the world he graced would long outlive him. He truly lived the Budo motto which he carried with him wherever he went shining on his minivan: “Gakyali Mabala! “So little done! So much to do.” Now RIP!

1 Comment

  1. I love your writing. Can you also write on people whose works need recognition before they pass on?

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