My father sold his house so I could go to school

Monday, 21 August 2017
Justus Lyatuu


In 1984, Paul Muyinda completed his P7 from Buswale primary school in present-day Namayingo district.

Being from a modest family, there was talk of sending him to senior one, but that talk was restrained by the reality that there was no money to pay his tuition there. Then his father, Augustine Nemwe, did the unthinkable.

He sold the iron sheets from their 20-iron-sheet mud-and-wattle house to a neighbourhood trader, only identified as Amuli, for Shs 12,000 and the family relocated to a grass-thatched house nearby.

“With that money, I paid fees for one year [senior one] at Jinja College School … it is an investment that he has never regretted,” says a beaming Dr Paul Muyinda Birevu.

Dr Paul Muyinda Birevu

Dr Birevu is now deputy principal of the college of Education and External Studies at Makerere University.

But before he arrived at Makerere University, it was a very different environment growing up in the 1970s.

“I only took my first ever picture (a passport photograph) when we sat for P7,” he recalls. “We were studying without uniforms; we walked to school barefooted,” And yet, he scored aggregate six. “Up to now our performance has never been repeated at Buswale PS, which is now under UPE.”

And his family was invested in trade, something he could have resorted to, had it not been his father’s determination.

“My older brother had a shop … I used to help by selling in his shop since I was good in mathematics,” Muyinda recalls.

“But my father had stopped in primary two; he was a man who was interested in his children going to school. If you faked sickness, you better stay in bed the whole day; otherwise, this idea of turning up later in the day to go and play, would cause you problems.”

Muyinda was a keen student, who won the admiration of his head teacher, Geoffrey Wandera, now a tutor at Busoho PTC in Tororo.    

“If you did well in exams, he would read out your name at the assembly and that really inspired me,” Muyinda said.

That inspiration saw him excel all the way to P7 and eventually to Jinja College School.

“We did not require uniform until senior two when the head teacher, Ogutti Bichachi, insisted that we wear some form of uniform and shoes,” he said.

“Those like us who did not have shoes entered class but left their slippers outside.”

That uniform included a white shirt and grey trousers.

“My people looked for someone with old shoes and they sent them to me in senior two,” she said.

With his father’s house gone, Muyinda’s older brother took over the burden of paying his tuition.

“I had to work very hard so as not to drain my brothers’ business,” he says. And thus he started a study group that included former classmates like Dr Emmanuel Kayiira Tenywa (now with the World Health Organisation, Dr Sam Nuliya, now resident in Botswana and many others.

And this study group was inspired by common hardships.

“[Being from a rural area], I found people here playing new games like volleyball and basketball, which we did not know,” he says. “Every time, we blundered, they would abuse us; so, I felt discouraged because did not know the rules, and decided to concentrate on studies.”

The discussion group paid off well, and he performed well at O-level, scoring 16 points in eight subjects. Ultimately, the lasting impact has been to drive Muyinda away from sports.

“In my free time now, I jog around Mandela stadium in Namboole; otherwise, I only cheer the Uganda Cranes when they play.”

From Jinja College, Muyinda joined St Peter’s College Tororo for his A-levels in 1989, where he studied Mathematics, Physics and Economics.

“All along, my father was extremely happy with my progress, although the villagers kept laughing at him for selling his house to take a child to school,” he said.

Ultimately, he passed well enough to be admitted to Makerere University for bachelor of Statistics.

“It was an exciting time, our class was competitive and we had needy students’ issues in the guild politics at that time, leading to the election of Charles Rwomushana as our leader.


Following his graduation in 1994, Muyinda sought various jobs as computer expert.

“For us, we have grown up with computers as they evolved from using such mundane applications as DOS, Windows 90 and so on up to now,” he remarks.

His first job was with a computer training centre in Wandegeya called Computer Training Centre and Consultancy Services, where he trained in various computer applications, like Wordperfect (precursor to Microsoft Word) and others. From here, he was in such demand, he literally spent the next five years, hopping from one job to another.

Ultimately, an opportunity came through for a Master's degree in Computer Science in China in 1998.

“The first thing I did when I returned was to rebuild my father’s house, this time as a permanent building with solar power, in the village to repay his faith in me,” he said.

After going through the normal application procedures, managed by the ministry of Education, then located at Crested Towers, he secured the scholarship and gained admission to Shanghai University.

“It was my first time on an airplane – a very long distance of 17 hours. We arrived in Beijing and were taken to a language institute where all foreign students were initiated,” he recalls.

“My trip to Shanghai University was also my first time to sit in a train … when we arrived, we were taken to the dorms which I thought were hotels – equipped with everything including telephone services.”

He completed his degree in two years and returned to secure lucrative jobs. “Being a computer expert was marketable, the only one with such skills then was Dr Ham Mulira in 1998,” he recalls.

He would work with several firms including Computer Point, a budding Nile bank and later Makerere University, where he set up the first computer network, in the school of distance learning.

“When I hear people say there is money in Makerere, they don’t know that we made the real money then,” he says. “There was so much opportunity then. We could earn Shs 100,000 per hour and one could teach for eight hours [Shs 800,000 per day].”

But as he started losing interest in systems work, it was Waswa Balunywa, current principal of Makerere University Business School, who eventually helped Muyinda settle into academia.

“Together with a colleague called Xavier Sentamu, we were coopted as assistant lecturers and soon I secured admission to do a PhD at Makerere in 2003,” he explains.

Muyinda completed his Phd in 2010, and since then it has been an upward journey.

“I got my PhD, actually I graduated on Friday and Monday I was made head of department at distance education [in Makerere]” he recalls. He held that position until 2014, when he was earmarked to replace Prof George Openjuru as dean of school of open and distance learning. Prof Openjuru will soon become vice chancellor of Gulu University.

“I was supposed to be there for four years but this position of deputy principal for the college of Education and External Studies fell vacant [when Dr Anthony Mugagga opted not to renew his mandate]; so, I was appointed.”

He is presently in charge of a $3 million (about Shs 10bn) project that will see the university’s e-learning capacity expanded dramatically.

“In the next 10 years, all education is going to be online; so, students can choose to study online,” he predicts. “Even lecturers who don’t want to teach online will be forced to follow their students there. We are a university that listens to students; so, such lecturers will have to respond to reality or lose their positions.”

Muyinda says his biggest failing is being a workaholic. “I don’t tolerate mediocrity and laziness … I leave my office around 10pm,” he admits. “Combining academics with administration is quite difficult and brings with it a heavy price to pay.”

Muyinda has since become an associate professor and lecturer, and hopes to publish more so he can complete the transition to full professorship in two years.

Married to Florence Kutesa Muyinda with five children, he loves listening to 1980s South African music in his down time. “It reminds me of the tough times at Jinja College when I had no shoes,” he said.

And he does not stop there. He has reached out to several rural primary schools.

“During our outreaches, I tell them about my story and convince them that they can make it,” he says.

He is also patron of Nadimusa (Namayingo District Makerere University Students Association), through which he encourages students from his home area to read hard.