Obituaries

A tribute to Professor Joseph Kasumba Ssewanyana (1955 – 2020), a giant academician and leader

In our local language, we say “those who know, do not go around telling everyone how much they know.” A very principled and clearheaded man, Prof Joseph Kasumba Ssewanyana was a down to earth person who spoke through action. An accomplished academician and executive, he never allowed his achievements to go over his head. He was always calm, humble and a true servant of God.

On 25th March 2020, Professor Joseph Ssewanyana went to be with the Lord. He was born on February 28, 1955. He is survived by his wife, Dr. Sarah Ssewanyana, and six children. And many relatives, colleagues, and students he has, directly and indirectly, mentored throughout his illustrious career.

Professor Joseph never entertained shortcuts in life. He is one of the few people I know with a clear track record, see full cv.  Starting as a Statistician at the Ministry of Industry and Technology, Uganda he rose through the ranks over the years, serving in different capacities including stints in Canada and Australia before returning to Uganda as Information Technology Specialist under a Nutrition and Early Childhood Development project with the Ministry of Health, and later as Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Computing and IT, Makerere University. He had a passion for Business Information Technology, Strategy, and Leadership.

And his career choice paid off.

He served as Chairman University Council at Uganda Technology And Management University (UTAMU) from 2012 to 2016, and at the time of his death was Chairman IT Strategy Board Committee at Centenary Rural Development Bank and Member CEO Summit Think Tank. He held many other positions at senior levels in different organizations. A holder of a Ph.D. in Business Administration (ICT) from Washington International University and an MBA from Hull University, UK, Joseph was highly exposed and skilled. The country has lost a great professional.

As part of the requirements for the Master of Business Administration award of Makerere University, I wrote a thesis in 2007 on Cyber Security in Uganda, a case study of digital delivery channels. At the time, every bank was into Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) where a lot of money was being invested as a competitive advantage. Few financial institutions were thinking about Interswitch that enables ATM infrastructure sharing, mobile, and internet banking as well as agency banking. These were things that looked far away in the future. My research was into the security (confidentiality, integrity, and availability) of various delivery channels with an emphasis on ATM and their relationship to financial inclusion. At the time, Diebold, one of the leading ATM manufacturers, had published white papers concerning standalone ATMs that would handle all backend banking processes removing the need for tellers.

I asked around my class for names of professors who would be of help as my supervisor. Different people told me to work with Professor Joseph Ssewanyana. “He loves technology and is the best professor for your topic. If he accepts, you are in safe hands. Defending your research shall not be difficult”, one senior lecturer told me.

I obtained his mobile phone and called. He gave me an appointment instantly. On the D-day, I found he was prepared for me. He made it clear that “I don’t like people who start things they are not ready to see through.” I told him I finish what I start. He said fine, “what is your topic.” I had several topics in mind, which upon asking me a few questions, it was clear I was not ready. His guidance helped me settle on the topic for my thesis. His guidance was simple: find a topic that you have practical experience, is topical and there is enough literature to review. That way you have ‘good’ research questions.

Anyone who has done an MBA knows that it is the thesis that earns one a degree. Lots of learning takes place. And as a consultant, I realize why having the best research supervisor is a blessing. You not only learn how to research, collect data and analyze it, you learn to listen. You get to realize that no one is too good to be improved. Simply put, you get humbled. And boy, I was humbled.

At the onset, Professor Joseph asked about my thesis timelines and set for milestones I had to meet. Each meeting was a hot one, for he reviewed my work, asked questions and sent me back to do better.  The experience made me appreciate the importance of a mentor in one’s life. I am sure, if it was not for Professor Joseph, I would not have graduated in time.

And there are so many other people Professor Joseph supported academically. They say teaching is the best job for it opens the future of so many people. I thank you Professor Joseph Ssewanyana for the mentorship.

A senior lecturer (2002-2014) at Makerere University Business School, Professor Joseph was the brain behind the establishment of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering in 2003 at MUBS. He died as an Associate Prof with MUBS since 2014. He not only taught so many students, he mentored many lecturers and administrators not only at MUBS but in the country. His has been a call of planting seeds of knowledge through training and leadership.

Professor Joseph Ssewanyana was a staunch Catholic and a firm believer in divine mercy.  Around the early half of 2019, Professor felt weak. But he continued working and serving his God in different capacities. In October 2019, he was diagnosed with a liver illness that doctors said needed liver transplant – but nothing much to worry about, he was assured.

He was referred to India for specialized treatment. In early December, he traveled with the wife to India. While there, the news changed his life tremendously, but he remained calm. He had done his life’s journey. He was told that he had cancer of the liver at stage 4, meaning that it was too advanced for treatment. It was very bad news to hear while in a foreign land considering that the Professor always did the recommended annual health screening and self-care. Our local health systems failed to diagnose cancer at early stages. Accordingly, doctors in India advised him to return and wait. He celebrated his last Christmas and birthday with the family.

Professor attended board meetings at Centenary bank normally on Tuesday and Wednesday. However, on the night of Friday 20th March 2020, he was admitted to Nakasero hospital. On 25th March 2020, he succumbed to liver cancer. When the liver is not functioning well, the blood supply to the rest of the blood is compromised.

The late was laid to rest in his ancestral home in Kyerima village, Mubende district with an honor of a full sacrifice of the mass – the biggest prayer of all. A staunch Catholic, Professor Joseph Ssewanyana will be dearly missed by all the Parishioners at St. Mbaga Tuzinde Catholic Church, Kiwatule where he always attended the Sunday mass, and those of Kiyinda Mityana Catholic Diocese where he actively participated in Church activities.

His untimely death at the peak of the #coronavirus pandemic means that so many friends and family missed the opportunity to pay last respects. All we can do is to pray for his soul to Rest in Eternal Peace and pray to God to give strength to family and friends especially Dr. Sarah Ssewanyana who now has to carry the late’s legacy forward.

God gives and He takes. May you observe a minute of silence and pray for the soul of Professor Joseph Kasumba Ssewanyana.

Copyright Mustapha B Mugisa, 2020. All rights reserved.

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