On September 9 this year, President Museveni flagged off some 200 students heading to Israel for a one-year internship.
Those students will spend that time working on various farms, where they will showcase and learn various skills ranging from agriculture to veterinary medicine.
However, behind this annual venture is Makerere University’s little-known brand and marketing manager, Issa Agaba-Mugabo.
Since he first went to Israel in 2006, Agaba has fallen in love with the Middle Eastern state, which although poorly endowed naturally, has overcome its agricultural fortunes.
“I’m a firm admirer of agriculture in Israel – I wanted to know how they do it – where they get their nutrients and water into the soil,” he says. “They have a population of eight million citizens, – yet only two per cent of these are responsible for agriculture and they are able to raise enough food for the country and some more for export.”
He is unhappy that most media coverage of Israel is about the conflict with the Palestinians, yet to him, the country’s military infrastructure is not as impressive as its agricultural gains.
His first interaction with Israel was in 2006, when as a young assistant lecturer, Unesco offered him a scholarship to study for a three-month course in Development Communication at a university in Mt Carmel in Haifa (northern Israel).
“But that trip changed my life. I saw how Israel turned a desert into an agricultural success. With their timekeeping, orderliness and work ethic, I decided I would work with Israel for the rest of my life since then, I go there every year.”
He adds that the whole Bible experience was a bonus. “Seeing the places where Jesus had walked and so on is overwhelming.”
Born in Ntungamo 37 years ago, Mugabo is the first born and only boy in a family of six. However, when he was in P7 at Lwentamu Baptist PS, he lost his parents. Despite the loss, Mugabo managed to obtain five aggregates in his primary leaving examinations and was taken up by his aunt, a teacher in Kampala.
“I had been admitted to Ntare School, but my aunt could not afford the fees,” says Mugabo.
So, he joined Old Kampala SS where he studied for six years. His good marks saw him start off in S1A – reserved for those who had excelled at PLE. He would go on to excel at O-level, earning him a scholarship to complete his A-level with History, Economics and Geography (HEG) subjects.
“I had already set my mind on working in the media. I was told that I would end up doing this combination in order to get the course I wanted,” recalls Mugabo.
However, things didn’t work out quite as planned. Instead, he missed admission to the Mass Communication course by one point in 2001, when he applied to join Makerere. He was offered Social Sciences. However, unaware that he could have joined and changed course in his first semester, he opted to join the Uganda Management Institute (UMI).
“I went to UMI for a diploma in Journalism and used my marks there to qualify for Mass Communication at Makerere, the following year.” He would graduate in March 2006.
In between studies, he was working with Uganda Television, under the supervision of former programmes controller, Irene Zikusooka, from 1999 to 2000. He later switched to Uganda Radio Network in 2005, before ending up at NTV in June 2006, as a news producer. During this time, he also became a part-time lecturer at Makerere, something that took away a lot of his free time.
“My social life died, I never attended any party or social gathering during this time, and my time was divided between NTV and Makerere,” he says.
Mugabo worked with NTV until December 2008, when he was asked to join the university fulltime. He ended up taking the position of Brand and marketing manager, where he had to report to the then vice chancellor Prof Livingstone Luboobi.
Journalism to marketing:
While getting the new job was a milestone for Mugabo, it turned into a headache, as he continued to juggle this with teaching. Around 2012, as he looked to find some peace, the Israeli ambassador visited Makerere. During the visit, the ambassador mentioned ongoing efforts to initiate a relationship with Uganda that would see students going to the Middle East to develop their skills.
“We wanted Makerere to join such an initiative and the vice chancellor, Prof Ddumba-Ssentamu asked me to follow up on the programme,” he recalls.
The initial contact had been made by the college of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, through its former principal, Prof Samuel Kyamanywa. The subsequent efforts with the Israeli programme made it difficult for Mugabo to continue with his other work, leading him to quit lecturing.
Through this initiative, he developed a relationship with Mashav – the Israel Agency for International Development – which is under the ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was the only person entrusted with the responsibility to coordinate the initiative in the region.
Consequently, over the last two years, at least 250 agriculture and veterinary students from Makerere, Kyambogo and Bukalasa Agricultural College have flown to Israel due to his efforts. Mugabo believes that the programme can best be supported if the Uganda government opens an embassy in Israel.
“Most Ugandans who go to Israel are like orphans – our nearest embassy is in Cairo so, we are always bothering the Kenyan embassy there to support us,” Mugabo says. “So many Ugandans go to Israel each year but it is surprising we still don’t have a mission there.”
He hopes that the graduates sent to Israel will soon transform the country’s agriculture sector, which heavily relies on weather for farming.
“I would love to see agriculture regarded as a profession, not something for the retired or those who have failed elsewhere,” Mugabo says.
I know it will take time but I’m optimistic. Israel is willing to share their agricultural innovations with us.”
Source : The Observer