Tuesday,October 20,2020 00:24 AM

Sun sets on Uganda’s first black engineer

By Vision Reporter

Added 11th June 2008 03:00 AM

DUTY is when you go to work at 8:00am, leave at 5:00pm and always wait to be supervised. Dedication is when you wake up at 3:00am to respond to an emergency at work.

DUTY is when you go to work at 8:00am, leave at 5:00pm and always wait to be supervised. Dedication is when you wake up at 3:00am to respond to an emergency at work.

By Stephen Ssenkaaba

DUTY is when you go to work at 8:00am, leave at 5:00pm and always wait to be supervised. Dedication is when you wake up at 3:00am to respond to an emergency at work.

Most people have the former; a few have the latter; rarely do people possess both attributes.

The late Alfred Luba combined these qualities—he had an impeccable sense of duty and selfless dedication to work. That is probably why Uganda’s first black city engineer remained a much sought-after professional many years after his retirement.

Luba quietly passed away on Sunday, May 25, at his home in Gwafu, Seeta. His wife, Lucy Luba, says despite the acute backache which he had been grappling with for about a year, Luba had been in stable condition before “lying stiff and still” on his bed in the living room that fateful day.

“We had just had breakfast that morning and I was about to set off to the family country home in Iganga,” recalls Lucy. But before she could leave, her husband was dead. “I was passing by the living room when I noticed him lying on his bed in an unusual posture. When my daughter went over to check, Alfred’s body was stiff and cold,” she recounts.

That closed the earthly chapter of a man who presided over the construction of one of Kampala’s most illustrious buildings. Taking over from the last white colonial officers, Luba masterminded the construction of the magnificent City Hall, the seat of Kampala City Council (KCC).

Luba started his engineering career in 1953 as an engineering assistant, working his way to the top. He served as a graduate engineer with Edinburgh Corporation, a UK-based construction firm between 1959 and 1962 before becoming an executive engineer with the Ministry of Works in Uganda.

After a brief stint as deputy city engineer for KCC in 1964, Luba was appointed city engineer that same year, becoming the first African to assume this position. As city engineer, Luba presided over the successful upgrading of much of the capital city’s infrastructure.

“He ensured proper maintenance of street lights in the city and put in place measures for garbage disposal through zonal collection centres,” says Jabby Mukwaya Kironde, a KCC technician who, for ten years , served under Luba’s supervision.

Kironde adds that it was under Luba’s term as city engineer that roads such as Nile Avenue were constructed. “Many Kampala streets and plots were clearly marked and named in his era,” he says. Various health centres and estates in Naguru and Nakawa also sprang up under Luba’s tenure.

In 1973, Luba became the managing director of Marathon Engineering, the company that built Kinyara Sugar Factory and constructed the Kayunga-Bbale Road in Mukono. He served in this position until 1979 when he became chief engineer in the Ministry of Local Government until 1981.

Luba also had stints as general manager at the National Housing and Construction Corporation and with Roughton International, a British engineering consultancy firm from 1995 to 1996.

Throughout his career, Luba stood out for his unwavering dedication to work.

“One time he braved a heavy downpour and drove from his house in Luzira to my home in Ntinda at 3:00am,” recounts Kironde. He wanted us to go and check on the sewerage system which he feared might have succumbed to the heavy rains.”

They drove to the station and, just as Luba had suspected, found the system had given way. At that late hour, they fixed it.

Despite his position, Luba was concerned about the welfare of those in lower positions.“At work, he always ensured that his staff had the necessary materials to do their jobs,” remarked one of Luba’s junior staff.

His contribution was not limited to developing physical infrastructure but also strong and professional manpower. A number of leading engineers, architects and technicians in Kampala today were groomed by Luba. Engineer J.B. Walusimbi, (Buganda’s Katikkiro), as well as leading architects such as Ssentoogo, of Sentoogo & Partners, who is behind construction of Statistics house and the former UCB towers are some of the fruits of Luba’s mentoring efforts.

But his contributions towards development stretched far beyond the confines of his profession.

“He contributed tremendously to the development of Busoga region,” says Edward Baliddawa, the MP for Kigulu North, the deceased’s home area. Baliddawa says Luba personally contributed to the construction of present-day Bugembe Cathedral in Jinja and also financed the construction of a church in his birth place of Kabira, Nabitende in Iganga.

Luba’s gift of always looking out for others and being down-to-earth is another trait that will remain engraved on the memories of those whose lives he touched.
“I will always remember him for his big heart. He helped so many people and always cared for his relatives,” says Rtd Col. Chris Mudoola, a cousin.

Lucy remembers her husband as a modest man who, despite his intelligence and prominence, led a modest lifestyle.

Born on September 12, 1928 in Nabitende sub-county, Iganga, Luba attended Namilyango Junior School from1936 to 1939. He was one of the first three engineers produced by Busoga College Mwiri, which he attended between 1940 and 1947. He also attended PWD Engineering School between 1948 and 1952, Heriot Watt University from 1955 to 1959; and Edinburgh College in the UK. He was a registered member of various engineering bodies in Uganda and also a council member of Makerere and Nairobi universities.

Luba lived a distinguished life. In the midst of much of the shoddy construction being undertaken these days, this country will always look back with nostalgia at the good old days of exemplary professionals like him.

Sun sets on Uganda’s first black engineer

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