I strove to create my own identity, legacy in life
Publish Date: Jun 15, 2012
Kampala Secondary School
She owns big schools in the country and is a member of Kwagalana Group
She rose to prominence as Kampala City’s first woman mayor in 1998, following the detention of the then mayor, Nasser Sebaggala, on fraud charges in the US
Sunday, 29 January 2012 20:50
Nkonge is a business woman (she owns six schools), a board member at the National Forestry Authority (NFA), a senior presidential advisor on land matters and a member of the International Confederation of Principals (a body that brings school owners together).
She has also previously lectured at Makerere University and Kampala International University. Why then would she want further academic accolades?
“As a school proprietor, I thought a PhD would be good value addition,” Dr Nkonge says.
Yet even then, Nkonge did not think she had what it takes to earn a doctorate.
“Because of my political background, I did not think my brain would be up to academic challenges,” she says.
But Dr James Nkaata of Uganda Management Institute thought otherwise. He told her that she is brilliant and could manage.
“People who have not sat down to talk to Sarah cannot believe it but she is a very intelligent woman. Having engaged her in lucid talk, I realized her potential and encouraged her to study for a PhD,” Dr Nkaata said.
“Besides, she is a teacher and teachers are always learning. She is also rational in her arguments and these are good qualities for a PhD candidate.”
Dr Nkonge was perhaps unaware of these attributes because she delayed paying for her first semester’s tuition.
“I kept my money. I didn’t want to waste it in case I dropped out of school”.
The first three months of school were not easy.
“I used to wear dark classes and take naps,” she reveals.
While her lecturers let this behavior pass, they did not spare her on the occasions she came late to class.
“I used to have to report to office before running for the 8 a.m class and this would make me late. On the occasions I would turn up late, lecturers would tell me to choose. It was either politics or school”.
“Some people feared that Sarah would earn her PhD through politics. She disproved them. Unlike other people who were thought to be intelligent, she did not get a single retake,” Dr Nkaata says.
“Because I was working, travelling a lot and attending the occasional party, people wonder when I ever read but I worked so hard. When my driver would be taking me somewhere, I would read. If I was flying, my hand luggage would be heaps of books. When I visited my sisters abroad, I would take out my books and read as soon as they left the house,” Nkonge says.
After five years of study, she was ready to graduate. But not before having to defend her proposal. And those academics she faced were like “lions that had come to eat me”.
“One informed me that the subject I proposed to research on had been researched on before. I wasn’t going to make any new additions.
I told him that empirical evidence keeps being added by newer researchers,” she responded.
A tough woman by any standards, Dr Nkonge was frightened by the ordeal of defending the proposal. During the 30-minute interval she waited for them to give their verdict (on whether she had passed or not), she visited the toilet 15 times.
“I counted them,” she swears. But still how did she manage? She delegated.
“At home, I told my children to drop their siblings at school and visit them. At work, I would talk to my co-workers and tell them, look, I have this exam, please help me do this and this and they helped”.
She points out that it is important to trust one’s delegate and this makes concentrating on school easier.
“Mommy is an all rounder. She could juggle school, work and home,” daughter Daphne Muwonge Kisuze said.
Nkonge is grateful to her lecturers Drs Nema Abooki, Beatrice Sekabembe, Maria Balifayo and Nkaata for encouraging her.
“I dropped out of school for two years after my husband died but they kept calling me asking that I go back to school,” she says.
Now with the PhD, Nkonge plans to undertake consultancy work and publish scholarly articles.