A tribute to the late Dr Moses Kizza Musaazi
His goal as an engineer was to serve those who faced challenges he deemed unnecessary. His mentorship of young entrepreneurs centred on social impact, and he dedicated himself to inspiring, teaching and invigorating the future engineers of Africa to use their skills for good. Among his many accolades, Dr Moses Musaazi was also a founding judge on the Africa Prize.
The phrase is familiar to Dr Moses Musaazi's students. It was the first thing you saw on his office door and in his Toyota minivan, and the motto by which he seemed to live his life.
"So little done. So much more to do."
Described as the man who couldn't stop innovating, Dr Musaazi's insatiable drive for problem-solving not only led to a wealth of innovations – many of which are still in use - but it also changed the way many think about engineering.
"He always told us he despised an engineer who went into the field with a long-sleeved shirt and a tie," said former student and Africa Prize alumnus Edmand Aijuka. He taught his students that engineering exists to serve those in need – a service of solutions.
He created, MakaPads, his most famous innovation, when he found out female students missed classes because of menstruation. The discovery came after a sanitary pad was thrown at him as a stunt in a presentation, and Dr Musaazi took it to heart. Neither the taboo around the topic nor the fact that this was not a typical engineering problem would stop him.
MakaPads, created from the widely accessible papyrus plant, quickly gained popularity. To manufacture them locally, he turned it into a business franchise for unemployed women. Working with the UNHCR through his company Technology for Tomorrow, he trained refugees to manufacture MakaPads, and bought them back.
He then discovered schoolgirls weren't using the pads because they were ashamed to dispose of them in front of their classmates – and there are no special bins for feminine hygiene products at most schools.
So Dr Musaazi solved the next problem. He designed an incinerator that would be cheap to build and fits into a bathroom to safely burn biowaste.
But the schools didn't build them – building materials are expensive - and this was an unnecessary expense. When construction did take place, it was also at a significant environmental cost – using firewood to cure bricks, and large amounts of water and cement.
Dr Musaazi modified another of his innovations: a nearly cement-free brick which can be cast by users with little experience, and serve as a cost-effective building material that uses soil and other ingredients from the surroundings.
Now, schools and homes are built all over Uganda with his interlocking soil bricks, and brickmaking has become an alternative revenue stream for schools.
Solving problems from beginning to end
"I think things through from beginning to end," he once told journalist Leigh Buchanan. "When people need this, they will also need that … and to waste something is a catastrophe. If I dig a pit latrine, I should be able to use the dirt to make bricks. If I build a water tank, why not make it … so the person can sell excess water and have an income?"
His workspace, the Technology Development and Transfer Centre at Makerere University, reflects his engineering philosophy. Built with those same bricks, the Centre is self-sufficient and filled to the brim with the holistic problem-solving that characterised Dr Musaazi's work.
An inspiration to many
A senior lecturer at the University's College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology (CEDAT) with a Doctorate from Imperial College, London, Dr Musaazi supported a dozen children and young adults with school fees and other costs. He mentored entrepreneurs, served as a judge on the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, was a member of the Empowering People Network and the recipient of various awards and accolades for engineering, innovation, and social entrepreneurship.
A father of four and devoted husband, his innovative spirit – and the idea of serving others with your work – was passed to his children.
"My father was thought by many to be a genius," writes his son Paul Kimera in a yet unpublished book about his father. "I never once heard him use the word genius in reference to himself or anyone. Nor did I feel he thought he was special or different. He tried to infuse within us and within others that worked with him the belief that we had the ability to solve complex challenges. He believed in learning by doing."
Another of his mottos continues to inspire his former students: "Oturo twakumakya y' ensibiko yobwavu'," - The sweet morning sleep is the anchor for poverty.
Professor Barnabas Nawangwe, the Vice Chancellor of Makerere University, describes Dr Musaazi as "one of Mak (Makerere)'s most illustrious academics."
He was, in the words of former student Steven Alaali, "The greatest practical engineer of our generation. Great mind, but humble, I am proud to have been taught and supervised by this genius.”
"A brilliant innovator and engineer, Dr Musaazi designs products for social impact using an entrepreneurial spirit that enables him to bring them to scale," wrote journalist Leigh Buchanan. "The resulting products and processes he uses improve life for ordinary people. Through his work, Dr Musaazi has received international acclaim; however, in my view, the most impressive thing about Professor is his commitment to students and guiding the next generation of scholars in Uganda."