KAMPALA – For those who may not be in the academic circles, you may not be very much in the know that we have lost an icon, a mentor and a trailblazer! Prof.Noble Ephraim Banadda(46) born in Kampala in 1975 but raised in Kabale south western Uganda succumbed to COVID-19 on 1st July 2021.According to my last physical interaction with him in March 2021, Banadda’s parents(a Muganda father and a mukiiga mother for reasons still unknown to him decided that all their children including himself should pursue their early childhood education from Kabale. With all his siblings they had to leave their parents in Kampala, pack their bags and head for Kabale to pursue their education dream. They were put under the care of their aunt in Kabale. Banadda, a Muganda-Rukiiga fluent speaker, went to Kigezi lower primary school and proceeded to Kigezi High School where he completed his O and A level. He was admitted to Sokoine University of Agriculture, in Morogoro, Tanzania, and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Food Science and Technology. He obtained a scholarship to pursue a Master of Science degree in Process Engineering and there after a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Chemical Engineering both from the Catholic University of Leuven, in Belgium. In 2007 Prof. Banadda was a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of technology, USA. In history, Prof. Banadda remains the first sub-Saharan African person to graduate with a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the Catholic University of Leuven-Belgium.
In 2007 while in my final engineering year at Makerere University, Prof. Banadda was introduced to our class by then our head of department Prof. Levi Kasisira (RIP) as our lecturer for process engineering. Humble young man, Prof. Bannadda became a mentor to many of us especially with his motivating statements like you can be a doctor before 30 years of age. Majority of us were in our early 20s and well knowing that most masters degrees then took 2-3years and PhD 4-6 years, this looked like a dream impossible. All PhD holders we knew then were those old gurus with accomplished academic standards and if I remember well, we had one or two PhD holders at the then department of Agricultural Engineering including our head then, Prof Levi Kasisira (RIP) who also passed on last month. Prof. Banadda had attained his PhD at 31 years becoming one of the youngest PhD holders at Makerere University. We later connected more after learning that I also originated from Kabale, though he never told me of his Kabale story and experience until March 2021.
In 2011, we met again and connected more when he became the director of production systems at the Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI) where I had secured my first engineering job shortly after my graduation in 2008. In 2012 Prof. Banadda gave me the strongest handshake and blessing of the time as far as I remember when I resigned my job as energy Systems engineer to pursue private consultancy career in the energy sector.
During his tenure, through the business incubation programme of the Uganda Industrial Research Institute, Prof Banadda was one of the brains that nurtured and supported ORIBAGS Innovations Ltd -abio-waste recycling and packaging company co-founded with my spouse Rusia Orikiriza.
We kept a virtual close touch even when he left UIRI and returned to Makerere to head the Department of Agricultural and biosystems Engineering . Prof. Banadda became a full professor in 2012 at 37 years of age, becoming one of the youngest people in the history of Makerere university to attain full professorship. Through project consultations and advisory services, we kept a close touch.
Despite having been together for all these years, its only in 2021, that Prof.Banadda gave me a moving narration about his life that brought us much closer but also left me very much challenged. In the morning of 18th March 2021, I gave a normal call to Dr. Banadda as I used to address him and jokingly after our business discussion, I told him that I was still surprised how a Seventh Day Adventist like him had to win a popal award from Pope Francis. And his response was simple; “Davis you are a believer and you need to know that God does wonders.” I still wondered how God did wonders for him but we left it at that. In 2018, Prof. Banadda became the first African recipient of the Pius XI Golden Medal Award for scientific excellence since it was first established by Pope John XXIII in 1961. The award was awarded to Prof. Banadda in presence of his wife Dr. Beatrice Banadda by Pope Francis at the Vatican on November 12th 2018. We agreed to meet on 30th March 2021 to catch up on a project we were developing.
First forward on 30th March 2021, I drive directly to the Makerere University school of Food Technology,Nuntrition and Biosystems Engineering, where Prof.Banadda’s office is and where we used to meet. While still in the packing I gave him a call and softly he told me that I had gone to a wrong place. “Davis please come to the African Institute for Capacity development near the school of computer science. These days because of COVID, I rarely sit there, I have a bigger office here to ensure that I observe social distancing.” Said Prof.Banadda. I drive to AICAD and I enter Banadda’s office with my mask on and we exchange pleasantries and very fast before anything he asked me to sanitize and take a sit. We chatted about COVID situation in the country and he briefed me how he had already taken his first AstraZeneca Covid vaccine jab and was now waiting for the second doze. Prof.Banadda was a royal cadre and I believe he was among the first essential workers at Makerere University to get vaccinated. He continued “By the way you asked me about the Pope’s Golden medal award and before anything else I need to tell you how this happened. So, he narrates the story how on a one Saturday afternoon while he was driving from his farm, he gets a strange call from un known foreign number. The caller introduces himself as a cardinal from the Vatican and indicated was calling on behalf of His Holiness Pope Francis to notify him of his selection by the Pope as the 2018 winner of the Popal award. Surprised by the call moreover from Pope Francis and mistaking him to be a conman Prof. Banadda responded, “So you Conman, you think am a catholic and you want to con me?”. Prof. Banadda decided to park his vehicle on the roadside and first assure the caller. The caller quickly responded that he expected that exact response from him and went ahead to tell him that the Pope was inviting him to the Vatican to receive his award. And he ended the call by directing him to the Italian Embassy in Kampala for further information. Prof. Banadda narrated to me that when the caller referred him to the Italian Embassy, his heart skipped and may be thought it could be true. But still remained an illusion of confused thoughts because he is not a catholic, has never been any closer to the Pope and has even never applied for any popal award.
Prof Banadda reaches home narrates the matter to his wife and they leave it to pass. They all believed it was a misdirected call. Monday morning on the way to work, Prof.Banadda decided to pass by the Italian Embassy to just check and report the incidence. At the reception he introduces himself and before he could start to narrate his ordeal, he realizes everybody turn attention to him and the receptionist quickly apologizes for keeping him late and tells him; “Sir the Ambassador is waiting for you, please follow me.” He was led to the Ambassador’s office who welcomed him and immediately congratulated him for winning the Popal Golden award and handed to him an invitation letter from the Pope. Prof.Banadda could not believe what was in front of him. The ambassador briefed him further that the embassy will be processing for him a ticket together with his spouse and they needed to be in the Vatican first week of November. At this moment what appeared to be a dream became a reality. Although the letter did not explain how he was selected a winner, it was signed by the Pope and Prof.Banadda had to believe it was real.
On Thursday 8th November 2018, Prof.Banadda together with his wife, headed for the Vatican and they were surprised by the honour they received at the airport by the Holy See convoy. They were driven VIP direct to Vatican Palace, set up in the VIP guest house and were briefed that the Pope would meet them either Sunday or Monday. It meant they had about 3 days of holiday in Vatican. They were honored to have holy mass as special guests for the Pope in St. Peters Basilica with Pope Francis. They were invited the following day amidist tight security to the Pope’s office to receive the award. Prof. Banadda was surprised when the Pope shook his hand and told him that he had read his CV and believed he was the best scientist in Africa who had conducted scientific research that gave great attention to the values and fundamental goods that are at the basis of the relationship between people, society and science. Prof.Banadda received his golden Medal award and returned to Uganda. I froze and he told me this is what he meant when he told me that God does wonders.
I quickly asked him if he has ever shared his moving story in public forum and he acknowledged to have not. I was quick to invite him to our Kigezi Kampala Catholic Residents Association (KKCRA) community 3rd Sunday gathering at Namugongo. After going through the calendar schedule, we agreed Sunday 18th April 2021 to host him as a guest speaker by our KKCRA community. Prof.Banadda had this to tell me. “Davis I will tell you why I will honour your request. Problably this is something which I have never shared with you and which you probably do not know.” narrated Prof.Banadda. “Am who am because of the Catholic Church. I owe most of my formation and education to the Catholic Church.Although am a seventh day Adventist, I got my masters and PhD scholarship at the Catholic University of Leuven from the Catholic Church. It’s now my time to give back to the Catholic Church that nurtured me.” He narrated to me how the organization and catholic practices at the Catholic University of Leuven completely changed his behavior and approach to life. It was only at this meeting that he revealed to me that his actual name in Rukiiga/Runyankole is “Baryagaruka” literally translated as “They will come back” which is the direct translation of Banadda. All along I had actually never realsied that Banadda was a Luganda name and was always confused about the origin and meaning of his names Noble Banadda as he rarely used the name Ephraim.
Unfortunately, our plans did not materialize to meet on 18th April 2021 as he was invited to an emergency meeting by the new Archbishop of Kampala. Prof. Banadda had recently been appointed by the late Archibishop Cyprian Lwanga to lead as a technical advisor for the establishment of a new Catholic University in Uganda. We agreed that we reschedule and given his busy calendar, we agreed on Sunday 20th June 2021 to host him again at our KKCRA 3rd Sunday Community gathering at Namugongo. Unfortunately, COVID-19 came in full swing and lock down set in and death has now struck. What a lost opportunity!. I know he has been doing well lately and perfoming his chores perfectly including observing all SOPs and guidelines to my best of knowledge until this COVID monster attacked him severely forcing him to be admitted. I was disturbed to hear news of his demise amidst the current crisis. COVID-19 has no friend. Although he has not lived to see all the fruits of his hard labor and share his transformation story with all of us as we had planned, I felt this is something that shouldnt go untold. His works and legacy will live to inform and inspire generations to come.
On 27th October 2020, Prof.Banadda was inaugurated as one of the 10 Oliver Reginald Tambo Africa Research Chairs Initiative (ORTARChI) recipients-a prestigious research award programme for high calibre scientists .As the Chair of the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering and as the Chairman of the Makerere University Contracts committee, among other notable responsibilities, he has made transformational contribution to our nation Uganda. Prof.Banadda has been a Laureate of the Next Einstein Fellowship; honoured young scientist at the World Economic Forum; Alumni of the Global Young Academy; Member of the Malabo Panel of Experts; fellow of the Uganda National Academy of Sciences; Council member of the Pan African Society for Agricultural Engineering; Member of the Makerere University Senate; Adjunct Professor at Iowa State University (USA) ;Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge (UK);college member of the UKRI GCRF programme.
Prof. Banadda has also been serving on various boards including the Petroleum Authority of Uganda, African Agricultural Technology Foundation, and has been Country Director for African Institute for Capacity Development (AICAD) since October 2014. Prof. Banadda was also the representative for Uganda and Vice Chair of the Consultative Council, Implementation of the Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation in Islamic Countries (ISESCO) Rabat, Morocco between 2016 – 2017.
Prof.Banadda loved young people, treasured creativity, nurtured innovation. He was an open minded and considerate person who shared opportunities at his disposal to everyone he deemed fit. He has been a truly a self-made man. But this was not all about building himself. It was about building a family, building a community, building a nation. He saw his mission in life as empowerment – giving those around him, and especially his students, the ability to overcome fear and despair.
At the time of his death, together , we were developing a country wide business model to create value-added sustainable products from solid biowaste resources.
We have lost an advisor, mentor and friend;
We will miss you Prof.Banadda;
May Christ, who called you, take you to himself;
May angels lead you to the bosom of Abraham;
May Angels receive your soul and present you to God the Highest;
Rest in eternal peace My Friend.
The author, Davis Bariho Bagamuhunda is a certified energy auditor, resource efficiency & sustainability specialist