Change the world


Ugandan economist Kenneth Mugambe sacrificed a senior Government position when he took early retirement in 2022 to follow his dream.


On Wednesday, 13 December, Uganda’s former National Budget Director will see the result of that move when he is capped with a doctorate in Economics at Nelson Mandela University in Gqeberha, Port Elizabeth.

“In 2021, I embarked on an academic journey to actualise my long-held dream of acquiring a PhD in Economics,” said Mugambe, speaking from his home country, Uganda.

“I took early retirement in January 2022 at the age of 54, having had a career in the Ugandan public service spanning almost 30 years.”

He had risen through the ranks, working first in the Ugandan Ministry of Planning and Economic Development, and then becoming the Director, National Budget, in the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development. 

“Although the position is a civil service position, given its significance in the political economy of the country, it carries a lot of clout,” he said. 

“It therefore took immense courage and sacrifice to forego it, in pursuance of an academic dream whose immediate benefits were shrouded in mystery.

“Moreover, I still had an opportunity to pursue the only remaining position at the peak of the ladder, that of Secretary to the Treasury, the topmost rank in my professional career. 

“Nonetheless, I took the plunge into the deep sea of academics, and I have no regrets.”

Nelson Mandela University’s Professor Leward Jeke supervised Mugambe’s doctorate, “Analysis of export performance and its determinants in Uganda”, which he completed in a speedy two years.

“Kenneth is assertive and willing to learn. He flew from Uganda for a formal meeting with me to finalise his work, showing dedication to his assignment. He is outstanding, rigorous and excellent in his work,” said Prof Jeke.

“Uganda is a highly liberalised open economy susceptible to economic shocks from the global economy, therefore the study on factors influencing export performance is crucial.

Prof Jeke said Ugandan policy makers would want to increase export performance to GDP by 40%. Mugambe’s research addressed anomalies in the export sector that hindered the land-locked country from reaching this goal.

“My area of study is very critical for a developing country like Uganda,” said Mugambe.

“Based on both empirical and anecdotal evidence, there is practically no single country in world history that has transitioned from developing to developed status without increasing its export base.”

This became the core of his research:  “Why, in spite of overwhelming evidence, do most developing countries, including Uganda, not put in place strong export promotion strategies?”

Furthermore, says Mugambe, even where a country does have strategies,  “they are largely on paper and are not backed by action”.

“One of the key findings in my study is that whereas Uganda has prioritised gross capital formation, ironically there is an inverse relationship between gross capital formation in Uganda and export growth.

“This calls for a complete reassessment of the export promotion policy and strategic framework.”

Now the new graduate plans to use the knowledge gained at the Eastern Cape comprehensive university to help his country further.

“The course has honed my academic skills, and enabled me to map theory onto evidence. It helped me to further understand and appreciate the knowledge base from which all policy and practice emerges,” said Mugambe. 

“I am now in an improved position to advise my peers and former colleagues on policy options in export markets within the specific context of our country. 

“I am considering further academic options, including part-time teaching and research.”

Even though Mugambe is, in theory, retired, he looks forward to many more productive years in his field. Armed with new knowledge, he feels ready for the future.

“I believe that at my current age of 56, I still have about 20 years of active life ahead of me.

“I therefore can use my qualifications to address challenges facing my country Uganda in its quest for economic advancement.

“All options remain open!”

Mugambe obtained his first degree in Economics in 1990  from Makerere University, which is the premier University in Uganda. Later, in 1995, he completed a Master’s in Public Economic Management from the University of Birmingham in the UK.

“I chose Nelson Mandela University largely because of recommendations from friends in academia who rated it highly, especially for postgraduate studies.”

Mugambe said he had been impressed by the motivation of his supervisor, “which I believe stems from the strict timelines the University sets”.

“It is common practice back home for PhDs to be pursued over an extended period of time, whereas at Nelson Mandela University one is challenged to accomplish it within a very specific time period.”

Contact information
Mrs Debbie Derry
Deputy Director: Communication
Tel: 041 504 3057