Kasule Kizito is not your everyday Ugandan. For one thing, he’s too direct. He says what he thinks without undue regard for taboos or political correctness. In an oral culture this of itself is amazing. For example, he’s the only African I know who’s not in ecstasies over Obama’s victory. Kizito had wanted Hillary. And then there’s the matter of his goals in life. A few years ago (2002) he was determined to build his Mother a house to replace the one she’d occupied for 50 years. He succeeded, and she enjoyed it until her death last year. He also decided to try to repurchase the parcels of land adjacent to his traditional home in Masaka that had been sold after the death of his grandfather. But even that pales when you consider the school.
Overlooking Lake Victoria at NIAAD
On 2 acres overlooking Lake Victoria donated to him by his former mentor, Professor Nagenda, Kizito set out to build the best private art school in Uganda. Calling it the Nagenda International Academy of Art and Design, Kizito broke ground in 2005 and was well along when I visited the site in 2006. As with all things “Kizito,” radical independence was the point. Having taught for years at Uganda’s premier university art school, and being sick of the corruption of unworthy privilege, Kizito decided the best thing to do was build his own school.
He went about it in a very distinctive way. Notifying friends and patrons he’d made during travels in Europe and while a grad student at the Barron School in Dublin, Ireland, Kizito sold artworks to purchase bricks and mortar, roofing lumber and corrugated sheets. He completed construction of the Director’s house first, then moved his wife Ruth and their newborn daughter onto the premises so he could better stay atop the construction’s progress. When he needed more materials, like, say security windows, he sold another artwork; painting or sculpture didn’t matter, he’s versed in both media.
Then, just after New Years I received an email from Kizito. He wanted to open NIAAD by late February, a date already delayed almost a year by his Mother’s death, but the Ugandan national council for higher education was demanding that his campus be electrified before they’d license the school. While 3 million of my suffering fellow Americans were spending their hard-earned dollars celebrating the “historic” inauguration, Kizito needed the equivalent of 3 million shillings ($1500) to open NIAAD. Inauguration Day I hustled over to the bank to slog through the artificially complex details of secure overseas cash transfer (thanks alot, Patriot Act).
Dr. Kasule Kizito with his wife Ruth and their daughter.
As news of the abuses of the bank bailout give way to what we know will be a feeding frenzy over a trillion-dollar public investment, I have much trepidation about the future. After all, it was the investment bankers and advisors who sleazed us into this mess, right? Why shouldn’t they be pessimistic about the markets’ chances of revival? Meanwhile, amid the brain-deadening swirl of tedious press about the state of the American economy, my consolation is that I helped put a little school in a small country half-way around the world on the grid and in the business. That’s all the stimulus I need. If you would like to make a donation to NIAAD, please see the comments below.
David Stairs is editor of Design-Altruism-Project.