Mukiibi’s education empire grows to Shs21.7bn
Once the noise and traffic of Kampala city is behind you, 10km along Masaka Road, you will meet refreshingly green scenery, punctuated by maroon roofs and cream walls.
As you marvel at this beautiful campus, another school is unveiled on a low hill overlooking the road. Five minutes later, you encounter another fine-looking campus. About 7km away are two more gates leading to two other schools.
These are the St. Lawrence Schools and Colleges.
The last of this assemblage is Paris Palais, seated on over 50 acres of land. Though its first gate is a few meters from the roadside, the school is another 1.5km uphill, inside another gate.
At the second gate is a dual carriage entrance through which a parking bay extends to an impressive administration block where the brain behind all the five schools, Prof. Lawrence Mukiibi, sits.
He has offices in all the five campuses but on this Friday morning, he is at the bi-lingual Paris Palais.
As he takes us around the school, a Senior One student calls out, “Daddy!”, pecks him on the cheek, and shares with him how she is settling in her new locale. Apparently the pecking is not unusual in this school as moments later, another student repeats the feat.
And like the Senior One student, everyone – from the ground employees to students and teachers – calls Mukiibi Daddy, Papa or Proviseur (Principal). Yet with all the hype, Mukiibi doesn’t seek self supremacy. It took great efforts to convince him to take a picture.
“If you want to feature my picture, I have to be with my children…” he was adamant.
His sociable demeanour perfectly suits his role as director of the St. Lawrence schools.
Mukiibi, who prefers not to talk about his mother and age, developed interest in educational entrepreneurship at an early age. His father, Bernard Kakinda of Kisowela in Masaka, was the owner and headmaster of St. Bernard’s Primary School. When he joined Makerere University during the turbulent times of Idi Amin, he pursued a Bachelor of Arts and a diploma in education.
The political climate and instability at the time forced him into exile in Kenya where he taught General Paper and English at Afraha High School in Nakuru. In 1982, he became the school’s headmaster, his tenure lasting until 1989 when he returned to Uganda.
His successful legacy at Afraha, which saw student numbers soar from 300 to 1,300 in seven years, fueled Mukiibi’s dream of starting a school – though he wouldn’t blindly enter the Ugandan market.
“I wanted a platform as I waited to observe what was taking place,” he says.
What he got was to be head teacher at Kampala Parents’ Primary School.
“I felt like rejecting the offer because I was used to secondary education and here I was with 4, 5 and 10-year-olds – the small ones,” he says. “I would make what I felt were laughable jokes, but they would all just gaze at me.”
But like a traveler with a destiny, it was not long before Mukiibi left Kampala Parents. The parents were heartbroken and pleaded with Mukiibi to stay. But not even a salary increment could change his mind.
“I was really confident, I had a picture ahead of me and wanted to bring about a revolution in Uganda’s education system. Besides, these parents had forgotten that I was secondary teacher,” he says.
On March 15, 1993, he hired a building in Rubaga to start off the pioneer St. Lawrence School, Kabaka’s Lake Campus.
It worked. In 1997, Mukiibi opened another campus, Cream Land Campus to accommodate some of the surging numbers at Kabaka’s Lake. Two years later, a purely girls campus, Horizon, was born. The empire expanded with London College opening in 2002, and Paris Palais in 2005.
In 2007, Kabaka’s Lake Campus was shifted to pave way for the university. The school, located on Masaka Road, is now called Crown City Campus.
The five schools currently have 5,200 students, with a 60:40 ratio of girls to boys. The 2-year-old St. Lawrence University has about 800 students pursuing degrees and diplomas.
If he was to sell off his university, Mukiibi says he would demand no less than Shs 6billion; Shs 5.7b for London College; Shs 2.5b for Horizon; more than Shs 2b for Cream Land, Shs 2b for Paris Palais and Shs 3.5b for Crown City.
Mukiibi’s investment in education won him a prize in The Presidential Transformers Award (Education) in 2007. In 2006, the La Societe De Geographie awarded him an honorary Professeur title. In the same year, Paris Palais won the investor of the year Award from Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) in the small medium category.
According to Mukiibi, all his investment in education has been through his hard work and the support of his Kenyan wife. Just like Napoleon Bonaparte, the old French military artisan (he has 3 of Napoleon’s statues on his desk), Mukiibi says he is “not interested in excuses to delay in things done”.
He also thinks about his duties all the time and lives by his self-driving motto, “simplicity signifies the margin-firmity of the soul”.
As principal, Mukiibi keeps a close relationship with all the campuses. He addresses assemblies at each campus at least twice a week. Mondays and Thursdays, he is at Cream Land and Horizon; Tuesdays and Fridays at Paris Palais and Crown City; and London College on Wednesdays and Saturdays. This, he says, helps to create uniformity across all campuses.
According to Mukiibi, his success is drawn from financial prudence.
He avoids extravagance and has a good planning and management team.
“By the look of the schools’ structures, most people think fees at St. Lawrence must be really high; they can’t believe that it is just Shs 450,000 per term,” he says.
Then how about his policy of awarding the best performing students and their teachers in national exams (UNEB) with cars, isn’t that extravagance?
“Not at all,” he says, “it is just to give them inspiration, and it is an incentive to make them work harder. Also these students are now mature enough to start their own lives, so we want to give them a platform.”