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Interview Dr. Ian Clarke

We came to Uganda in 1987 to provide support in dealing with AIDS epidemic, which had its epicenter in Uganda (together with other diseases like tuberculosis). Back then, Uganda was a post war area, dramatically in need health care. There were no facilities…nothing….so we built them in the area of Ciwoko. 

Obstacles were related to what I call “cultural adjustments” … namely enduring a lot of effort for getting things done. Coming from Northern Ireland, this was frustrating. Infrastructures that don’t work. No electricity. No personal responsibilities. Yet, all that just made me push harder. Part of this was also related to to the need to relate to local customs, such as polygamy and cross generation sex, which greatly impacted the spread of HIV. Many times I was told (and have been told): who are you to make local customs change?

Uganda is a wonderful country but politics represents a problem, as democracy is weak. Corruption makes money diverted, so we end up in not fixing problems. Also, there is a too close interaction between politics and business, changing the system in an elitist society. The result is that living here you risk your life 35 times more than in Europe…. but you get used at that, so you learn how to live. 

  • Education and Healthcare are 2 crucial areas to invest in. However, they have different return times. How can you build a growth strategy while working on complex and systemic dynamics? 

I started with healthcare first, then I invested in education. Our first approach was charity-driven, endorsed by the church of Uganda. Later on, we focused on providing healthcare to improve the model and the standards of hygiene, being sustainable so to move away from charity. What helped me to get going was a medical membership model, called HMO (health membership organization) which attracted a lot of clients/members…so I started to expand my clinic, then I built hospitals following international high-quality standards. 

Education came when I got that nurses were badly taught, so we addressed that need and we started a nurse school, which was eventually transformed into a more financially viable university. 

In my “third season” I moved from healthcare, to education, to agriculture, and I am now investing in coffee farming. We apply sustainable practices and we educate other farmers. Of course, I could have stayed in Northern Ireland and been a doctor like everyone else. But the truth is that I would have been bored to death.

  • Which book or movie would you suggest us to learn more about Uganda? And about Africa?

I recommend a book I wrote called “The Man with the Keys is Gone,” (the book will soon being re-published) and it chronicles my early years in Uganda in the aftermath of the end of the civil war. There was almost only us and much need to roll up our sleeves. Then I suggest two movies: 

“Mississippi Masala” and “The last king of Scotland”. 

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