Patrick Asea: the candle blows out on a brilliant Ugandan economist

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By Dr Martin M. Lwanga

Somewhere in late 2015 I received a letter from Professor Patrick Asea expressing a desire to join our business faculty at Uganda Christian University, Mukono. Patrick was curious if we had a doctoral program and there were students to mentor.
At the time he was a full professor of Finance at the American University in Afghanistan where he was in charge of the MBA program. He wanted to spend his sabbatical with us in Uganda.



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Naturally I could not wait to pass on his papers to the administration because I knew how much he had to offer. Professor Patrick Asea was one of the world’s leading economist. I knew he had once been a Director of the Economic and Policy Research Center at Makerere University which he invigorated into a research power on the world map before moving on to Addis Ababa. There he took up the position of Chief Economist for Africa at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
Unfortunately either we didn’t act fast enough or some other opportunity came up, we failed to get him over at UCU. I think it was the latter because Patrick was always in a hurry and for his caliber he had multiple access to many enticing global opportunities.



It was difficult to pass Patrick unnoticed. When I joined Budo in 1981 the school was still buzzing with some colorful characters who had left such an indelible mark. Guys were still enamored by Douglas Kasirye ( RIP) perhaps the most wicked batsman ever on the Budo cricket field who would hit a ball high over and beyond. They talked of Karenzi Karake, a fierce and uncompromising debater, who after Law school joined the guerrilla RPF and went on to become the Rwanda Secretary General of the National Security and Intelligence Service. And then there was Patrick Asea.



Even under the strict regime of Headmaster E K Bawuba, Patrick was that student who spent most of class time out of bounds, never caught as some would, down at the illegal drinking joints we called Kyegs, hardly reading and doing homework as others. But when it came to exams he was perennially at the top.
He had passed highly with As to join the only Law school at the time in the country at Makerere University. There stories now reached Budo that in the lax wide Makerere university atmosphere Patrick was being just Patrick. Hardly ever attending lectures and into all sorts of things not related to school like wiling his time away in the Katanga drinking joints but still passing.



Patrick had a long running entrepreneurial streak in him. He got into international trading even as a university student. The story goes that while his classmates were busy into law texts one day on one of those overseas trips he got into trouble while crossing Italy, or some nation up there, or so I heard. He lost a year of his studies which was long enough to make him re assess what he could do best. Having got back to Uganda, after a stint in the cooler, or so I heard, he now concentrated on his studies with an unmatched zeal.



Him and a close buddy we shared a name, Martin S. Lwanga ( RIP) would meet over in Livingstone Hall and burn the midnight oil, as I casually watched on with fascination at the way lawyers cram cases. Finally graduating as a lawyer, almost immediately he went back to school and graduated with a Master’s in Banking and Finance, from the Italian Institute of Banking.



Patrick must not only have done well but there and then he decided to abandon Law for Economics. He crossed the Atlantic on to the US and joined the Ivy League John Hopkins University. In less than five years Patrick had attained a Masters and Phd degrees in Economics.



Starting as a Lecturer at John Hopkins University from there on Patrick embarked on a brilliant career as an Economist. A brilliant researcher who prodigiously produced dozens of high ranking papers laced with brilliant mathematical models in top refereed journals he soon became a professor of economics at the Ivy League UCLA.
He was appointed as a Research Fellow of both the prestigious Brookings Institution and the US National Bureau of Economic Research. He consulted for the World Bank, IMF, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Wall Street Investment firms and the Africa Development Bank. His incisive op-ed articles addressing global and local economic issues often appeared in New Vision and other leading world papers.



With his radar and stature confirmed the US government appointed Patrick as Senior Economic Advisor to the Prime Minister of Iraq spearheading the polices that helped the country stabilize from war that toppled Sadham Hussein. He later moved to Afghanistan where besides teaching at the American University he was senior Economic Advisor to the Central Bank Governor of Afghanistan.
These high positions gave Patrick good resources to enjoy the lifestyle he desired. He had always been a fun loving man and after setting up a beautiful residence in Ntinda he offered his home for Budonians to meet and socialize. Parties at the Asea residence where an experience with drinks and all manners of meat flowing. They attracted even the zuki- born again old school mates who must have moaned much of his rebellious habits at Budo. Seated around a swimming pool and listening to oldies there was a lot of laughter and teasing being around Patrick.



In life Patrick had a jovial, relaxed, mischievous, disarming and an easy to get along persona. But he was also someone not to suffer fools and could be a straight shooter. Work colleagues shared how he could take no crap from no one and shirked at rules he found nonsensical. A story is told how while heading the UN Economic Commission in Ethiopia he left the country without seeking permission from autocratic President Melese Zenawi as required by law. No one ever did that. But Patrick Asea did. He was a man of his own and comfortable in his own skin.
Patrick loved giving bear hugs. Yet behind that chubby look was a steel resolve of a man who could go at great lengths to realize his goals in life. Once on a Budo Kafunda yahoo group chat room he shared the conditions he was working in while based in Iraq and who could not pause to give him all the respect he deserved:



“In Baghdad at one point I slept on a thin mattress in my office for 6 months. Rolling it up in the morning and hiding it behind my desk and taking a half shower in toilet. My office was in one of Sadham’s palaces built of solid concrete, 6 floors below ground level, with no windows and no cooling/ heating- that is, very safe from incoming rockets and snipers! We started out as 16 but 14 dropped out citing inhuman working conditions. I just grimaced and rode through the rough conditions until the situation improved and we could get better housing!”
Patrick attributed that steel resolve to the tough conditions he had endured while a small boy at Kabinja – Budo Junior School. He was admitted there in 1971 when his family returned from UK. His father Dr Asea, who for many years run a clinic on Lumumba Avenue, had once been a diplomat. But in spite of his privileged upbringing Patrick didn’t grow up spoilt and knew both to work for his money and enjoy it, which he liberally did without sparing. He was in high demand and constantly traveled the globe often to share some of his amazing research findings.



In his last appointment which a schoolmate shared had to be seconded by former US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, he had taken on a professorship in Kuwait.
In his packed 55 years Patrick lived life to the full and I believe left with no regrets. After the death of his son he started a Foundation in his memory. One of his joys and desire was to encourage Ugandans to be book lovers as he was, something which he attributed to having taken him far. Once he mused, “My love for books started at the Kabinja library. Books helped me imagine that I was actually not eating been weevils and posho everyday, taking cold showers, doing one mile trot at 5am..”



We shall miss Patrick, the life of the party and known to his buddies as Jalusiga.There was a man we had some good days with and who taught us a bit about working hard for your money regardless of the conditions or how far from home. He knew a lot about self sacrifice. And sitting down with friends to enjoy your hard earned money to the hip. We can only pray that having joined the son he lost and deeply loved, he is at peace and back to having as much fun as he had while briefly here! Till we meet.

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