“Snow on Mount Muhabura”
Canon Kezekiah Bagwowabo was a strict disciplinarian who took education very seriously. He believed that the way to advance oneself in the colonial era as he had done was to show a willingness to learn the colonial education system. Not so Mbabazi. He would much rather tend to his father’s cattle than go to school. This was a challenge for Kezekiah given that he had already spoken with his son Enoch about ensuring that Mbabazi received the best education.
At the start of 1956, Kezekiah would broach the idea of school to Mbabazi. He would get a firm no from the boy. Kezekiah did not understand why since his first born Phoebe was doing fairly well in school. Phoebe Kantangizi, was one of the first girls in Kigezi to receive formal education. By the time Mbabazi was born, she had graduated from Buloba Teachers' College and was teaching at Nyakatare Primary School. One of her pupils then was Professor George Mondo Kagonyera, the current Chancellor of Makerere University.
Kezekiah’s elder sons were also doing well, having received this colonial education. One of them, Enoch Bahemurwabusha had completed his O'level education at Aggrey Memorial College in 1949 and started working for the colonial government. By 1957, he was working as a clerk to the District Council. He was one of the first to own a car in Kabale.
Looking back at that period, Mbabazi admits that he looked up to his brother Enoch but simply felt no compulsion to leave his daily job of looking after his father’s cattle. That lifestyle of working in the civil service, Mbabazi felt, was not for him though he admired Enoch immensely.
Mbabazi argued with his father that education was optional seeing as his sisters Rhoda and Dinah preferred to get married than go through the education system. He was three and four years old respectively when Rhoda and Dinah got married and though he could not fully remember that period, in his estimation they seemed rather pleased with their lives.
The sisters were both living in Kabale town when Enoch visited Cocezo and suggested that Mbabazi joins him in Kabale. If he did not like living with Enoch, he had the option of living with Dinah. At that time there was no school in Cocezo or its surrounding villages so Mbabazi could be forgiven for not seeing the bigger picture. Towards the end of 1956, however, all of that would change and his interest in school would be fully aroused.
The colonialists devised a very clever method to market education. In Cocezo one day, a school band marching barefoot with drums and blaring bugles paraded through the village to the excitement of all the young children in the village. Mbabazi loved the music. He wanted to go to school if only just to join the band.
And so it was that in 1957, he left for Kabale town with the desire to learn all there was to learn at school. Mbabazi moved to his brother Enoch’s house in Ruhita village at a place called Mailo ibiri (two miles on the Kabale-Kisoro road). It was an enclosure that had two homes; that of Enoch and Paulo, another of Mbabazi’s brothers.
Ruhita village in Kabale town was markedly different from Cocezo where Mbabazi had been waking up every morning to tend his fathers’ cattle. Living with Enoch, he suddenly found himself having to adjust to a much easier regiment than that of a herds boy. Enoch had recently got married and his beautiful wife Faith, though pregnant with their first child would routinely get up at 6 am, make breakfast mainly of hot tea and bread and serve it before 7am. It was a different lifestyle altogether and Mbabazi was not accustomed to bread for breakfast. He had eaten bread on rare occasions when Kezekiah had travelled to Kampala for trade. Eating it everyday took some getting used to.
Mbabazi started school at Kigezi High School primary one as Enoch had got him an admission. This was not permanent as the then primary one teacher during the first parade chased him away from the school. Every young boy's parents that belonged to the Anglican Church in Kigezi dreamed of getting their son into Kigezi High School because it was the best school in the district and a sure way to ensure a bright future. So Kezekiah was disappointed that Mbabazi was not a student of that prestigious school. Instead, he found him a placement at a church school (modern day nursery school), called Rwere church school.
In 1957 when Mbabazi joined Rwere school, Kigezi was experiencing extreme weather similar to a mild English winter. Mount Muhabura was covered with snow and was very white. Kabales’ evergreen leafy trees turned to various shades of orange and yellow before they shed their leaves. Kabale town, which is situated in a swampy valley surrounded by hills, felt even colder than Cocezo. The mornings were foggy and the ground was dotted with water puddles that had frozen over during the night.
Everything was affected by the frosty weather. Both crops and humans suffered from frost bite and the walk to school was made even more painful by the frigid temperatures. Every child at that time walked barefooted so they keenly felt the impact of the changes on Mount Muhabura.
Most of the children at Rwere possessed a flimsy sweater to cover up. It was definitely not enough to manage the cold weather. Still, there was something magical about the location of the school. Rwere was set in the picturesque hills of Rugarama, just beyond another school called Hornby High School. It was here that Mbabazi first encountered the deep religious differences among the Bakiga.
In the years before Independence, it was common practice that the education system was segregated along religious lines. The Catholics would go to a Catholic School and Protestants would go to a Protestant school. The students never mixed in large part because Church politics never allowed it.
As a result of this, there were three major Primary schools in Kabale for the local boys and one for white students only. These were St. Mary's, Rushoroza Primary School on Rushoroza hill for the Catholics and Kigezi High School primary on Rugarama hill for the Protestants (Church Of Uganda). Both schools were situated below their respective Cathedrals. The third school was a small Muslim school in Kikungiri (pronounced Chikungiri) that was meant for Moslems, but those that did not make it to Kigezi High School would also find themselves there.
On top of Rugarama hill was the school for the children of the white missionaries called Kabale Preparatory School (KPS). Racial segregation was a norm in Kabale and the only local people allowed at the peak of this hill were working Bakiga who were not given the luxury of staying within the vicinity after school hours.
Similarly, the adjacent hill of Makanga where the colonial administration’s airstrip (‘boma’) was located, was also a restricted area. The Whites had a wonderful golf course as well as a social area at the White Horse Inn. The White Horse Inn had, at the main entrance, a sign post saying "Blacks and dogs not allowed”.
The natives, as the local people were called, were prohibited from going to the top of Makanga Hill. The same lack of racial integration applied to living quarters. The white colonial administrators lived on top of the Hill and the only locals allowed on the hill were those who worked there but they had to live on the lower part of that hill. On Rugarama hill, many of the church workers were “Balokole” (the local name given to evangelical Christians) who belonged to the new church movement dubbed the “Revival Movement”. They primarily worked for the Church as support staff.
Rwere was only 3 kilometers away from Enoch’s house in Ruhita. All the young boys walking to school found a way to shorten that walk through a footpath that crossed River Echirindi. Back then, there was no bridge to cross the river. They used a long log cast across the river to reach the other side. It was always risky to get across, more so during the rainy season when it was full.
The school day at Rwere started at eight in the morning and ended at three in the afternoon. Punctuality was mandatory. As a church school, Rwere taught the basic essentials of reading and writing. It was here that Mbabazi first learnt how to read and write. He found everything quite novel because writing was done in the dust on the ground outside the single room of the mud and wattle structure that constituted the school. All the kids, whose ages ranged between 5 to 15 years, assembled in the room where the teacher, Mr. Yosia Bagorogoza, would demonstrate how to write on the blackboard and ask the children to do their work in the dust.
After the teacher’s instruction, the pupils separated into individual dust patches and the teacher would then walk around checking to ensure that everyone was working. This was a common sight at church schools in Kigezi, not just Kabale town. In fact, in areas where they had no dust but had bananas, these would serve as both blackboard and note book. This is how some of the luminaries from Kigezi Sub-region like Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, Prof. Tumusiime Mutebile, Mr. Amos Nzeyi and others started their school life. These three though also attended Rwere church school
Mbabazi stayed at Rwere for close to a year. Kezekiah, though still harboring disappointment that his young son was not at Kigezi High School primary, was somewhat mollified when a new school was opened closer to home, in the village of Kihanga.Kezekiah got Mbabazi a place at this school known as Kihanga Primary School, Rukiga County. Mbabazi attended primary one class in 1958. Though closer to his parents’ home, the journey to school was 8 miles away from Cocezo.
His typical day was therefore marked by his father waking him up at 4am and walking him to a village called Butambi where he would meet with an older boy called Gregory Orikiranga (pronounced Orichiranga). Gregory would eventually change his first name to Godfrey. In order to be in school on time, Godfrey and Mbabazi would run to school for the remainder of the journey and walk back home in the evenings.
On rare occasions, Mbabazi and Godfrey would get caught at school when it was already too dark to walk. On those occasions, they stayed with their relatives. Mbabazi would then walk to his grandmothers’ house and spend the night there. Ruth Ndataga, his maternal grandmother, would entertain him with stories of how her husband captured her from Kamuswaga’s court in the late 1890s. He went to bed having been fed on stories about his grandfather’s heroism. Grandfather Rwamuhanda had been part of Rwandan King Rwabugiri’s raiding party into Buganda and had captured her from Kooki, Rakai.
Her description of crossing the Rwizi River on her way to Rukiga would later come alive when Mbabazi went off to study his A’levels. On very rare occasions, if Mbabazi could not make it back to Cocezo before dark, he would also stay with his maternal uncle, Mahiira.
Mbabazi nevertheless did not feel the length of the 8 mile distance when he was with his friend Gregory. They walked together until the Christmas holidays of 1958 when Enoch came back to Cocezo to pick him up. Enoch informed Mbabazi that he had been accepted into Kigezi High school.
Of all the things he would miss, he would miss walking to school with his friend Godfrey. A prolific author of books and a retired diplomat who served his country with distinction, Ambassador Godfrey Orikiranga Kalimugogo remains a role model for Mbabazi.