"The Ruhita Overcomer"

Mbabazi joined Kigezi College Butobere for Junior One in 1964. All his primary school friends in the Ruhita group of seven had passed the Primary Leaving Exam (PLE) with flying colors. These included Jack “Baro”Tabaro, Stanley Itu, Steven Justus Byarugaba and Wycliffe Ndyomugyenyi who was the best student in the group. There was always competition among the group members for the first position but Wycliffe almost always beat the rest.

Mbabazi recalled the exact moment that they had decided that they were going to make it to Secondary and show their primary teachers that they were no different from the children of Rugarama.

The previous year (1963) when he and his friends entered their final year (six) of primary, they grew wings and refused to attend morning prayers which they considered of no consequence. They thought them bothersome since they now had to prepare for exams. They had nationals coming up and they all had big dreams.  Morning prayers at parade was compulsory, so their attendance was not an option and being star pupils, their presence or lack of it at parade was soon noticed.

As the habit grew, Mbabazi and his friends started getting to school just in time for class. One day unbeknownst to them, the headmaster, Mr. Buregyeya, laid a trap for the boys. He waited for them a little distance from the parade ground and also enlisted some teachers to wait with him to catch the boys just in case they attempted to escape. As they approached the school compound, the Ruhita Seven noticed Buregyeya waiting for them with a cane. Thinking that they had the benefit of seeing him first, they ran and hid in a nearby culvert.

Unfortunately for the group, Buregyeya had spotted them and in his characteristic determined voice called them out of the culvert. He was not going to give up. He walked over to them and demanded that they come out immediately and face him. Eventually, the boys realized that they had no escape route and crawled out of their hiding place. Mbabazi and his friends were then paraded in front of the whole school as the ‘heathen morning prayer dodgers’.

That day, Buregyeya whipped them thoroughly. After they were humiliated and caned before the whole school, Mr. Buregyeya exclaimed in anger, “Nothing good has ever come out of Ruhita!”

As though that was not humiliating enough, he seemed to have an afterthought about what he said so he qualified the statement by adding; “Nothing good ever came out of Ruhita except for Sweet Potatoes”. Thus the dodging of morning prayers by the Ruhita Seven quickly came to a close.

So here Mbabazi was at Butobere, thanks to that whipping. It felt good that of the ten who had made it to senior school, seven of them were from Ruhita.  Mbabazi was fifteen years of age and had never owned a pair of shoes in his life. As a gift for succeeding, his father Canon Kezekiah bought him his first pair of shoes. Mbabazi loved them. At that age, all his friends were also wearing shoes for the first time.

Kigezi College Butobere was very much the institution of excellence in Kigezi. It was a school from which almost all the headmasters of colonial schools came from. Classes started with Junior1 and 2(J1&2) through to Secondary 1-4. The administration of the school was still run by the British.  

Although the boys had the option of sleeping at school Mbabazi and his friends chose to stay in their homes. They were day scholars for J1 and J2. Since their village was the same distance from both the Primary and Secondary school the boys had become accustomed to walking the three kilometers. No adjustment was necessary as it would be the same walk, the same short cuts and the same faces.

His brother Enoch was building an extension at the back of his house while Mbabazi was at primary. That back room became Mbabazi’s place of residence. He and his friends would hang out there after school and read books, discuss politics and prepare for exams together.

Butobere was a fully integrated school in terms of it being an all-inclusive school for Catholics as well as Protestants. While the Catholic parents had shunned it as a protestant school at its opening in 1957, by the time Mbabazi got an admission, everyone in Kigezi had come to appreciate that it was the best school to send your son to if you wanted him to be successful.

For J1 and J2, Mbabazi and his friend Justus were assigned to a dormitory called Bishops despite being day scholars. Eventually Mbabazi would move to another dormitory called Bwankosya and this is where his strong headedness would be noticed. For secondary school though, they would be fed by the school at lunch and one didn’t have to pack a school meal as compared to the primary school.

The teaching staff at Butobere were excellent and one he especially recalls with fondness is Mr. Charles Kabuga, his English teacher. Mr. Kabuga was both smart and intelligent; everyone liked him. He also recalls the geography teacher Mr. White as well as the Physicist Mr. Lamplaugh who would eventually become the headmaster. These gentlemen would have great influence over him.

Senior school was a different ball game. It required a lot more seriousness. Notable was the dress style of the seniors as compared to primary school. In particular, the Ruhita Seven came to admire the way some of the older students dressed and conducted themselves. Students like the Rev. Kurama and Rev. Rukashazya, who was very handsome and smart set the pace for all the style in the school. Mbabazi and the group tried to copy Rev. Rukashazya and they began to take a keen interest in how they projected themselves through their dress code.

In secondary school, he excelled at all subjects and by the time he joined the boarding section for Senior one to Senior four, he had been advised by Lamplaugh to do pure sciences. This meant that he took the combination of Physics, Chemistry and Pure Mathematics (that’s what they called it back then). He also had a love for History, Geography and English. He was put off geography though by Mr.White’s insistence that nobody got one hundred (100) percent in an exam. In the exam, Mbabazi would make sure he answers all the questions correct, but when the results came, he would have a ninety (90) percent score. So he asked Mr. White why he was scoring him badly and White insisted that he just by policy can’t give anyone full marks.

With the school serving lunches, the students now had more time to focus on reading. The lunches were typical Kikiga food comprising beans, cow peas, Irish potatoes and sweet potatoes. Rarely did the school serve meat but when they did, it was a great hit among the students.

It was at Kigezi College Butobere Junior 1 and 2 that Mbabazi and his friends were introduced to marxist thought. Debates were held often on issues that were playing out on the national scene. These debates were very lively. At the time, Uganda had a new Prime Minister, Milton Obote and a President, King Edward Mutesa so the nation seemed to be poised for take-off.

Apart from spending time at the Kabale town library, the boys now enjoyed to listen to current affairs on the radio. They would tune into radio channels broadcasting foreign news and would also listen to the Uganda news. Some of the memorable moments that Mbabazi recalled were the broadcasts on the 1964 Summer Olympics in Japan. The boys would all stand around the radio and cheer on a team and if their team won, they would jump and clap and break out into jubilation. The way the broadcaster made the games come alive to all of them probably is why Mbabazi decided to become a very active track and field sportsman especially in the fields of sprint and hurdles.

Additionally, in the news was the referendum on the lost counties of Bunyoro and an army mutiny in Jinja which was eventually put down. The appointment of John Bikangaga as the Rutakirwa of Kigezi he heard on the radio. The radio is probably one of the key reasons why Mbabazi loved boarding school. He wanted to have access to one to keep abreast of so many things. When he was not at school and he had opportunity to discuss Kabale current affairs with his brothers Enoch and Paulo, he realized that the radio was keeping him abreast with current affairs and helping him contextualize Kigezi politics.

Kigezi was predominantly UPC so one cannot say they had any ideological differences. They all believed in the ideology that Prime Minister Obote taught of socialism. However, the UPC in Kabale was divided and this division along personalities and religion. This division had its roots at the national stage where UPC members first started calling themselves progressives and conservatives and thus justifying to people why they should separate themselves.

But when Mbabazi listened to the radio and heard what each side stood for, he understood it different and it seems that some few in the districts too felt the same. The progressives’ members of UPC under John Kakonge were espousing Republican ideals and the Conservatives under Grace Ibingira espousing federalists’ ideals. In Kigezi, this national set-up played out as UPC - Banyama and UPC - Baboga.

The name of the divisions came about during the 1965 Secretary general election where Seperiano “Sepi” Mpambara who was supported by the Rutakirwa John Bikangaga, would stand against Joseph Bitwari who was supported by John Lwamafa the MP. Some agents of Bitwari would steal a cow from Bikangaga’s herd and feast on it. All of this because he supported Mpambara. Thus the name Banyama (meat eaters) came about to describe the Bitwari supporters. The opposite side called themselves Baboga as Bakiga traditionally are vegetarian.

This election really was not based on ideological differences or on the character of John Bikangaga. There is no doubt that everybody loved him because he was a great unifier, but the Secretary Generalship of the district became a referendum on the Rutakirwa position. The Rutakirwa was a leader with the trappings of a king appointed by the central government for Kigezi. Mbabazi and his friends at school all had great hopes in the nation and their role in its future. One would say that they were leaning towards John Kakonge’s ideals of building a republic that sees itself as one nation. They did not believe in the institution of Rutakirwa and as it turned out, they were not the only ones.

The Bakiga believe that each man is a king in his own household and that they are members of a Republic. Having a “king” would thus cause divisions in the district council. On Bitwari’s side, this became the tool for which he campaigned. On Mpambara’s side, Bikangaga had the backing of Paulo Ngorogoza who was one of the most influential leaders in Kigezi. Bikaganga was Protestant and Ngorogoza was Catholic. This in many respects showed Bikangaga’s personality as a unifier because it was rare then for protestants and Catholics to be on the same side.

In the enclosure where Mbabazi lived, the two brothers Enoch and Paulo took this distinction seriously. Enoch supported the view that the Rutakirwa institution was illegal thus becoming a UPC - Munyama while Paulo supported the view that Kigezi needed a Rutakirwa or federalism thus he became a UPC - Muboga.  Mbabazi saw sense in both of their arguments however, because Enoch was more eloquent a debater, he won Mbabazi to his side.

Sepi Mpambara would emerge victorious but the issue of Rutakirwa would remain a serious debate. Mbabazi would through this race begin to define what he believed in, in terms of ideology. He bagan to read more on socialism, listen to current affairs over the news more and pay attention to what the leaders of the country were saying. It was all very interesting for Mbabazi and his zeal for current affairs grew as it allowed him to compare Kigezi with what was going on in other parts of the country.  

In 1966, months after Mpambara won the Secretary General post at the district, Mbabazi joined Senior one. He decided to compete for the top post of National Union of Students of Uganda (NUSU) - Butobere chapter. Since NUSUs inception, this post had been held by senior three students, but that year he emerged victorious. His Geography teacher Mr. White would say of him and additionally would write in his reports that Mbabazi was acting beyond his age.

The NUSU body was a government body managed by Ministry of education and designed to democratize student – teacher relations. Most of the boys at that stage were defiant of authority, probably as a result of adolescence, but the central government nevertheless saw it prudent to nurture these boys and direct their energy so that they could build a relationship where they respected authority and authority respected that they were individuals with rights. The boys though defiant, would never strike or cause mayhem. They always put their voices across and they were listened to. The students and teachers resolved their issues amicably.

So as head of NUSU Butobere chapter, Mbabazi became active in student politics as well as district politics. He represented the interests of the students to the teachers and struck up a good relationship with all of them. He was liked by them because he was disciplined. This relationship one day was almost shattered by an incident in his dormitory.

In Senior school, he was residing in Bwankosya dormitory and daily he would listen to the radio. There was an older boy and prefect called Tiwankunda who was in his view a bully. This boy was a giant, taller than Mbabazi and stockier too. Tiwankunda liked to monopolize the radio so one day when Tiwankunda sneaked out of school to drink muramba (local potent brew similar to rum) Mbabazi decided to listen to his preferred news channel.

When Tiwankunda got back, he found Mbabazi by the radio listening to news. He demanded for the radio and Mbabazi told him to hold on, he was listening to it. Tiwankunda got angry and tried to grab the radio from Mbabazi. Mbabazi held onto it so tight and since Tiwankunda was drunk, he was not steady on his feet. When Mbabazi let go, Tiwankunda fell with the radio. Those days at Butobere, it was a sacrilege to break a radio. You would get an internal suspension. Understanding the impact of his actions, Tiwankunda used his prefects’ position to go and report that Mbabazi had broken the radio.

Normally, the teachers didn’t listen to a student’s explanation, but Mbabazi was no ordinary student. He was the head of NUSU so he was called to explain himself. When he got to the staffroom, he was asked to explain before action would be taken against him. He simply reported everything that had happened but left out the detail that Tiwankunda was drunk as it would have earned him (Tiwankunda) an automatic expulsion. The teachers believed Mbabazi and called Tiwankunda again who insisted it was Mbabazi.

Tiwankunda started mobilizing fellow students against Mbabazi after this and when Mr. White, the geography teacher got wind of it, he sent for Mbabazi and asked him to just admit that he broke the radio before the whole incident escalated. Mbabazi refused and said he would not do it. Mr. White then went out and bought a brand new radio and called Mbabazi to the staffroom. He asked him to take the radio but he should first admit that he broke it and then pay Mr. White back for the radio.

Mbabazi refused to do so and gave White three reasons. Firstly he said, he never broke the radio; Secondly, even if he had broken it he could not buy it; thirdly, he did not have the money to pay for a radio which Tiwankunda had broken so that he can again monopolize the new radio. Mr. White cautioned Mbabazi and advised him as a good student to take the radio and pay for it by working in his compound to cut the grass and taking care of his flowers. Mbabazi response was, that was a job that Tiwankunda had to do as it was he who had broken the radio. Mbabazi was having none of it. Mr. White gave up completely and left the young man to handle the fallout with Tiwankunda himself. It never came as the same character that White had witnessed, Tiwankunda too witnessed.

Other than being strong willed and aware of his rights, Mbabazi was an exceptional student. In Senior, he was studying the arts subjects as well as pure sciences. Pure sciences those days meant that you took a combination of physics, chemistry and pure mathematics. This meant that he was to be taught by Mr. Lamplaugh the physicist who became the schools headmaster. Mr. Lamplaugh liked Mbabazi a lot. He felt he was a gifted student with strong leanings towards sciences. Mbabazi loved sciences but had decided while at primary that he wanted to become a lawyer so as much as Lamplaugh tried, Mbabazi would not be persuaded to look at those subjects. He did however pass them with distinction year after year.

Outside the classroom, Mbabazi preoccupied himself with track and field sports particularly sprint and hurdles. Likewise, he was interested in and played a lot of tennis and rubgy. It is still on record at Butobere that he remains the fastest sprinter. Here he had the opportunity to take part and play for the nation by enrolling in the running team as well as the rubgy team.

In 1967, he was selected by his school to join the national team training for the 1968 Mexico Olympics. The government had chosen Kabale for the training as the terrain they said was similar to Mexico’s. Sports was taken seriously by all the schools. So after the training, there was the qualification to see who would be chosen to represent Uganda. Mbabazi did score very well in terms of sprint speed. He came in second after John Akii Bua. In 1968 similarly, Butobere and Ntare were training together for rugby games scheduled to take place in London that year. Unfortunately, he sustained a leg injury and dropped out of the team. Some of his team mates were Emmanuel Gasana and Micheal Odeke from Ntare.

Towards the middle of 1969, Mbabazi got a visit from William M Crichton, the headmaster of Ntare School. Mr. Lamplaugh who had become the headmaster of Butobere had worked with Crichton previously and so they had a very good working relationship. Crichton was at Butobere to talk to the headmaster and get information about students who were promising in academics as well as additional skills. Lamplaugh represented to Crichton that Mbabazi was very good at sciences and he could see him making a good scientist one day. Besides that, all the qualities that Crichton was looking for in terms of student leaders, Mbabazi had.

Crichton was given Mbabazi’s academic file to look through and he also spoke with him. Between Lamplaugh and Crichton, it was decided that Mbabazi would be admitted to Ntare for sciences. When Lamplaugh communicated this to Mbabazi, he was not happy. He wanted to become a lawyer, meticulous in his legal practice and to speak the Queen’s English like his brother Enoch did. So when the examinations came, he did all he could to make sure he scored better at arts than sciences.

Mbabazi was headed to Ntare School. He and all his Ruhita friends had overcome Buregyeya’s taunts. Something good had indeed come out of Ruhita.



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