“Independence and The Boys’ Brigade”

In 1959 Mbabazi was re-admitted to Kigezi High School primary. The primary section was called “Lower” and it is located at Kigugwe. The Primary one teacher that had previously rejected him had left the school to upgrade himself from a vernacular to a Grade II teacher. Mr. Kacence, the Headmaster, did not see any reason why Mbabazi should not have remained in the school and therefore allowed him to return.

His first walk to primary was interesting. He set off slightly before seven in the morning and did not notice the other children walking with him towards Kigugwe. Kabale mornings were a foggy affair. As he approached school, his cousin Stanley Itu was the first one he noticed. They walked into Kigugwe compound together. The other walkers that morning were Steven Byarugaba, a relative of Faith (Enoch’s wife), Wycliff Ndyomugyenyi and another village mate called Jack “Baro” Tabaro. The five of them had studied together at Rwere. They would link up with two other boys from Ruhita to form a very strong bond. These formed a core part of Mbabazi’s friendships at school, some of which now span decades.

Each year, Kigezi High School primary accepted a total of sixty students. These were divided into two equal streams of thirty students. The streams were categorized as A and B. Primary was more structured than Rwere. All the pupils received exercise books and would study in classrooms with a blackboard and a desk. The students now had to wear school uniform which consisted of a white shirt and khaki shorts, despite the cold of Kigezi.

There were no meals given at the primary school, rather it was the parents or guardians of the children who had to pack boiled or roasted sweet potatoes; and in the season when maize was harvested, they packed a roasted maize cob for lunch.Mbabazi and his friends never felt that they were deprived; rather, it was an honor to get an education. Every morning, there was parade for three things. First, the teachers ensured that before classes commenced, all the pupils spent at least thirty minutes rubbing their hands together so that they could be warm enough to hold a pencil. This was because it was so cold that the fingers froze and could not hold a pencil or pen to write. Secondly, morning prayers were held at each parade. This, the missionaries believed, would instill Christian values in all their pupils. This was a culture restricted to primary though. It did not extend into the secondary school. Thirdly, it was an opportunity for the teacher on duty to parade the boys and inspect the level of cleanliness.

Mbabazi, like most pupils, was so excited to have made it back to Kigezi High School that he always maintained a well pressed white shirt and clean khaki shorts even though he had only one pair which he washed once a week. The Ruhita Seven, as they called themselves,would run to school together every morning of the week. During their leisure time on Saturdays, they would head out to Kabale Town Library where they spent hours poring over books, magazines and newspapers. Theirs was a very solid friendship.

Emmanuel Tumusiime - Mutebile, another Kigezi High School primary pupil from Ruhita who happened to be two classes ahead of Mbabazi, showed the young Ruhita Seven the short routes to school which would enable them to cut the 3 kilometer trek each morning to 2.5 kilometers. However, in the evening, they would take the long route home, talking and joking all the way. For them, the walk was a social event. These walks would turn into sheer drama when the Ruhita seven would encounter Rushoroza boys returning home from the Catholic school. Each side would lay their books down and fight before resuming their walk home. Kabale had deep rooted religious divisions.

Every day during the term, school started at 8:00 am and would be over by 5:00 pm in the evening. The football pitch became the center of after school activities. Football was a mandatory part of leisure time for all the boys. They formed themselves into village football clubs (FC); Ruhita FC and Bugongi FC. During football Mbabazi would find himself on one side with his village friends while the other side was his friend Ruhakana Rugunda who was a class ahead of him. These are probably the only events where the two ever found themselves on opposite sides.

Primary two was interesting. There were three ‘S. Byarugabas’ that year; Steven, Stuart, and Sam. So to distinguish their friend Steven from the other ‘S. Byarugabas’, the Ruhita Seven called him by his middle name: Justus.The name Justus stuck from that point forward. Mbabazi and Justus joined the school choir and enrolled for piano lessons as well. Kigezi High School had a wonderful music teacher, Mr. Ezra Rwendeire. He would enroll the students in all sorts of singing competitions. In addition, Mbabazi and Justus joined the Boys’ Brigade where they enjoyed practicing drum drills. Mbabazi always wanted to follow in the footsteps of the boys’ band that had passed through Cocezo when he was younger. The Kigezi High School Boys’ Brigade was managed by an energetic and entertaining teacher called Mr. Bagorogoza.

During the Christmas holidays of 1959, Enoch decided that Mbabazi should spend the holiday with their parents. Canon Kezekiah had moved his family again to an area where he had a larger tract of land to rear his cattle and goats. Mbabazi found his new home markedly different from Cocezo. The terrain was less mountainous, the temperature much warmer and the savanna vegetation different from Cocezo. His new home was called Karubeizi in Kihihi.

At the end of the Holidays, Mbabazi returned to Kabale to join primary three. At this level in primary school, Mbabazi learnt all his subjects in local dialect and never switched to English until primary five. His primary two teacher endeared himself to his students because he made learning fun. He was called Mr. Mahega. In primary three, Mbabazi was taught by Mr. Bampata. In primary four, by Mr. Zatwoshaho and in five, Mbabazi was taught by Mr. Kanabahita. These gentlemen shaped his early thinking.

Unlike present day education where most students are almost all the same age, the impressionable Mbabazi and his friends studied with some really old fellows. A few were married. One particular headboy, Tibaijuka was much older than Mbabazi who was not very young either. This didn’t stop Tibaijuka from socializing with younger classmates. Another pretty old fellow was the one nicknamed Rwigi. He was really good at football. He was the full back of the school’s first team.

1960 was an interesting year for Mbabazi’s primary three class whose stream teacher was Mr. Bampata. The Ruhita Seven had acclimatized themselves to the biting cold of the morning, the morning parade and the school routine. They had become excellent sprinters since they would sprint in the morning to avoid having their feet ache from the pain of walking barefooted in the frost. Because the primary school never served lunch, the Ruhita Seven would run back home at half past noon for lunch. They ensured that they made it back to the school compound and class before the 2:00 pm bell rang to indicate that lunch break was over. The pupils of Primary three were generally happy and content. If Mbabazi were to point to a particular time that reminded him of that happiness and contentment, it would have to be the visit of the school inspector.

One morning, Mr. Bampata informed his class that there was a pending inspection from the Anglican Church Inspectorate of Schools to check on the pupils’ progress. Ms. Clarke, the in charge of Primary Education Schools was coming and all pupils were required to show decorum as well as ensure that their uniforms were spotless, well pressed and befitting of a Kigezi High School student. Ms. Clarke’s visit was special because she was making her last report to the colonial administration about the status of education in Kigezi district. The colonialists were preparing the natives for Independence, so someone else would be responsible for this inspection afterwards.

Mr. Bampata taught his class that it was good manners to stand up when a visitor entered the room. In fact, he wanted them to stand at attention like they did at parade. The pupils were expected to impress her with their good manners. In Primary three, nobody speak a word of English.All their classes were taught in Rukiga, but Mr. Bampata was confident that he could hammer the lesson into his students. In any case, they were required to practice until they perfected the English greeting.

When a visitor greeted the class, they were to respond with “Good morning, Sir” or “Good morning, Madam” or as he said in English, whatever the case may be. If only he had translated the last part of what he said to the class things may not have gone awry. However, the students didn’t understand what that greeting meant, but nevertheless simplypracticed as a chorus in preparation for Ms Clarke’s momentous visit. When the day of the visit arrived, the class was attentive and eagerly waiting for her. As she walked into their classroom, the pupils quickly shot up from their seats and stood at attention. She addressed them with the expected “Good morning, class”. They all shouted back in unison;

“Good morning Sir or Madam or whatever the case may be.”

Mr. Bampata’s class was absolutely proud of their achievement, only to see the guest quite amused! It wasn’t until Ms Clarke concluded her inspection that Mr. Bampata informed them of their mistake. Apparently the Inspector who spoke perfect Rukiga had laughed so hard afterwards because she understood that the children had just crammed the sentence to impress her. She felt that their response was quite satisfactory. Mr. Bampata however never understood why they “insulted” her. The school passed the inspection nevertheless.

1961 and primary four quickly passed and in rolled 1962. Mbabazi and his friends were keen to start learning their subjects in English. When they did eventually begin to grasp the language, they started to spend every Saturday morning at the Kabale Town library. Here Mbabazi particularly enjoyed reading the Uganda Argus and any news that informed him about current affairs. His friends say that he was always more interested in newspapers than the book section. Conversely, his friends quite enjoyed the book section. This habit would eventually give all of them a commanding lead in the debate clubs when they eventually joined the secondary school. The seven young boys from Ruhita village would borrow a book each to read during the week. The library was located where the current Kabale Demonstration School is.

Back then, Mbabazi wanted to be like his brother Enoch whose command of the English language was vast. As Clerk to the District Council, it was Enoch’s job to ensure that all English papers for the council were translated into Rukiga for debate. Enoch was always on hand at district debates to ensure that all pending work was understood. He was meticulous in all his documentation for the Council.

It is this trait that Mbabazi admired the most about Enoch, as well as his brother’s composure during these debates.  The debates were animated and lively. The Ruhita Seven would find a vantage point where they could view these debates. They would go to town hall just to watch Enoch and the others in action.  Mbabazi was impressed by his big brother’s apparent success and was therefore determined to emulate him. Thus began his love for reading books. 

Mbabazi and his fellow Boys’ Brigade friend, Justus were excited about Independence as their teacher, Bagorogoza, had informed them that they would be participating in the Independence parade. The Boys’ Brigade was going to lead a procession at the Independence Day celebrations. He pictured himself marching while playing on his instrument watched by all those adoring fans cheering them on like he did when he first saw a procession.

When 9th October 1962 finally arrived, the boys’ band led the ceremonial procession through Kabale town up to Kabale Stadium. Kabale Stadium was full of revelers and excited citizens. The atmosphere was electrifying. There was no place Mbabazi and his friends would have rather been that day. It was very much a happy day in Kabale town. Screaming and cheering the band on were the happy town dwellers who managed to forget their religious and colour differences. Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Whites and natives were all enraptured. This euphoria was not permanent, however.

Shortly after Independence, the students started to prepare for their Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE). These were compulsory national exams for all students who wanted to graduate from primary school. However, the segregative politics of the colonial administration had left its mark on the Kigezi community. There was some bad blood that had been created by their policies and it lingered after Independence. While this bad blood had a tendency to erupt into skirmishes when the catholic and protestant students met each other during the walks to school; at school this segregation among people of the same faith created another level of competitiveness.

The school, Mbabazi and his friends felt, tended to treat the children of parents who lived in lower Rugarama and worked in the church with favour. These parents were members of the “Balokole” or church revivalist movement. The leadership roles of prefect and class captain were only given to “good” Rugarama children. While he came from such a background, his brother Enoch lived in Ruhita village. Ruhita and Bugongi villages had continued to embrace the Kikiga culture of brewing their own alcoholic drinks and this was considered an abomination. This nevertheless was not an excuse to judge an individual’s character or so the Ruhita and Bugongi boys felt. These actions by the school drove these boys to be more competitive and more ambitions for victory and success than their classmates.

The blatant discrimination also motivated Mbabazi and his friends to ensure that they made it to Junior One. Entry to Junior One was extremely competitive so it was not surprising that when in 1963 the pupils of Kigezi High School primary sat for their PLE exams, of all the sixty students, only a few made it to the Senior school. When the results were released and the Ruhita Seven received theirs, they had all, including the Bugongi boys; made it to Junior One.

Mbabazi left school content with the knowledge that he and his friends would be entering the prestigious Kigezi College Butobere.

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