13th July 2006
Timeless Mengo

Akwana Akira Ayomba’

By Jackie Nalubwama

Beyond the busy and noisy Hoima Road is Mengo Senior School, which many have heard of but do not know its exact location. Yet no school in Uganda tells of the change in time, and still manages to stand firm like the oldest school in Uganda.

The statue that has become
Mengo’s landmark

Built in 1895, the school with a touch of old and a touch of new infrastructure has an aura of timelessness. Old trees still harmoniously grow side by side with the much younger trees, as the old buildings stand proudly amidst the new ones.

The trees and quiet give Mengo serenity that is conducive to study. As the breeze blows, it whistles in the branches a ghostly feeling of old students and teachers, whose presence seems to loom on the school grounds.

Even the old buildings, which are currently under renovation, have retained the old roofing style of colonial Africa. Sempa Hall, named after one of its former headmasters, Rev. Y. B Sempa [1929-1967], stands as the oldest building in the school. Time has not quite managed to wan Sempa Hall, which was built in 1910. Like the rest of the school, Sempa Hall has suffered renovation. The bigger part of the once banana fibred-ceiling has been removed, except for the Music Room, which still has a banana fibred ceiling.

The banana fibre was intended to keep the room cool in hot weather and warm in cold weather, explained Badru Ssemakula, teacher of Geography and deputy head teacher in-charge of welfare. He also explained that the banana fibre had to be removed because the ceiling had become a fond habitat for bats.

Mengo’s oldest building, Sempa hall

If you want a feel of the ages gone by, step into the Music Room and look up at the banana-fibred ceiling. It feels like going through a time travel machine, back to 1900. Speaking to the headmaster, Patrick Bakka Male said that Mengo is known for producing skilled people. "Mengo is thought of in terms of skilled people because of GTE [General Technical Education] which includes subjects like woodwork, metal work, clothing and textiles."

Old students

And indeed when Male went on to mention the old boys and girls; skill is one thing they aptly portray in their line of work. The enterprising James Mulwana, Managing Director of Nice House of Plastics, among other things, said that Mengo was/is a good school.

"I wouldn't be where I am without Mengo. It has discipline, which is very good." Joel Katerega, an architect at Eco-Shelter and Environmental Consultants, and old boy of Mengo also echoed what Mulwana said.
"It has that discipline despite the fact that it is in the city. I wouldn't be where I am today if it had not been for Mengo."

The music room banana fibre ceiling

Kateregga, like Male, attributes Mengo's high level of discipline to its close relationship with King's College Budo. Male said: "Mengo and Budo have a good relationship, because students used to come from Mengo and join Budo."

Interestingly, Budo's old boys have been headmasters at Mengo, and Mengo's old boys have been headmasters at Budo. Some headmasters, such as Samuel Busuulwa, have also left Mengo to head Budo.
Kateregga also explained to this writer the junior system of education, which existed in the 60s.

"Before in 1959 it was 6-Primary years, 3-Junior years, 3-Senior years and 2 years intermediate, up to Cambridge. It was changed to 6-Primary, 2-Junior, 4-Senior, 2-Higher, then intermediate was dropped."
He joined Mengo in 1960 for Junior 1 and 2. Kateregga spoke highly of his former headmaster, Rev. Sempa as a man who instilled discipline in students.

Three Former headmasters of Mengo in October 1966.
[L - R] Rev. B. A. Armitage, Rev. F. B. Luboyera (seated)
and Rev. Y. B. Sempa

He revealed that he went to Mengo because his father couldn't afford Budo's school fees which stood at Shs 640, opting for Mengo whose rate was Shs 240. He described Mengo as "the bridge between my primary and the rest of my education…"

The school has seen its share of changes in the curriculum, from the junior system of the 60s to the double session of the 70s and 80s to the single session of today.

Male explained that the double session tremendously damaged Mengo but it has managed to leap back to its high standard of education.
The Weekly Observer's Carolyne Nakazibwe joined Mengo for O-Level in 1989.

"I had been promised a place at Makerere College School and was spending a term in Mengo, knowing I would leave. By the end of that term, I was in love with the school and decided to stay," she said.

"I remember that was the year the double sessions ended, I never experienced them. My first day at the assembly, the headmaster announced the UCE performance and there were only four first grades! I briefly worried what I was doing in such a school, having been used to Buganda Road Primary School standards of the 80s."

Nakazibwe says four years later when she left after S4, the school had 21 students passing with first grade and the number has steadily increased to the hundreds of today.

The artist’s impression of the new complex under construction at the school

"That is why - of all the schools I have attended - I am so proud to be a Mengo OG! And I love the school anthem," Nakazibwe says. Male remembers the double shift system of the 1980s with apprehension. He said that Mengo was operating like two schools in one, with way too many students to handle.

"In the 70s [and 80s], because of wars, schools were not enough, so Mengo started the double session where students used to study from 7 a.m. to midday. And the afternoon session from midday to 5 or 6 p.m," the head master recalls.

In a magazine published to mark Mengo's centenary celebrations in 1998, the then Minister of Education, Nuwe Amanya Mushega was quoted as commending Mengo administration for restoring the school to its former academic glory.

The records then indicated that in 1987, only 1.4% of the candidates who sat for UCE passed in Division One compared to 42% in 1996.
Male said that since Mengo dropped the double session in 1989, it has steadily regained its glorious performance, with many more distinctions to celebrate.

Current students

Students, who currently draw knowledge from Mengo's un-drying stream, said that they liked the school because of its performance.
Well, Mengo became a mixed school in 1963, and since then girls were admitted as well.

It has an interesting organisation structure which is divided into three: Lower school for S.1 and S.2, Middle School for S.3 and S.4, and Upper school for A-Level. And each category has a different uniform.

This tree, believed to be as old as the school itself makes the green in Mengo more breathtaking

Brenda Namakula, is in S.1 West and she said of her school, "We like the school because it performs well in academics." She was wearing a khaki skirt and white shirt, which is the uniform for Lower school. The boys in Namakula's class wear white shirts and khaki shorts.
The Middle school uniform comprises of white shirts and khaki army-green skirts and shorts.

Bryan Nyombi an S.5 South student said, "Education in Mengo is superb." And Timothy Kyambadde of S.5 West, who was in Mengo for O-level as well, said, "The [education] standard is constantly high, from S.1."

The head girl, Pamela Nabadda, said that Mengo is unique because of "the way everyone carries him/herself." With a neatly tucked white shirt and dark grey skirt, Nabadda radiates respect in her uniform. "The way teachers and headmaster associate with each other..."

These youngsters are part of the education fabric that Mengo has weaved through the years. "Right now the school has 2,400 students," the headmaster said, and thousands more have drunk from the school's stream of knowledge.

Currently, a 4-storied complex is under construction, which Male says will have classes and a staffroom for Mengo's 102 teachers; the old buildings are kept for special subjects such as Art, Music and Laboratories.

Mengo still has many years to come, with each generation of students and staff adding to its history with the contributions they can possibly make.

For the old school that Mengo is, its motto has not wavered in relevance with modern times. "Akwana akira ayomba", meaning: "Make friends and never foes".

This was explained by the headmaster who brings the motto to life with his cheery and bouncy personality. On the Universal Secondary Education's advent, Male, swinging behind his desk, is uptight about how it could possibly jeopardise Mengo's steady rise to glory. Let us only hope USE won't be a Pandora‘s box for Uganda's old schools, such as Mengo.

School Anthem

Almighty God, Creator and Sustainer
Bless us we pray this day
In all we do, we think and proclaim
To be guided by you

Mengo School trust in God
From whom you get wisdom
We shall overcome, let's co-operate
Hard work does break no bone

Grant to those who teach your wisdom
Knowledge to those who learn
And to all who seek your Kingdom
Salvation do impart

Strive for peace, love and success
In all your endeavours
With all men unite and do good
Make friends and never foes

Prominent former students
James Mulwana
Justice Stephen Kavuma
Samuel K. Busulwa
Hajji Kassim Kiwanuka
Angela Kalule
Prof. Ssenteza Kajubi
Prof. Fredrick Sempebwa
Joseph Ganatusanga
(Headmaster of Mukono Bishop's)
Kaaya Kavuma
Charles Hamya