‘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
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
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
Mengo’s oldest building,
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."
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Justice Stephen Kavuma
Samuel K. Busulwa
Hajji Kassim Kiwanuka
Prof. Ssenteza Kajubi
Prof. Fredrick Sempebwa
(Headmaster of Mukono Bishop's)
(MD CBS FM)