Ntare 'the only' School: laissez-faire attitude pays off
By Jackie Nalubwama
Despite popular thinking that freedom breeds academic failure
in students, Ntare School has managed to have both its share
of cake and eat it too.
Until 1994, when the first non-old boy headmaster (Stephen
Kamuhanda) was brought to Ntare, the school had neither
gate nor fence. In fact, it was governed in such an informal
manner that it also lacked the usual school administration
miscellany, which comprises of the school anthem, special
uniform for prefects, and school motto.
But most uniquely, Ntare School did not have a religious
background and bells ringing for meal times. Students used
to walk to the dining at the designated time for meals,
and if by any chance the meal would be delayed, an announcement
to inform the students would be made.
Ntare School was started by the Government of Uganda as
a secular school and to date has no official religious affiliation.
But the three major mainstream religions are catered for:
Catholics, Protestants and Muslims. It is probably this
non-denominational aspect of Ntare that instilled the spirit
of Pan-Africanism in some of its students, like presidents
Yoweri Museveni and Paul Kagame of Uganda and Rwanda respectively.
“Ntare” is a Runyankore word for lion. The
Omugabe Godfrey Gatsyonga named it in memory of his grandfather
It is appropriate that the school bears this name, because
the freedom students have could be equated to that of a
lion, which can neither be tamed nor held down by restrictions.
Contrary to popular belief that it is a school for Banyankore,
it has students from all corners of Uganda, including some
from Sudan and Rwanda. And interestingly, the current head
prefect is a Karimojong called Richard Okello Abara.
Started in 1956, Ntare School stood out from others because
of the casual way it was ran, especially during the times
of William Crichton (RIP). He was the school’s first
headmaster, who believed in “educating the whole man”
both academically and through extra curricular activities,
He, however, set out to achieve this using the laissez-faire
approach. This bore fruit because students became thirstier
for knowledge and more conscious of how they spent their
So informal is Ntare that up to now the school has no definite
motto. Although old boys and current students think it is,
“The lion roars.”
“Students who used to hang in town would come back
to school and instead of sleeping, would go straight to
class,” said Humphrey Ahimbisibwe, an old boy. He
added that students who would delay in town would compensate
for the lost time by studying till late in the night. This
was because after class time, students used to freely go
to Mbarara town and hang out. This made Ntare a living proof
that freedom yields results.
Ahimbisibwe is currently the headmaster of Ntare. As a
student from 1968 to 1973, he slept in Stanley House. But
during Idi Amin’s regime, Stanley was changed to Pioneer
House because Amin did not like colonial names.
Ahimbisibwe explains that Ntare is a special school, out
of the ordinary. Whereas others bully newcomers, Ntare welcomes
Ahimbisibwe remembers the day he reported to Ntare in 1968,
and an older boy looked after him to the point that his
bed was made by that boy.
“There was [is] no teasing. The older boys were like
guardians or mentors to the new S.1s,” he says. “Very
few S.1s would buy something for break, the guardian and
his friends would buy.”
After a slight pause in thought, Ahimbisibwe’s face
broke into a smile: “Dr. Edward Kanyesigye was my
Speaking to Dr. Edward Kanyesigye [of Edward Kanyesigye
Consultancy in Health Management] on phone, he said he was
very happy at the school.
“It was good for someone from a poor background [like
him, then] because it was luxurious. And for those with
rich backgrounds, they were humbled.”
While recalling his classmates, Dr. Kanyesigye made an
impressive list of: John Nasasira, Dr. Edmund Katiti, Prof.
Elly Sabiiti, and Frank Katusiime.
Dr. Kanyesigye also said that he loved the freedom at school.
“It was okay because we valued our schooling. I liked
the freedom because when you were tired, you would go out
of the school for a walk.”
Since Ntare did not have a proper sports field, students
used to go to town and play from a field next to the stadium
Joseph Muhangi also attested to the no teasing tradition
of the school. He was at Ntare from 1986 to 1988 and belonged
to Africa House. “There was no teasing. Crichton [the
first headmaster] said that since the first students were
not teased, they too should not tease others.”
Muhangi fondly recalls the freedom students enjoyed. “What
we enjoyed most was the lack of formalities, like a school
He explains: “The philosophy was that you were free
as long as you remembered what brought you [to school].”
Ahimbisibwe echoed Mahangi’s sentiments because he
also remembers that during his time in the 60s and 70s,
students governed their time. “Teachers were not so
involved because prefects used to do a good job.”
It is partly because of student liberty that Ntare registered
“In spite of the freedom, Ntare used to pick the
cream from other schools. There was competition and tension
because people used to worry that since they are the cream,
they should continue performing [well],” explained
Muhangi. “People used to read text books, page by
The school’s high standards of academic performance
bequeathed on it several praises such as, “A short
cut to university” and “The lion’s empire”.
Academics in Ntare was [still is] taken seriously. “In
spite of the pride we had, as ‘the only school,’
we had respect for other schools but not in Western Uganda,”
“We used to borrow books from Budo, Gayaza, Kisubi
and Namagunga and copy their notes.”
Ntare, just like other sound institutions, has traditions
and jargon, which the old boys are still fond of.
Ahimbisibwe told the story of how venereal diseases came
to be known as “akatenesi” in Ntare.
“Students used to go out to town to drink and socialise
with women. One boy got an STD [sexually transmitted disease]
and started limping. When Crichton asked the boy what the
matter was, he replied that he had been hit by a tennis
Later, the nurse told Crichton that it was a venereal disease.
From then on “akatenesi” it was. When one hears
a Ntare student saying “That bull”, one should
understand that to mean a student from traditional rivals,
Mbarara High School.
Muhangi explains that traditionally Ntare and Mbarara High
School have been rivals, but back then it was particularly
because of girls from Bweranyangi Girls School in Bushenyi
“The bulls used to like our girls but they [girls]
preferred us,” Muhangi said. He added: “The
bulls had Mary Hill High School but they still wanted Bweranyangi.”
Well, Ntare and Bweranyangi have been closely related and
the relationship is still thriving. They commonly call it
The deputy head prefect, Paul Mbabazi said: “It is
the tradition but we are also friendly with Mary Hill High
In Muhangi’s times, that would have been unheard of.
But there are some traditions of the school that have faded
For example, Ahimbisibwe said that Ntare used to be known
for sports and debate, but these have mellowed down. “We
are going to revive the sports,” he stressed.
Well, the students will soon stop strolling all the way
to Kakyeka for sports because one of the prominent old boys,
President Museveni, bought land for the school to have its
own sports grounds.
According to Muhangi, Ntare boys used to patronise a pub
known as Sabena in Mbarara town. The pub was often a centre
of conflict as Ntare boys struggled to chase the “bulls”
(Mbarara High School) away from “their” pub,
from whose name they had developed an acronym, “Students
At Bweranyangi Enjoy Ntare Activities”.
Presently, the boys who are at the school simply hear of
the age-old Sabena fun because the pub was closed down.
Sabena later transformed into a milk factory, which also
For many old students, the Bwera-Ntare solidarity developed
into permanent relationships; prominent examples being Museveni
and Janet Kataha, John Nasasira and Naome, Nehemiah Matembe
and Miria, Amama Mbabazi and Jacqueline.
These couples were however not necessarily in the two schools
during the same period. Francis Byansi, the physics laboratory
assistant, has worked at Ntare School since 1968. He got
the job when Paul Kagame was in his S.1 second term.
The president of Rwanda picked his fancy because he stood
out as a tall, slender boy whose glasses had a long string
hanging on the sides of his face. To Byansi, Kagame looked
vulnerable because of his stature. Uganda’s own, Museveni,
is remembered to have been a good debater of Mbaguta House,
According to the chairman of Ntare School Old Boys Association,
the school went into an academic slump in the 80s. John
Wilson Kwesiga was at the school from 1971 to 76.
“In the 80s, during Apolo Milton Obote’s reign,
the headmaster was admitting students to the school but
not on merit. And Ntare declined. It disappeared from the
As an old boy, he remembers one of his contemporaries, John
Nasasira (Minister of Works).
“He used to play cricket. And we would cheer him
with, ‘Nara, Nara’ – a short form for
For Kwesiga, one can judge the progress of a school from
the growing student population.
“The rate of expansion in numbers shows how Ntare
has grown. In the 50s, there were 60 students, 660 in the
70s and 1,030 students currently.
NSOBA was formed in 1988, with minister Eriya Kategaya
as its first chairman. It was charged with two major duties:
to physically and morally rehabilitate the school.
“We upgraded the sewerage system and renovated the
kitchen because it had got burnt during the war,”
He added: “Then there was the academic improvement
because of the social comforts NSOBA had created.”
Kwesiga believes that after NSOBA showed such commitment
in reviving the school, the parents were equally driven
“The parents [later also] got the self-help spirit
and built the P.T.A. block.”
Presently, NSOBA is at work again, busy constructing a monumental
hall for Ntare’s 50 years of existence.
“It will be the Centre for Culture and Performances.
We want the students to have a place where they can be addressed;
plus it will serve as a meeting place for other schools
and institutions,” said Kwesiga.
So far construction of the centre has taken Shs 200 million,
and another Shs 300 million is needed to complete it.
Kwesiga hopes that the golden jubilee celebrations of the
school on September 23 will raise the required amount of
funds to finish the monumental building.
The Rwanda chapter of the school is also preparing to join
in the celebrations. Quite a number of important people
in the Rwandese government were taught at Ntare. Ahimisibwe
said that surprisingly, Rwanda’s Ntare Old Boys Association
is stronger than the Ugandan chapter.
“They are planning to start a school called Ntare
in Rwanda very soon. We will also be able to have a students’
exchange programme between Rwanda and Ntare,” Ahimbisibwe
Congratulations to Ntare School for turning 50!
sch0oolc1a: PTA Millenium block
b: The lion statue that stands in front of the administration
c: The administration block
d: Crichton Memorial Communication Centre
e: The Headmaster Humphrey K. B. Ahimbisibwe in his office
The School Anthem
Ntare School, My shield, my strength
How proud I am that you are mine
I will sing your name wherever I will be
Because of your mighty deeds.
Oh, the school we cherish and love
Synonymous with academic excellence
The cradle of the pillars of the nation
May God keep you up ever more.
We the gallant sons of this great den
Pray toil and uphold discipline
Keep at peace with all your neighbours
Maintain the glory of the school.
Parents, teachers, OBS, Well wishers
Come along now maintain the Lion
Its glory lies in your hands
And we together to the end.
Ntare School, My Shield my strength
How proud am that you are mine
I will sing your name wherever I will be
Because of your mighty deeds.
Prominent Old Boys
President Yoweri Museveni
Dr. James Nsaba Buturo
Dr. Richard Nduhura
Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye
Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu
Prof. Livingstone Luboobi
Prof. Elly Sabiiti
Prof. Emmanuel Muranga
Prof. Patrick Rubaihayo
Prof. Katunguka Rwekishaija
Prof. Opio Eperu
Prof. Mujaju Akiiki (RIP)
Prof. J. Iraka
Prof. J. Iputo
Prof. L. Erapu
Prof. Yovan Begumya
Prof. J. Baranga
Prof. Emmanuel Tukahiirwa
Prof. Stanley Tumwiine
Prof. Lutalo Bbosa
Justice Gideon Tinyinondi
Justice Alfred Karokora
Justice Ezekiel Muhanguzi
Justice Amos Twinomujuni
John Wilson Kwesiga
Other old boys
Ambassador Adonia Ayebare
Dr. Johnson Nkuuhe
Hajji Badru Wegulo
Dr. Ijuka Kabumba
Dr. Tom Rushedge
Dr. Stephen Mallinga
The Rwanda chapter
H.E. Paul Kagame
Dr. Alfred Ndahiro
Dr. Ben Karenzi
Dr. Zac Nsenga
Dr. Juvenal Kagarama
John Mills Nkomati
A poem by an Old Boy
What a great school
Ntare School was
Mbarara was the town
Where it was found
It was a prize
To look at where it was
It was a humble place
With gentle pride
Born fifty six
With single sex
Young ladies all
Loved to be there
It had six equals
In the whole country
Gayaza and Kings College
And the two St. Mary’s
Busoga College Mwiri
And the school of Kilts
I admired the seven
And the student Museveni
By Sam Twesigye Kalisizo (Old Boy 1966-71)
Next week we visit - Busoga College Mwiri