During the unprecedented two years COVID -19 pandemic lockdown, I never had the luxury to visit my ancestral home and burial grounds in Namungo near Mityana. On the 4th February 2023, I had some good reason to visit it- the big family of the late Saul and Samallie Balirete Munaku Kavuma had to find closure by holding the last funeral rites of more than six close relatives many of whom had died of natural causes during the pandemic and a few others who had died before that. Looking around , the village landscape had changed by several new corrugated iron-roofed houses and grocery stores. However, my attention was drawn to two new structures, a solar –powered health centre 3 and a new Secondary Seed school a stone’s throw away. Having been away for more than twenty five years, I was overcome with joy and was filled with fresh hope for the young generation of this sub-county of Mityana.
The two structures also fired me to raid the archives and read about the history of the growth and development of education in Uganda which is itself inseparable from the history of religion in Buganda and Uganda as a whole. Sadly, it had sparked a bloodbath.
Being a voracious reader and a believer that learning is for life, I was happy to be educated about SEED schools in Uganda.
“ We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act but a habit.”- Aristotle
Starting from the beginning, I was reminded of the history of Christianity in Uganda.
By the 1840s, Buganda was a social and cultural cohesive kingdom being ruled by Kabaka Muteesa 1( 1838-1884 ), Swahili and Arab traders from Zanzibar, had reached Buganda. They traded in cotton cloth, guns , ivory and slaves. They were exerting Islam and cultural influence in Bugada, the oldest kingdom around the shores of lake Nalubaale, later named lake Victoria by the explorers from Great Britain. Muteesa 1 learned Arabic and prayed in a mosque built in his court but never converted to Islam. Some chiefs and the court pages converted to Islam. They could read and write Arabic and Swahili. The kingdom still remained anchored on the pillars of kabakaship and the clans.
The British explorer Henry Morton Stanley visited Kabaka Muteesa1 at his court in 1875. Muteesa 1 wanting to diminish the influence of Islam in his kingdom, in April 1875, wrote that famous letter to Queen Victoria of Great Britain requesting her to send missionaries to bring civilisation to his subjects.
The letter was published in the Daily Telegraph of Britain in November 1875. Britain responded to this letter by sending the first batch of Church Missionary Society missionaries to Muteesa 1. They arrived at Muteesa’s Court through Zanzibar in June 1877. A group of French Catholic White fathers from France, followed in Feb 1879.
All young men in their twenties, they started the evangelisation of the lake region. But they brought with them their rivalry and hostilities as they defended their version of the faith. They competed for the control of the Kabaka’s court which by then had a number of Muslim converts. Muteesa 1 allowed them to stay but never identified with any of them to safe guard his authority and power. He remained in control of his kingdom. He died in October 1884 and was succeeded by his 18- year- old son , Mwanga 11.
By 1885, some of Mwanga 11 chiefs and court pages had converted to either Protestantism or Catholicism. Christianity was slowly becoming the third pillar in the kingdom.
Mwanga11 was convinced that the Christian groups in his court had become so powerful. He had to remain the centre of power and authority by asserting his authority over all elements and factions within his kingdom.
He ordered these new converts or rebels to choose either to denounce their new religion and fall in line or die for their faith. Many of these young pages chose to die for their faith. Between 31st January 1885 and 27th January 1887, 22 Catholic converts and 23 Protestant converts had been executed under the orders of Kabaka Mwanga11. A few were beheaded but the majority were burned alive at Nakiyanja , Namugongo, the traditional site of execution.
77 years later, in October 1964, the Roman Catholic Pontiff, Pope Paul V1 proclaimed the 22 young men as Saints. He consecrated the Basilica dedicated to the Ugandan martyrs at this same place in August 1969.
In 1888, the Muslim converts joined forces with the Protestant converts and overthrew King Mwanga11. They installed his half-brother Kalema as Kabaka. During Kalema’s reign the Muslim converts and their power in Mengo increased. They turned against the Christians; killing many of them while others fled west to the kingdom of Ankole. These Christians later regrouped and with the support of the Catholics, they re-installed Mwanga 11 as Kabaka .
The bitter rivalry between the three groups continued. By the time Captain Frederick Lugard, a representative of the Imperial British East Africa Company, arrived in Buganda in 1890, he found the battle to control Mengo very intense.
Lugard was later appointed by the British government to prepare the way to take over a fragmented Uganda as a British Protectorate. He was sucked into the religious hostilities. Being British, naturally he supported the Protestants against the Baganda Muslims and their ally, Omukama Kabalega of Bunyoro.
Lugard supplied the Protestants with guns enabling them to crush and drive the Muslims out of Mengo. The 1892 battle of Mengo was quick and decisive and established the influence of the Protestants in the political affairs of Mengo and later in the politics of the whole of Uganda.
Locally, in my grandparents’ village, the war of Muslims against the Christians during the reign of Kalema divided their family. A Muslim brother and his family had to run for safety in Mubende and his descendants still live there today . They have a separate plot for burial at our ancestral home in Namungo.
However, my grandparents became staunch Protestants. By early 1900, missions had added a formal system of schooling to their work and the Protectorate Administration left education to them. Each village had to have a church and an elementary school next to it. The school was built by the village , teachers taught in the indigenous language. The students learned reading, writing and arithmetic and received instructions in religion. My grandparents thought ahead of their time by donating ten acres of their land to the Native Anglican church and later the heir to the grandfather gave it an extra four acres.
My father in his thoughtfulness used his position to separate these fourteen acres from the main Balirete Munaku Kavuma title deed. The title deed has remained in safekeeping with the Mityana Diocese for over eighty years!
Since 1997, the government of Uganda has made great efforts towards taking education and health services nearer to the people. Its goals is to build a health centre 3 and a secondary school in each subcounty – a catchment area of 10,000 people, across Uganda. The money for building the senior one to senior four secondary schools is from a World Bank loan under the Intergovernmental Fiscal Transfer( Ug IFT). These are what are called SEED schools; mainly built where there was no school, to cater for the low income population who cannot afford private or boarding schools.
259 such schools are to be constructed in three phases. Each school has classrooms and administration blocks ,teachers houses, a library, computer laboratory, a multipurpose hall and a playground.
Information available shows that of the 117 to be constructed in the 1st phase , 68 are complete.
Namungo Seed school is one of these. Our village won the offer fair and square because they had a primary school at the site, more free land with a title deed and the land was squatter free!
Other districts had some challenges in acquiring free land, finding sources of clean water, electricity. The school fees or lunch fees though nominal are a burden to some of the parents.
Namungo Seed school has electricity and solar, has a new borehole to provide safe water and harvests rain water in tanks. However, some students travel from far to get to the school, making the necessity of a dormitory block urgent.
Generally, government funding for education has been declining for two decades. According to data worldbank.org, in 2021 the education spending was 8.21 % of the Gross Domestic Product. This has resulted in understaffing of schools and lack of basic requirements like water and electricity.
I am yet to visit this school, opened in 2019, currently with a total of 400 male and female students, to know exactly what is going on. Having a ravenous mind developed through consistent reading of books and an insatiable curiosity about the world, I can see myself taking a keen interest in the library and helping the students develop a reading culture.
The Administration block.
Not forgetting that I am a medical doctor, I shall visit that Health centre 3 as well.
My grandparents and my father must be smiling over the children in that school!
They valued education and were able to send my father to the then established church school in Namukozi, Mityana. He excelled to enter the prestigious Kings College Buddo. He would walk barefooted for three days to get there. He went on to become an outstanding public servant and a Katikkiro/prime minister of the Buganda Kingdom ( 1950-1955). He was immensely proud of his village.
I can safely say that the future of the young generation is bright – huge opportunities and wide choices in a global village. Many will be assisted to develop their full potential.
Who knows 25 years from now, the Prime Minister of Uganda could have his origin from this Seed School.
One Luganda Proverb spells it out clearly: Nezikokolima gali maggi. Loosely translated says: Even the roosters crowing now were at one time mere eggs.
Have you taken off time to move around your community to know what is going on and decide on how you can be a part of it?