People & Power

The Museveni I knew at Ntare

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Mathias Magino at his offices

Mathias Magino at his offices in Old Kampala. PHOTO BY ABUBAKER LUBOWA 

By Henry Lubega

Posted  Sunday, February 23   2014 at  02:00

In Summary

Memories. Fifty three years ago, Mathias Magino, now 73, joined Ntare School in Mbarara District for his secondary education. He played football and debated with a small boy who lived in a grass-thatched hut at home. This boy had a close friend with chubby cheeks that gave him feminine looks. Magino had no clue what these two boys, President Yoweri Museveni and ex-First Deputy Premier Eriya Kategaya, would later become. Magino spoke to Sunday Monitor’s Henry Lubega.

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I joined Ntare School in 1961 from Kachonga Junior School in Bukedi District, as it was known then, in eastern Uganda. I first met Museveni in 1961 at Ntare School. We were both students in Senior One, but in different streams. He was in Stream A and I in Stream B.

He lived in Mbaguta House, I was in Baker House. He had a close friend called Eriya Kategaya, from the same former junior school. Kategaya was nicknamed Maria because of feminine features like his chubby cheeks.

It’s Kategaya who introduced me to Museveni. By Senior Two, our friendship had grown. I had no clue what Museveni would become in future, but when he became President, I started reflecting back on Museveni the student I knew at Ntare.

At Ntare, Senior One students played football against Senior Twos as a way of induction. When the match date was set, teachers left us to choose our team. I was drafted as a winger in the first line-up. My classmate from Kachonga Junior School insisted I should play as a goalkeeper. Museveni played the right wing.

I went on to join the school team though Museveni stayed playing for his Mbaguta House.

Good debater
Besides football, we used to interact in debates. Debating at school was divided into two; the junior debating society, comprising S1 to S2, and the senior debating society, made up of S3 to S6.

Museveni was a very good debater. He was eloquent and his debating skills made him popular at school. He could be on either side of the debate or sometimes chair the debate.
What surprised many of us in the lower society was that whenever the senior society was debating, Museveni would enter the hall and contribute as the rest of us watched through the windows.

He was a member of the Scripture Union and very active in the Bible study sessions. Our examination results used to be pinned up on the notice board. Although we were in different streams, I don’t recall him being below second grade. He and Kategaya were good in arts subjects, but some of us didn’t like arts.

We used to have academic groups, but during non-study sessions on weekends, the groups would veer into tribal, same former junior school or same-class categories. We were allowed to go out on weekends as long as one would be back in time for all school meals and activities.
One thing Museveni and I had in common was coming from poor backgrounds. We had no shoes, like most children. The bigger and richer boys used to tease us asking: “Magino, what is the weather today?” Museveni was not spared that kind of teasing either.

At the Kagutas
During one of the weekend outings, Museveni told us his parents had moved close to the school and invited us to his home. His father was a nomad -- moving from place to place with his cattle. We went to Museveni’s home and took good milk. I heard his father Kaguta saying: “Give these children some tea.”
The houses at his parents’ home were made of grass. I commend him for what he has done for them.
When we entered Ntare, we all had the dream of being better off than when we joined and to live a better life than our parents. The phrase we used to refer to a better life was: “I have not driven my car.” Our car at school meant books, because we knew with education, we would drive cars. It was quite motivating. It made us forget our poor social status, knowing it would change in future.

From the early days in Senior One, Museveni was always interested in politics. He never missed reading newspapers. The popular newspaper at that time was The Uganda Argus. During discussions, Museveni always cited newspapers and different political subjects. He was always in company of students who were politically minded including Kategaya and others like Karuhanga, Martin Mwesiga and Black Mwesigwa who were a year or more ahead of us.

We had a subject called the Government. It was about the British colonial administration at that time. Museveni and Kategaya enjoyed it and were good at it, but some of us cared less. We were wondering why we should study about Britain.

Museveni went to Dar es Salaam University to study political science, I guessed where his future dreams lay. I left Ntare in 1964 and only met Museveni again in 1980 when I was lecturing at National Teachers’ College Kyambogo. Museveni was then a Defence minister and had escorted President Godfrey Binaisa who was presiding over a graduation ceremony at the college.

Museveni immediately recognised me and engaged me in a lengthy chat. The next and last time I met him was in 1988, when he was already President, at Mount St Mary’s College Namagunga during a parents’ meeting. At that meeting, we shook hands and he asked me: “What are you doing now?”

Museveni the student at Ntare and Museveni the President today are not very different. Both talk with authority and dare where others fear to venture.

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