Mbidde learned to challenge authority while in high school

Sunday February 3 2013

Mbidde learned to challenge authority while in high school

Mukasa Mbidde, middle, with his high school classmates who made up what he says were ‘The Brains’ at school. Courtesy Photo.  

I was born in 1974 at Nakyenyi Primary School in Masaka and that is where I was raised. School determines much of my history and childhood. I am the second child of my mother. My father was a pure African man who had several women and children. Perhaps, that is why I did not grow up with him.

I only visited him during holidays. In any case, I was fonder of my mother because of her warmness and care. I adored walking behind her as she run her school errands.

One day, as she distributed exam papers, I picked one, did the exam and passed it highly and that is how I went to P.2 without ever attending P.1. Those days, teachers commanded respect from all corners of society; they were icons in every sense of the word. Being a teacher’s child, I was always a different child. I had no choice but stand out from the rest. For instance, while others walked on bare feet, it was a golden rule for me to wear sandals. Most kids packed to school the previous day’s food, popularly called mawolu but I always had delicious and fresh breakfast from the staffroom. That was not inequality but privileges. Today, I can travel to any country without the ordinary hustle and bustle. That is because of the privilege that comes with my position; it is not inequality.

In a way, I created a personality of always being above others though my biggest undoing was my tiny size. In a school where leadership was measured by the ability to beat others, I could only stop at fantasising about being a prefect.

Rowdy at secondary school
At Kabwoko High School, we formed a clique with two friends of mine and called it The Dandified. We searched for the hardest words in the dictionary and for every word, we had five meanings. By S.2, words like ‘extraterrestrial’, which I hear older people proudly speak today were nothing to us. We derived fun in teasing brains at school with our bombastic words; luckily we were all academic giants.

In 2001, when I stood for the guild presidency at Makerere University, I realised students were impressed by my S.2 Standard English. They flocked my campaigns because they always voted for persons that were possessed of the necessary oratory skills to speak what the electorate would not even understand. I created new buzzwords that were to last to this day and won with a landslide.

I was potentially riotous in high school but rejected and despised smoking and drinking alchohol. Dancing was always my main problem. I often got suspended for escaping to dancing expeditions.

Mbidde the revolutionary
However, I finally got expelled from Masuliita Boarding School and joined Kampala High School where I finished S.6. I ran a weekly newspaper at school called Mr Observer where I attacked the appalling school meals using colourful language. I wrote that the school instead ‘cooked stones and only added in little rice’ then the milk provided was not always ‘watery milk but milky water’. This excited students into a strike that started at night and by morning, there was massive destruction. I made the school ungovernable and being the chairman, Debating Council and a prefect, this was a thorn in the school administration’s flesh. But I have never regretted my actions because I believed in the cause.

On minting money at an early age
I got my first job in senior four vacation. I was a newspaper vendor and by S.5, I had saved enough money and I bought a Toyota Carina Kiyengye. My parents condemned me, arguing I should have first built a house but I told them I have never seen anyone driving a house.

To me a car is not a symbol of wealth but only a tool. By S.6 vacation, I bought the Financial Times newspaper, changed the name to Financial Trends but Ugandans were not interested in reading economics so I closed shop and ventured into other businesses.

At university, I went for a degree in Mass Communication one month late as I was not sure I had been admitted on government scholarship. But during my study there, I met Dr Monica Chibita, the most motherly figure I have met in my academic life. She encouraged me to catch up. I was later to meet Dr Sylvia Tamale at the Faculty of L aw with the same values. They are such angels. She advised me against standing for the guild presidency as Mass Communication students did not usually make it to the guild. When I won the race, she shook my hands in disbelief.

My happiest moment was when Mr Nobert Mao, who I always admired, but had only heard about, came to the university to canvass votes for me. I also admired Charles Rwomushana though now we keep arguing that I have bypassed him and I am his role model now.

As a child, I had other role models like Kahinda Otafiire, Amama Mbabazi and Amanya Mushega. I admired their deadly debating skills. Out of politics, they still inspire me because they have maintained a degree of success.

Human rights defender
My saddest moment was when a math teacher gave me 100 strokes of the cane for failing 100 numbers out of 300. It was such a terrible experience that it shaped me into the human rights activist I am today. For that reason I never beat my children and that is why I applaud Fagil Mandy and his team for working to abolish corporal punishment in schools.

Today’s children are growing up under the flower garden theory. They carry milk bottles to school and they are driven to and off loaded at school gates. We walked eight miles to school and that was good training! But I personally have no problem with it because that is development. They are luckier than us as they have computers and all the nice things technology comes with.

Any regrets?
Do I really have childhood regrets? May be missing out on the big schools of the day but then I found all their products at Makerere and ruled them instead. If I were to rewind my life clock and become a child once again, I would study astronomy because I am done with earthly matters. I want to see what lies beyond this earth.

As told to Ivan Okuda
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