What if schools didn’t open for a little longer

Friday June 26 2020


By Benjamin Rukwengye

Here is an interesting except from a sermon given at the centenary celebrations of the building of Namirembe Cathedral. The sermon preached by Andrew Billington, titled ‘The birth of Christianity in Uganda’, is a major throwback to primary school Social Studies.

“Oh that some pious, practical missionary would come here!.. such a one, if he can be found, would become the saviour of Africa…..Now, where is there in all the Pagan world a more promising field for a Mission than Uganda?... Here, gentlemen, is your opportunity: embrace it! The people on the shores of Nyanza call upon you!”

It is attributed to Henry Morton Stanley, the famous Welsh explorer and agent of King Leopold of Belgium, after he had visited Kabaka Mutesa, in 1875.

That call to action, run in the British newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, and opened the way for Christianity in Uganda. Christianity paved the way for colonialism – with Uganda becoming a British protectorate in 1894 – and for formal education as we know it, with the establishment of Uganda’s oldest school, Mengo Senior School a year later.

The premise of spreading Christianity and colonialism played on a misguided conviction that one race was superior to another. This supposed superiority was therefore essential to negate, condemn and erase the faith, culture and education of those thought to be backward. Your gods were small, your culture primitive, your education and medicine backward.

Colonial education was therefore an extension of this intention to erase self and subjugate whole. That’s why the content, mode and language of instruction were all foreign. Its intention was to produce low-level clerical staff, who were not expected to think, analyse or create. All they were required to do was some basic reading, writing and arithmetic, trained on the premise of morality and religion, to further the agenda of the British masters through the performance of routine, often predefined tasks.


This system also created the link between education and employment, because those who went to school qualified to join the privileged class of those who had access to assignments and benefits from the colonial government.

Where the colonialists couldn’t find those that looked like them, they created or tapped into the existing social classes of those who thought (or be made to think) and behaved like them. Education, like its cousins, religion and colonialism, was built off the same principle. The men were taught to look down on the women. Both were taught to look down on the “uneducated” or those who hadn’t gone to the more affluent schools. Sort of how your religion makes you believe that women can’t hold their own in leadership or that your faith is right and others are going to Gehena.

Even here, your identity became what school you went to and not who you were or what you could do to change the world with what you had learnt. Nobody was taught to think, to become, to appreciate and know the value of self. Everybody was taught to-be-like, because that’s what was consistent with the agenda. So forgive those you see loading it over others for they have no definition of self but only that which was given to them by the oppressor.

This background is important, if you want to make sense of the storm in which King’s College Budo, found itself when old girls went on a public offensive, protesting the systemic culture of bullying, misogyny and sexism at the school. The classism of who gets admitted to what school and how they are then trained to look at everybody else – even their own – based on where they went to school plays within that script.

Understanding this is even more important, considering how the debate on education reform and innovation is in a state of perpetual paralysis. It’s not just Uganda where this crisis of identity is biting hard, as governments grapple with how to ensure that children can continue learning amidst the threat of the Coronavirus.

Deprived of knowledge of self, it is proving difficult for those charged with innovation and reform, to fix what they didn’t create.

So perhaps this prolonged closure of schools is not entirely bad, if it will spark debate around the purpose of education and the need to decolonise and push for equity and adaptation.

Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds.