As you ascend into Mengo Senior School your attention will be caught by a monument of two students, an older one holding the hands of a younger one. In this fairly towering monument is an imbedded communiqué, the school’s motto - Akwana Akira Ayomba, loosely meaning that it is better to make friends than enemies.
Mr John Fred Kazibwe, Mengo SS’ headmaster, says the motto translated into the culture this school instills in its students. This has been for more than a century. Mengo stands tall as Uganda’s oldest school that grew from humble beginnings of a mere elementary school that educated boys at a junior level to a secondary school.
Struggle for supremacy
This year Mengo SS marks 117 years, having been founded in 1895. However, the contest over supremacy in which school is older still rages with Namilyango College which claims to be older. The argument Namilyango presents is that Mengo SS was not began as a purely secondary school but first as a primary school that later became a secondary school. Namilyango College was established by the Mill Hill Missionaries on March 23, 1902 whereas Mengo SS became a secondary school the following year.
The controversies aside, when the CMS, and Miss Chadwick to be exact, began Mengo SS, the idea was to promote teaching reading, writing and arithmetic and the first student body was to be formed of chiefs’ sons and cadres as an appeasement to the kingdoms’ leadership.
In fact Mengo’s first name was Kayanja, a name adopted from one of the pioneer teachers and also because it was near the Kabaka’s lake. It took on a few other names before it finally adopted its current name identity, Mengo.
Kazibwe reads from the school’s history that before the school started officially in 1895, Miss Chadwick would invite a number of young men into her house every afternoon for prayers and other subjects, emphasising the religious aspect as a strong pillar upon which the school was founded.
“These were mostly houseboys of missionaries on Namirembe Hill.
Chadwick then requested them to visit the chiefs and ask them to send their (chiefs’) children to school. Due to the nature of their work, the young men came to be known as basizi (sowers). She continued to teach the basizi who in turn taught the new comers, the sons of chiefs,” the school’s history reads in part.
This was clearly in tandem with the school motto. Today, Mengo SS continues to shine in the sports and academic arena but unlike your average school there is more to this secondary school.
More than just classroom lesions
Besides the conventional syllabus subjects Mengo SS promotes the practical or vocational studies too, from wood works, food and nutrition, and metal work fabrication studies. This, the headmaster says, has made Mengo’s alumni find their feet easily as they are taught to become job creators than job seekers; so to say self-employment.
Pointing to old boys like James Mulwana who has honestly and seriously built a good profile with businesses including Uganda Batteries, Jesa Farm and Nice House of Plastics, Mr Kazibwe says that many of the old students from Mengo have started out as entrepreneur in metal fabrication, carpentry, art and crafts among other fields.
But the success story had its other face like a few student demonstrations particularly during the 1980s which left the school’s property destroyed and the otherwise good name tainted. However, the then incoming head teacher, Samuel Busulwa, himself an old student, was not to let Mengo go to the dogs. He came in determined to revive the glory of this day school and surely embarked on setting Mengo back on track immediately he appointed head teacher in 1986.
The school was set on a steady recovery and sanity returned to Mengo SS where he emphasised discipline as a fundamental in realisation of good grades and sports excellence. The school’s population today is one of the highest in the country with a high 3,315 which has meant appointment of four deputy head teachers: in charge of personnel, academics and two for welfare.
And the school’s literature shows that Mengo has had a few dedicated individuals at its helm. Mr Chadwick, served between 1895-1901. He was succeeded by Charles William Hattersley (1901-1912). Rev. F.B. Luboyera was the first African head teacher of the school. During his time, 1913 - 1929, Mengo Central School was shifted to the catechists’ house, the Kiwitoko Building, the current Sempa Block. Huts were built around it to accommodate the boys.
Then followed the longest serving head, Rev. Y.B. Sempa, 1929 – 1965, under whom Intermediate A was divided into two parts: elementary vernacular (EV) and the middle school. The lower school was upgraded from four to six classes while the middle school had three classes, namely, junior 1-3. In 1960, J3 was removed leaving J2 the highest level of education in middle level. Girls were readmitted to the school. Under Rev. B.A. Armitage, 1966 – 1972, the school was named Mengo Senior School and the number of girls increased tremendously.
Under Vergise George, 1972 – 1985, GTE subjects were introduced, the HSC section was formed and the school adopted a double session: S.1 - S.2 studying in the afternoon and S.3 - S.6 in the morning. Samuel Busuulwa, 1986 – 1989, reverted the school to a single session of both morning and afternoon classes. Stephen Bunjo Musisi, 1989 – 1993, oversaw the purchase of the first school lorry, the first pickup and two farms at Nsosolo in Mityana and Nyanja in Mpigi. He decentralised the administration into the current three units. Ms Joy Male, 1994 – 1998, is remembered for introducing computers, Saturday tests and beginning of term exams.
Mr Joseph Wakatama Ganatusanga, 1998 – 2001, introduced wireless internet, weekly staff briefings and construction of new gates, the drive way, assembly grounds and a bicycle shed. Ms Sarah K. Birungi, 2001 – 2004, oversaw the construction of the dining hall annex, purchase of school bus, construction of a parking yard and extension of the Art room and Wood workshop.
Mr Peter Bakka Male, 2004-2007, is remembered for initiating staff and student exchange programmes with foreign schools and annual themes, purchase of pickup for head teacher, galvanisation of Mengo Old Students Association and construction of a multi-purpose classroom block, the Bakka Plaza. George William Ssemivule and now Kazibwe.