Ntare: The lion of excellence roars on

LEFT: The statue of a lion proudly guarding its territory stands proudly in the central square of the school with a “vulnerable” open book perhaps signaling the conquering power of the students over academics. RIGHT: The Jubilee has capacity to accommodate 1500 students in one sitting. Photos By Alfred Tumushabe

What you need to know:

Ntare stands out of the crowd not just because it has produced two sitting Presidents at the same time but because of the odd culture that allows a lot of freedom yet still enabling students to pass. Recently the school degenerated to worrying levels with repeat strikes but the administration seems to have fixed the problem.

When the colonial government decided to start government owned schools in the 1950s, in Ankole district, it approached the kingdom to get its blessing and to capitalize on their backing to recruit students. The kingdom officials decided to name the school after one of the great kings of Ankole-Ntare V. Ntare is vernacular for a lion in Runyakitara.

To Ntare, the name also came to symbolise more than just an adored king but also the qualities and virtues of the King of the Jungle-amiable , courageous, brave and fierce. It’s statue was placed at the heart of the institution in an enclosure the students now call ‘The Lion’s Empire’ with a mould of a book in front.

Perhaps inspired by lion attributes, the old boys have exhibited braveness, courage and fierceness in their life endeavors. Ntare is one of the first three government founded secondary schools in the country, the earlier ones having been founded by missionaries.

The other two are Sir Samuel Baker in Northern Uganda and Teso College Aloet in Eastern Uganda. The boarding boys’ only school sitting on Kamukuzi hill facing the central business area of Mbarara municipality started in 1956 by late William Crichton as its first headteacher.

A Scottish national, Crichton had also served in south Sudan as a teacher, deputy head teacher, inspector of schools and headmaster. The school started from the facilities which belonged to a government teacher training college that had been moved to Kyambogo.
Mr Silver Magara, the Assistant Academic Registrar Nkozi University Nyamitanga Campus, an old boy and a former teacher at Ntare says the government started such schools to be incubators of requisite human resource that would manage the country affairs because the church founded ones at the time were largely championing faiths.

“Almost all schools in Uganda at the time had been started by missionaries; Protestants and Catholics who were after expanding their religious empires. Government had no direct influence in the church schools, schools like Ntare were started to train people who would become administrators,” says Mr Magara.

Ntare started with 60 students in senior one and two for students joining from junior secondary two and junior secondary three respectively. It had a handful of white teachers, one classroom block, a dining hall and two dormitories.

Surprisingly, the results of Cambridge Certificate Examinations for the pioneers of Ntare School in 1958 were the best in the whole country, which set a foundation of excellent performance in both science and arts that had lived up to today.

“The excellent academic results for the pioneers then started a long history of very good academic performance. The school’s academic performance for both O’ and A’ levels has been among the top ten and it is one of the very few traditional schools that have maintained excellent performance always guided by the school motto: ‘Better your best,” says Mr Humphrey Ahimbisibwe, the current headmaster who is also an old boy of the school.

As if fulfilling the dream of the founders, Ntare products have from time to time occupied key positions in politics, civil service and academia in the post independence and contemporary Uganda to enviable position of being the only school that has produced two Presidents serving at the same time in Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame.

Mr Museveni was at Ntare from his senior secondary education from 1961-1966 while Mr Kagame was there up to 1975 for O’level. The two fought together in the five year guerilla Mr Museveni became President in 1986 after a five year guerrilla war while Kagame also became president of Rwanda in 1994 after a leading another guerrilla war of mainly Rwandan Tutsi exiles.

The two leaders however went to other schools and institutions before and after Ntare therefore the school’s contribution to their political exploits and tenacity can only be to a certain extent.

And their supremacy might not have been solely shaped by formal education. But what is not in doubt is the fact that the school offered quality education and a good learning environment to the students.

It promoted critical and independent thinking through debates on African politics and colonialism which took centre stage. In 1967 when President Milton Obote changed the constitution in which kingdoms were abolished, Mr Museveni and Eriya Kategaya who were S6 students at Ntare are said to have gone to Ankole Prime Minister Mr James Kahigiriza to register their protest to the move.

Other products from this hard working and free thinking Ntare School community are Prof. Livingstone Lubobi, Prof. Samuel Karugire (RIP), Prof. Tarsis Kabwegyere, Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu and Prof. Stanley Tumwine. Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, Former Ambassador Francis Butagira among others.

What inspires academic excellence at Ntare and old boys’ success in their pursuits outside is still a puzzle to even those who run the institution.

Much as Mr Stephen Kamuhanda, who headed the school from 1991 to 2003 agrees that hard work, good quality students and teachers are part of what explains the excellence, he says these are however not an end in themselves because even many other schools have a similar approach.

“I am writing a book about Ntare School, and in this book I am asking that question; why does Ntare excel? It’s a puzzle, the answers are not sufficient, a researcher need to be commissioned to dig deep and find the right answer,” says Mr Kamuhanda. Kamuhanda adds, “The first headmaster Crichton also asked that question. He said there is something in Mbarara air that makes students at this school to excel.”

In the old days the headmaster would go around the country looking for those pupils and students that had put their first choices at Ntare, looking at their unique talents and gifts and would came up with a selection even before it was officially done.

The school used to scout for best teachers around the country. Among them is Ankole diocese Bishop Rt. Rev Dr. Sheldon Mwesigwa who was got from Kibubura Girls Secondary school in Ibanda where he was teaching English language. The other is Mr Gerald Mwika, a chemistry teacher who was brought from St Mary’s College Kisubi.

“We took the cream of students from the region and beyond. That’s how we would compete with Budo, Kisubi and Namagunga and everyone would want to come to Ntare,” says Mr Kamuhanda.

He adds: “Whenever we would be told there is a good teacher some where we would convince him to come and we took many from these schools. We were trying to recruit the best we could find, I would go to the ministry and ask for their transfer.” With the parents’ cooperation, the teachers would be given all sorts of incentives to teach at Ntare. These coupled with good teaching facilities and the successful old boys as role models made Ntare shine academically.

“We would tell these boys to put in a lot of effort challenging them to be focused like those prominent old boys, not to shame the school and that really worked,” says Mr Kamuhanda.

Some would however question this performance spreading rumors that Ntare excels because it cheats in exams. The students too at one time believed that their counterparts in Kisubi and Budo excelled because they cheated and suggested to the staff to do the same for them. To counter this propaganda Mr Kamuhanda selected some students and they took a visit to central region schools.

“In 1994 I took students to visit Budo, St Mary’s College Kisubi, Gayaza, Namagunga and Namilyango to find out what was going on. At Namagunga we found S6 students sitting biology past paper of 1989 under exam conditions. When we asked they told us they are testing their students, yet here at Ntare students wanted to do things on their own and wanted to be free, from there I said no,” he says.

He was trying to change the students’ perception that in those schools there is no hard working but excellence comes through cheating exams. From the trip, Mr Kamuhanda held an assembly and challenged the students that there is no short cut to success but work hard.

In 2000, Ntare School Old Boys Association (NSOBA) in an attempt to provide motivation for hard work and to pull up the past glory gave pledges that; any student of senior four who scores aggregate 6 in 6 subjects at UCE would have his fees for A’ level paid by NSOBA only if he returns to Ntare School.

That any student of S6 who scores 3 principal As at UACE would get a cash reward of Shs1.5 million. The boys worked very hard and have been winning these offers. The initial funding for this initiative was provided by William Crichton’s family.

In 2004, the requirement for the awards was raised to aggregate 8 in 8 subjects for UCE and 4 principal As for UACE. This offer of the motivation by NSOBA greatly contributed to the improvement of the school’s academic performance. Students passing in division one increased from 106 in 2001 to 187 by 2007. Those scoring at least an A in their combination increased from 27 in 2001 to 131 in 2007.

Until 1991 the school had no written rules and the students knew what to do at the right time which is even not much different today. Though students had freedom to the extent that some would go to the neighbouring community like Kajogo in down town Mbarara town for booze, they still behaved responsibly because they would remain focused to protect the pride of Ntare that staff tried to maintain through counseling than strict rules and regulations.

But in 2011 the boys striked, shattering classes after the headmaster had punished those who had remained outside the school past time allowed. Mr Ahimbisibwe blamed the strike on “external influence.”

At Ntare each student is encouraged to belong to a club or an association in the school, geography, biology history, cricket or scripture union. “Students plan and manage their numerous clubs on their own and successfully with minimum intervention from staff. Student leaders command a lot of respect from fellow students, staff, and administration and the nearby school community. Prefects handle a lot of administrative matters which else where are handled by staff or administration,” says Mr Ahimbisibwe.

This gives them the opportunity to learn to manage their own affairs and to develop their skills of leadership and administration. The administrators say this explains why the school has produced people who are in prominent positions in this country and in the Diaspora.

The school has old boys’ reunion where current students get opportunity to interact and share on the knowledge of the successful old boys. The famous reunion was the one of October 2000 where Presidents Museveni and Kagame played foot ball together with other alumni. But Mr Museveni left prematurely after learning that Dr Besigye has announced he would contest for the presidency in 2001.

Ntare School has a special relationship with Bweranyangi Girls Secondary school in Bushenyi called Bwera-Ntare. In the old days boys moved to the girls’ school for dance and the girls would come for exchange visit to the boys’ school the next term.

Out of this schools relationship some boys spotted girls they would later marry.Ntare associated with Anglican Church founded Bweranyangi because of its liberal approach unlike catholic founded Maryhill High School which had strict values that did not allow girls to mingle freely with boys. “Bwera-Ntare relationship was very interesting, boys cherished it. It even extended to Makerere University where old boys and girls of both schools identified together. They would jointly visit the two schools to give advice and encourage their young brothers and sisters,” says Mr Kamuhanda.

Ntare School was however shattered by liberation wars in 1972, 1979 and 1981-86. “Buildings were shelled, furniture vandalized and books burnt, the school was a barracks for Tanzania army. But the old boys mobilized and rebuilt it,” he says.

It now has 1500 students with five streams for O’level and three streams for A-level, and 70 teachers. New structures have been put up including one double stored block of flats for staff houses, Crichton Memorial Communications centre which houses the library and computer lab; a magnificent golden jubilee hall built in the shape of a lion which sits 1500 students and the recently completed double storeyed 300 student capacity dormitory.