​Kigezi High School@100: celebrate forgotten founders and builders

​Kigezi High School@100: celebrate forgotten founders and builders

Kigezi High School turned 100 this month. The centenary celebrations are honouring the famous people whose journeys passed through that school. Those alive today, and especially the politicians, dominate the names celebrated in speech, in writing and, perhaps, in song. Wealthy businesspersons who have made substantial financial donations are equally honoured. And they should be. However, we should also honour the often-forgotten men and women whose faith and hard work created and nurtured one of the finest schools in Uganda. 


The founding of Kigezi High School on February 2, 1922 is deservedly attributed to Dr. Algernon Charles Stanley-Smith and his brother-in-law, Dr. Leonard Sharp, two medical doctors with the British Church Missionary Society. Upon arrival in Kabaare in early 1921, Dr. Stanley-Smith and Dr. Sharp, both of whom would go on to become much-revered persons in Kigyezi, sent a rather unflattering report to the Church Missionary Society in which they described the Bakiga as a wild, lawless, and unintelligent lot, devoid of any vestige of politeness, and heathen almost to a man.


Sir Robert Coryndon, the Governor of Uganda, after whom a road in Kabaare is named, borrowed the two doctors’ words for his annual report for 1921: “Kigezi is populated by the Bakiga, a hard-working people of magnificent physique. But otherwise, drunkenness, witchcraft, and the grossest heathenism are the chains that bind these people in Satan’s thralldom.”  


Informed by this assessment of the Bakiga, the British missionaries embarked on a strategy that they dubbed the “three legs of the stool of mission.” These were (1) the establishment of medical services, (2) evangelization, and (3) formal education. 


With generous help from people in Britain, and with the enthusiastic support of local chiefs and elders, the two doctors built a hospital at Rugarama, on the present site of Kigezi High School, in 1921.  They then turned their attention to establishing a school, on the present site of St. Peter’s Cathedral, just up the hill from modern-day Kigezi High School. It was the first institution to offer formal education in the decade old Kigezi District of the British Protectorate of Uganda.  


The idea of building a school was received with the enthusiastic consent of the elders and chiefs, encouraged by Edward Kagubala, a Muganda colonial agent. Without this support, the missionaries might well have looked elsewhere, especially Rwanda or Rujumbura, where their rulers would have had no difficulty in getting things done by royal decree. 


In the event, Stanley-Smith, Sharp and Kagubala got things done. Interestingly, when I last visited the school twenty-five years ago, none of the three men was memorialised with a building or other public reminder of their indispensable roles.


Whereas the construction of the school (and the hospital) was supervised by the Europeans, the manual work was done by Bakiga artisans who did good without seeking personal gain or fame. A plaque honouring them would have been a good record or recognition of their contribution.


A school, of course, is nothing without students and teachers. The parents who allowed their children to enrol in a boarding school that was, for some, a few mountains away from home, were bona fide co-founders deserving great honour. It was not unusual for parents to veto attempts to take their children to school or to convert them to Christianity. 


Years later, Dr. Stanley-Smith recalled that “the school started with eleven little boys who arrived clad in skins, each trailing a goat, which was the original admission fee.” The number increased to twenty-four by the end of 1922.  


We know the names of 21 of the founding class of 1922: E. Bavawala, E. Bisetsa, 

Nathan Bwankosya, Y. Bwoma, F. Kabeba, Y. Kabogo, Z. Kakirakuyomba,

Katororo, W. Kirenga, D. Lukunya, M. Lutukula, W. Munyangyeri, E. Mutaga, A. Ndagijimana, Y. Nyirundukwe, K. Rutahigwa, E. Ruyombya, Semu Rwakiseeta, Z. Rwenduru, and Y. Zirarunshya.  


I know the stories, families, and careers of only three of them – Bwankosya, Rwakiseeta and Rwenduru.  Perhaps the offspring and descendants of the others can favour us with their records. Budding historians at Kigezi High School would do well to hunt down the stories of these pioneers.


These little boys were taught by Banyankore and Baganda teachers whose names I do not know. The school’s first headmaster, a Muganda called Samwiri Sebuliba, left after one year but returned as a regular teacher in the 1930s. What was his story? Sebuliba’s name appears to have been swallowed by thick mist in the mountains. 


Equally unknown are the people who built the earlier physical school. Who were they? What are their stories? By the time I joined the primary section in 1963 and the junior school in 1965, Kigezi High School was not only a centre of academic excellence but a neat campus that received the tender loving care of a non-teaching staff that assured the inmates of a very pleasant environment.


Two men stand out during my time. The first was Mr. George Kacwagure, the head of the School Estate Department. He was a friendly gentleman whose meticulous personal grooming was reflected in the neatness of the school. His full story should be told. His name should be formally honoured. 


The other gentleman was Mr. Eriya Katiikiri ka Mugaara, the head cook whose department was indispensable. His full story is on my website Would it not be wonderful if the school named the dining room “Eriya Katiikiri Hall”?


The names of all the non-teaching staff since 1922 ought to be found, their stories told and honoured. 


Our school’s centennial celebration is an opportunity to give thanks to God, to take stock, and to celebrate a venturesome journey and the achievements of its students.  Kigyezi invested heavily in that school and the stellar accomplishments of its graduates are a good report card on its work. Most of the school’s early graduates spent their working careers in Kigyezi. They built a district whose development was remarkable considering its overpopulation and limited natural resources. 


To what extent have those of us who went through the school in the last 70 years been able to live up to the standards of the earlier generations.  Where have we invested our intellectual, financial, and other resources? Where do we spend most of our time? Who is benefitting from our school’s investment in us? Have we fulfilled the founders’ dream of producing a transformative cadre of graduates for Kigyezi? Rekindling that dream would be the best way to celebrate our school’s first century. 


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