I attended St. Mary’s College in the first years of the Museveni administration arriving in 1988 and left in 1994. There was nothing unusual in that time. When you arrived at SMACK, the present, the past and the future were laid before you in the classes ahead of you. A-Level Science students wore spotless white lab-coats, a signal that for years St. Mary’s had the largest contingent of medical students every year. Even the voluble ones were well presented. My former head boy Mathias Ssekatawa told me as early as Senior Two that I was destined for law school even though he himself was just about to sit for A-Level and was nowhere near Law School.
The method in Kisubi was mostly independent and self-help. The Kisubi of my day had fairly good teachers but their role was mostly guidance. A few like Brother Kawuki, a physics and maths teacher sometimes took a bow to be challenged by students and many good ones they did create who have gone on to greatness on the national and global scene. Kisubi’s foundations were mission and Catholic. Those two are similar but not the same. Missionaries had a “messianic zeal” to create a class of leaders moulded in Western values. This value system has often clashed with a rapidly changing world whose value systems are more contemporary. But we miss some of these things which as in my father’s time (1949-1952) were more varied, sports, military training which ended in 1961 etc. Kisubi was an island of quiet, an oasis with little formal effort to introduce students to the villages beyond. So in a way, I appreciate that we had to be shielded from the external environment and the ways of the locals, but this shielding leads many boys to freeze when dropped into the unknown.
The challenges of keeping our great school, at the top are many. The owners of the school are at a major crossroads. Kisubi is no longer the automatic first choice of many well to do old boys who wish a bit more comfort and less regimentation for their children. This has diluted the pool of parents who must be part of the school’s future. The politics of the day also means that the pool of students is less diverse than it was before. In my time, arriving in Kisubi meant drawing a very low number in the country, and most of the kids who finished A-Level drew very low numbers on their way to Makerere University as the University only admitted 2000 students a year. Even in subjects like the Arts where performance was more average than the sciences, it meant a lot to arrive at the University on merit. I am grateful for Kisubi for discovering me academically in A-Level and later on to Makerere where I graduated at the top of my class and continuing to Harvard and Johns Hopkins Universities where I held my own and passed the New York Bar.
Old boys reminded me of the can-do attitude. No environment was permanent, people grew into their own. I have kept friends for life. One of my childhood friends Anthony Obura is now a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Engineers. He reached out to me as he approached the final stages of his examination to read his project book. When I faced a very costly construction claim on two highways in the country, I worked with him to resolve the claim and wrote an opinion which government ignored before eventually first blacklisting the firm and then reinstating it. In Kisubi, this was the confidence and integrity we upheld in each other. It is the same confidence I have when I interact with our doctors, dentists, architects and so on.
I am writing this article in a cottage in a forest, Kawanga Forest. Needless to say, my other classmate, also an ex-Budonian, Charles Kironde Batanudde designed this little village. The future of our great school is not to be like the many, it is to return to our excellence and integrity which should be never be negotiated away.