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Uganda’s oldest school, Mengo SS still shines

It’s undoubtedly the oldest school in Uganda, but Mengo Senior School is yet to slacken its pace. Indeed, it was no empty boast when the school’s Parents and Teachers Association chairman, Samuel Mulindwa Mukasa, told the school’s Annual General Meeting recently that Mengo has remained the best public day secondary school in the country academically. Last year, the school produced the second largest number of UCE division ones in the country, 295 students or 61.2% of its candidates. Its 330 UACE candidates, or 76.4%, scored four principal passes.
Although the school posted average performance in the tumultuous years of the 1970s and early 1980s, its performance has been above average and on the rise in recent years. For instance, the school’s UCE candidates that passed in grade one were 56.9% in 2006, 47.7% in 2007, 54.2% and 61.2% in 2009. This is no mean achievement for a USE day school.
Records show the school gained stature when the head teacher, Samuel Busulwa, restored the one session study in 1988. Busulwa, who had become Mengo’s head teacher in 1986, had to grapple with the moral degeneration characterized by daily vandalism of school property, teacher and student absenteeism and general apathy. To turn the school around and restore its original glory, Busulwa embarked on a challenge. He walked daily from his home in Kololo to the school at Mengo, a distance of over five kilometres.
That did wonders. The students and teachers stopped being late, absenting themselves and the theft and vandalism fizzled out. But Busulwa doesn’t credit himself for the transformation; rather, he cites the firm traditions of the school, especially the understanding that they are known as “Men Go”.  Busulwa himself studied at Mengo in 1955-57.


Mengo Senior School’s long journey is a testimony of the contradictions and dilemmas of life. Founded in 1895 by the Church Missionary Society (CMS), the school has changed from an elementary school, a boys’ junior school, a senior boys’ school and a mixed 0’ and A’ level school. As an elementary school, it taught reading, writing and arithmetic.
Having started as an institution for training chiefs’ sons and cadres for the fledgling colonial establishment, Mengo S.S. is now home to the urban poor’s children who can’t afford boarding fees.
Ironically, this once famous boys’ school was founded by a female missionary, Miss Chadwick. The school’s first name, according to the locals was Kayanja, named after Kayanja, a pioneer teacher and also because it was near the Kabaka’s lake (kayanja ka Kabaka, in Luganda). Although the school was on Namirembe Hill, its football pitch, constructed at Kakeeka in 1897 and said to be the first in Uganda was close to the lake. There was also an attempt to distinguish the name of the institution from Mengo Hill, the then the capital of Uganda.
Over the years, the school changed names a number of times, but it endeavoured to maintain its values of respecting God, persons and property and having integrity. Its motto is ‘Akwana Akira Ayomba, Luganda for ‘Make friends and not foes’. The head teacher, George William Ssemivule, told The Observer on that the motto traces its origin to the school’s inception during religious and political upheavals.
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. 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.
Ssemivule says there were a number of informal schools such as the one in Buruuli County that was dedicated to bringing up sons of chiefs. But Mengo was the first formal school and in less than two years, it was a fully fledged boarding institution.


Today, Mengo Senior School is a mixed day school with 3,315 students. It has 124 teachers, 25 technical staff and 35 support staff. This number requires an efficient administrative structure, which Ssemivule believes they have.
To manage the large number, the school has four deputy head teachers: in charge of personnel, academics and two for welfare. It is divided into three sections: upper (S.5 and S.6); middle (S.3 and S.4) and lower (S.1 and S2), each headed by a dean. Deans are assisted by year heads, who manage 450-500 students each.
School rules are regularly reviewed and the latest version, of 2008, is being reviewed following the July 11 terrorist attacks in Kampala. The school comes up with a new theme to guide all its activities every year.
For instance, the school has a CCTV to monitor security.   
Mengo Old Students Association, MOSA, also helps in the running of the school. Its motto is Obunammengo bwa luberera, Luganda for ‘Once a Mengonian, ever a Mengonian’. Ssemivule believes the motto encourages the old students to maintain the school’s reputation.

Records show the school has had 13 head teachers. Mr Chadwick, served between 1895-1901. He was succeeded by Mr. 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 decentralized the administration into the current three units.

Ms. Joy Male, 1994 – 1998, is remembered for introducing computers, Saturday tests and beginning of term exams.
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.

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, galvanization of Mengo Old Students Association and construction of a multi-purpose classroom block, the Bakka Plaza.

George William Ssemivule, 2007 to date, has stressed beautification of the school through renovation and construction of new structures like the new sickbay, walkways and new gardens.  He started a scholarship scheme in 2009.


John Male                    President
John F. Kazibwe          Vice President
Ashraf Senkungu         Secretary
Charles B. Male          Treasurer
Moses Bagalya            Publicity
Steven Kyeyune         Investment Officer

Mengo Senior School           1895
Namilyango College             1902
Gayaza Girls High School     1905
King’s College Budo              1906  
St. Mary’s college Kisubi     1906
Trinity College Nabbingo     1907
Kyebambe Girls School        1910
Busoga College Mwiri          1911
Mbarara High School           1911
Nabumali High School         1912
Bweranyangi Girls SS           1912
Makerere College School    1914
St. Henry’s College Kitovu   1920
Nyakasura School                1926
Nabumali High School, established in 1912 by the Church Missionary Society, was formally known as Mivule High School before moving to the present site on 3rd July, 1917. The change of name was made in 1919.

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