When you are new to a school and someone directs you- “That one is the Head Prefect” for some new students, the resolution might well be to keep as far away as you can from this enforcer of law. This was my impression when I first met Patrick Bakka Male, introduced to me in his white shirt and black slacks with a badge beaming “Head Prefect.” Immediately my idea was, to avoid trouble, keep away from this chap who imposed himself as the law. You see he had quite a number of stern prefects roaring below him, with a certain fundamentalist religious streak, quick to book and even lead any student who dared them to expulsion.
So, aware of my sins, which soon involved breaking boundary rules to explore village liquor hangouts at night when others were lost in prep work, I decided not cross paths with him. But as I would find out Bakka was the gentlest lad you could ever meet. Raised on the outskirts of Entebbe town, he had gone to Kiwafu Primary School, from where he joined King’s College in 1976 and assigned to Nigeria House. He embraced Budo unreservedly. Isaac Kironde, an Engineer now settled in UK joined a year after and recalls, “Bakka was always smartly dressed and orderly. He took me under his wings. Because of that, I’d follow him on several occasions to beat the drum ( KCB’s alarm clock) as school time keeper!”
This was the same impression Dr George Kaleebi, who is settled in US, had of him too. “Patrick was one of the first students I met upon arrival. As I got to know him I admired him for being a model student: neat, well groomed, orderly, well organized and punctual.” He had a penchant for wearing clean vests “Bakka Male had many white vests,” recalls David Sseppuya, a housemate who later went on to edit Uganda’s two leading dailies, New Vision and Daily Monitor.
It came as no brainer when in his S2 he was appointed time keeper, progressing on swiftly to sub-lumper and market mayor. Isaac Kironde again recalls, “In S3 he was our Treasurer Agriculture Club as well as house gardener- directing all junior to maintain the House flowers.”
No one goes to Budo and fails to come across Born Again Christians- the Balokole! One day, in his S2, on 5th July 1977, Bakka stumbled into the School Christian fellowship meetings referred to as “Contact fellowship.” Dr Francis Owori who was a class above recalls something that happened and would forever change his life. “Bakka Male literally got saved in my hands..!” It was the best decision of Bakka, and he would never look back.
In 1980, after he returned for A’level to do PCM combination, he was nicknamed “Backhouse”- after the mathematics textbook that he frequently carried around! Budo had a long tradition of appointing as Head Prefects often the tallest student who could impose order, like Herbert Wamala (RIP), Head Prefect 1977 and Ben Wakiro, Head Prefect 1980, who easily towered over the rest. When Bakka decided to stand as Head Prefect for some because of his rather much smaller stature he stood no chance. But, “There was something magnetic about him,” recalls Dr Timothy Sentongo, a US based medical doctor. “He did not weaponize his voice with verbosity. His words were always few, simple and deeply illustrative.”
“The moment he opened his mouth and amplified his deep voice,” George Bamugereire, the former Deputy Inspector General remises, “he immediately became the front runner.” Most of the students were already aware of his work ethic and they elected him by landslide. He would be deputized by Jennifer Lubwama (Musisi), later Kampala City Authority Director. Isaac Kironde recalls, that soon after his election, Bakka started joking, “one day I will become Head Master of King’s College Budo!”
Prefects at Budo tend to suffer an intended consequence of spending so much time supervising students, returning to theirs much later. In the case of Bakka he found he needed to attain a better score at A’level and would only join Makerere university together with the class of 1983.
At Makerere University he was assigned to Lumumba hall. That’s where he spotted a beautiful girl called Molly.
Molly was the daughter of the famous Abbey and Florence Kibalama, a singing maestro family, known as Eschatos Bridal Choir. She had gone to Gayaza High School and had been admitted to study Geology. She too had made a decision to accept Jesus as a personal Savior back in August 14th 1977, while at Gayaza. Bakka attended St Francis Chapel where Molly was also a member. Late one evening while returning from a church sponsored mission trip in Namutamba they made a stopover at Molly’s house. Bakka would recall “I was struck by the way Molly interacted with her parents. After making the necessary consultations with God and prayer I proposed.” She said, “Yes!”
In 1987, the new Uganda President Yoweri Museveni, who had earlier shot to power with blazing guns presided over his first graduation ceremony at Makerere University as Chancellor. Dressed in graduation gowns in that cohort was Bakka graduating with a Bsc degree in education. If graduates are supposed to look forward to a bright future after toiling through school up to the famous hill, by then after years of war and economic mismanagement, Uganda’s economy was in doldrums. Perhaps the worst casualty of these times was the teaching profession. To survive, those who graduated as teachers would quickly pack off for Kenya, Southern Africa or elsewhere other than Uganda. This was their chance to escape a life of misery, that was the misfortune of being a teacher.
But Patrick was different. He had already decided on a career as a teacher. Other than flee for greener pastures across the borders, he lingered and soon the Ministry of Education posted him to Namilyango College as a teacher of Physics and Maths. Meanwhile, his relationship with Molly had matured and on 24th September, 1988, which happened to be Molly’s birthday, they tied the knot at Namirembe Cathedral.
If there was one rocky start, full of test, here was one. Soon blessed with a baby girl, the child died at just three months after a short illness. Then they had a boy. At eight months while crawling he picked up an object, put it in his mouth and choked to death. Patrick was out of town when he received the devastating news of the loss of his second child!
Such trials can tear apart a young family but Bakka and Molly’s love and faith was of true mettle. They weathered through it all. And then a life changing career move took place.
For much of the first half of the 1900s, Budo would attract back her best students to return and serve as teachers. The list is endless and reads like a Who is Who in Uganda. Among these one finds: William Senteza- Kajubi, later twice Vice Chancellor, Makerere University; Erisa Kironde, later Chairman of Uganda Red Cross; Joshua Zake, later first post independence minister of Education; William Kalema, later Minister of Commerce in Obote government; Sarah Ntozi, first Uganda woman graduate; Appolo Kironde, later first Ugandan Ambassador at UN; David Sentongo, later long serving Makerere University Secretary. In the late 1960s a former student called Elizear Kizza Bawuba had returned too, before going to Ohio University, US for postgraduate studies.
But the 1970s were harsh, as Uganda spiraled into an age of darkness. Budo lost the bulk of her expatriate teaching staff, many graduates of Oxon- Cambridge. Teachers struggling to survive abandoned the once most coveted profession and, the school, which at one point threatened as the best in East Africa, became like ordinary. There was only one old Budonian, Rev Laban Bombo, who stuck to the trade but had no ambition to serve beyond being School Chaplain and maths teachers.
In 1980, desperate for a successor, the Board led by Mr E M K Mulira, a veteran politician and writer remembered there was once a teacher called EK Bawuba. They approached him and found he was interested in returning as Head Master and help revive the school. Coming as a man on a mission within the first year of arriving back, he resurrected the Budo model of excellence, and that year she was announced as the best performing school in the Secondary exams. Bawuba preached to his students, “only the best is good enough.”
Unfortunately, by mid 80s, Bawuba’s health had started to suffer, after being diagnosed with cancer. Not wanting to see his dream perish he went out with characteristic energy to entice back some of his old students as teachers. Once he got wind that Bakka had been placed at Namilyango College, he maneuvered his way around and had him move to Budo. In fact, earlier he had had him back for his teaching practice but this time he was a confirmed teacher.
In 1998, Mr Bawuba passed on, but with his mission accomplished. There was now a new crop of graduate old Budonins as teachers. These included: Prossy Sengoba, Edwin Dhauke, Henry Semwanga, Lawrence Semkube and of course Patrick Bakka Male. Mr Bawuba would be succeeded by Mr Sam Busulwa, a superb educationist, who maintained the school at its top, in spite of reluctance by certain Budonians to embrace him because he was not a former student. Of course this was a moot point. All the first7 white headmasters none had studied at Budo but went on to serve the school excellently.
Bakka and Molly happily settled in Budo and after walking through a tunnel of fire, the Lord opened the floodgates of blessing. They saw their family grow to three boys, Peter, Paul, Joseph and a girl, Rebecca. Every Sunday he fellowshipped at Namirembe Cathedral, where he was a church warden.
In 2000 as Mr Busulwa’s term drew to a close the question of his successor took center stage. Bakka had quickly progressed to Deputy Head Teacher but there was a small problem. His experience was virtually limited to Budo and some considered him too young. An opportunity emerged in 2002 when an opening emerged and he was posted as Head Master of Muntuyera High School- Kitunga in Ankole.
Budo has a history of exporting her model of excellence to other schools. In 1926 a former teacher at Budo, Ernest Calwell, left and started Nyakusura school in Toro Kingdom along the same model of education. In 1991 the once Ag Head Master and old Budonian Stephen Kamuhanda was posted to Ntare School which had lost its luster and helped revive it back to its place of glory. Started in early 1960 as a church founded school, Muntuyera High School, had already produced notable alumni, including Gen Mugisha Muntu, Justice Yorak Bamwine, Attorney Enos Tumusime. However, the school had lately started to disintegrate due to persistent strikes.
Bakka saw it as an opportunity to prove himself outside the shadow of Budo. He exported the Budo clockwork system of excellence and not only did the culture of strikes cease but the school suddenly became an academic power house in the West. Now noticed he was moved to Mengo Senior School, one of the first schools in Uganda. There not only did he see it become one of the best performing schools but also set out to build an administration bloc.
Encouraged by his progressive leadership, come 2008 and there was a switch for him to rejoin Budo as Head Teacher, replacing Mr George Semivule who was moved to Mengo School. Upon return Bakka found one hot issue awaiting him.
In 2006 Budo had celebrated her 100th anniversary. Among some of the activities leading to the celebration was fundraising and opening up a swimming pool on the school premises. The earlier pool based at Nansove, known for its environmentally unfriendly bush, had long fallen into decay. A prominent section of Budonians settled in the diaspora focused on raising funds. However, by 2008, in spite of all the money, except for a few dormant blocs, there was no pool!
This lapse had created a toxic atmosphere of restlessness within the Budo fraternity and it was an issue that needed to be addressed head on. Using some of the skills he had picked up along the way in fundraising and financial management, Bakka, who had by then gone back to school and acquired a Masters degree in Public Administration and Management from Makerere University, got the job of raising a swimming pool, finally accomplished. Buoyed by this success he moved to the next building project and fundraised to build a new administration block, which he also completed to success.
However, not all was well. The job of being Head Master of Budo is one of the most challenging in Uganda largely due to high expectations from Old Budonians. In 1977 Dr Daniel Kyanda had resigned as the 8th Head Master, spent and exhausted by a barrage of criticism, especially by his contemporaries unappreciative of his work to maintain the school in a turbulent time. Many Budonians, accomplished in their right, are unsparing in their criticism the moment they sense the school is sliding below number one, which is taken as a right. Upon release of national exams various sections of the Budo community habitually sit down in cafes, bars, gyms and invade social media chat rooms to analyze every last detail. Woe behold, if the school is not among the top three! The wires are going to ring off the hook the whole day. “The man is killing our school!” so goes. “He must leave!”
Bakka’s work would be complicated by another challenge. In 1997 Uganda introduced Universal Primary Education and the primary leaving population soon jumped from 5 million to over 7 million. Once PLE and UCE results were released throngs of anxious parents would queue up begging for a place in a school meant initaially for a population of 500 at the most, but which had since doubled but with more or less the same infrastructure. Much as he pleaded lack of space, often going at great length to squeeze in as many, Bakka always stood hurting someone who he failed to admit his child.
Bakka could be forthright and rather blunt in dismissing off some of the requests. Once he confessed to a highly placed official disturbed about his relation with his schoolmates he had spurned, “There are two Budonians,” he shared. “There are those who love the school and never left and are always involved in school projects. Then there are these other Budonians who left but only return and start demanding that I admit their kids. I have little respect for them.” And in one uncharitable mood he went on record to say, “Budonians, already made, should learn to give others a chance!”
Feeling slighted, some of the Budonians started a campaign to have him recalled, especially when his health suffered complications. They called up Ministry of Education and went on to complain to Church of Uganda as well. But there were two things which made such a campaign a dead start.
First, while Budo is a government aided school, except for the salaries of some of the staff, it only receives paltry funds from government of Uganda for its maintenance. With the school charging some of the least school fees in the country, government officials aware of their admission lists too, knew that the man was up to the job as through all his years Budo’s attained a 95% average first grade pass, while still engaged in building projects. By then he had started renovating and expanding teachers houses, which had also fallen in decay.
Secondly, because of his selfless service for Church of Uganda, Bakka was now one of the most influential lay leaders. He was not only head of laity at Namirembe, but had since served as Chairman of Namugongo Museum construction. He sat on Boards of various church owned institutions, including Uganda Christian University. Bishops all over appreciated his work.
Yet, if Bakka was facing challenges with his fellow Budonians, none could match as when he decided to build a school wall and fence off the vast school land. While in 1980 Uganda’s population was at 12 million, growing at over 3%, by 2008, it had risen to over 30 million. This had led to scarcity of land and encroachers had started laying claim on Budo land, too, often using a combination of farcical historical claims or bogus state military connections. Among some of the claimants was also a certain group of old Budo acquaintances and their beneficiaries. The moment he started land fencing they took to fighting him personally, hurling all kinds of insults and threats.
It is without saying all this must have had a stress effect on Bakka’s already fragile health. Not a man to give up, helped by the ever available and indefatigable Counsel Jimmy Katende, President of the Old Budonian Club, he calmly soldiered on, and helped secure back 90 percent of the land on top of hill.
Early last October after clocking retirement age his successor, Mr Fred Kazibwe, formerly of Mengo School, was named. A number of Old Budonians, including this writer, proud of all Bakka had done started putting together plans to host him for a job well done party. He had done us proud, simply. Unfortunately it was not to be.
Somewhere about Sunday, November 7th, a sudden rush of discomfort brought Bakka dowm. After being rushed to Mulago hospital he was admitted to Intensive Care Unit. After receiving the news, early in the morning of Tuesday, 9th November, I called up Molly to inquire how he was doing. Her answer was not very encouraging. I sensed all was not well and assured her we were praying. About 30 minutes after hanging up I saw a message that Bakka had passed on, just one month into his retirement.
When he was in S2 Bakka served as school time keeper. The time keeper at Budo is the chap who wakes up before the rest and rushes even through the rain to sound the drum that wakes the school up. As I often lay in my bed catching up on my sweet sleep and usually the last to rise, I had this curiosity what kind of kid was that who instead of enjoying his sleep decided to deny himself and serve the rest. For all his life, Bakka was a time keeper, serving others.
His whole life has all been about building up people. For all the criticism he faced, Bakka was most appreciated by one constituent that in the end mattered the most. It was his students who looked up to him as a fatherly figure. Bakka was a man of aphorism and loved to share folksy stories with his students whom he ministered to in the chapel and at school assemblies. He believed in a holistic education and one of his inspiration saying was “aspire, inspire and leave”; meaning that after all life’s accomplishments one would leave all behind for posterity.
When he had moved off the hill and was residing in his personal house, critics often charged that he wasn’t around to ensure school discipline. Yet the reason he had moved was because the old Head Masters house was in a bad shape due to tear and wear. According to the Chair of the Board of Governors, his classmate, Dr Charles Walaga, “In preparing for succession he knew the new Head master would need a house and therefore decided to build a double storied house which he was never going to sleep in!”
Yet, Bakka, did not just live for serving others at the expense of his family. In spite of all the fears that those who ended up as teachers in Uganda were destined for a life of poverty, using his managerial skills, entrepreneurial acumen and networks he gave his four children the best education and has left all qualified in their respective professions. He had long planned and built a beautiful house with an orchard and a banana plantantation up on Luwungu hill, past Masaka road.
On Friday, November 12th, after laying a flower in his grave, driving back to Kampala, not far from the Equator, I reflected on his life. I remembered what President Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of Defense, Edwin M Stanton, said after he breathed his last from mortal wounds inflicted by an assassin, John Wilkes Booth in 1865, dying aged just 56. Stanton looked up and said, “He now belongs to the Ages.”
Abraham Lincoln once said, “It is not the amount of years but the life in them that matters”! Some would say at 60 Bakka has gone too young. But at an early age he found his purpose in life- “Become Head Master of King’s College Budo”- and when the door opened he lived up to the bill. He used that opportunity to serve humanity and improve his society. In a time where integrity is a scarce commodity he maintained the Budo brand of excellence and service above self. Because Bakka lived his life impacting others, many decades, if not a century from now, he will still be living in all those whose life he touched and built.
The writer is Associate Professor of Management, Uganda Christian University and writing a book, “The Budo African Headmasters.”