Sometime in 1989, Dr Peregrine Kibuuka, then Namilyango College head teacher, at a Tuesday assembly, sought to diffuse simmering tension between O-Levels and A-Levels. Nothing really serious; just that boys will be boys.
Clad in a neat, grey Kaunda suit, the permanently bespectacled Kibuuka, bless his soul, gesticulated heavily to make his point. “These people (he pointed at us who donned white shirts and grey trousers) are in Advanced Level! They are advanced! You guys (he pointed at the majority who wore white shirts and khaki shorts) are just in Ordinary Level. Ordinary Level! Nothing extra-ordinary about it!”
He lowered his voice a tad, rubbed his nose slightly and, wagging a long, thick right forefinger, then said that anyone in O-Level was in essence wearing an “L” for “learner” on his back. Show some respect, please! Big in size and powerful and persuasive as an orator, Kibuuka was generally nice and jovial, but could be fierce and fiery when necessary; and could win an argument compellingly by both sheer size and gift of the garb! The matter was firmly and finally settled there and then.
We wondered how Kibuuka, who assumed power in 1986 (sounds familiar?), would have handled affairs had he been headmaster by 1984, during a reign of terror, instituted by Simba, the bouncing baby boy of Maj Gen David Oyite-Ojok. To that later.
Oyite-Ojok was a class act. Had he lived in modern times, Maj Gen David Oyite-Ojok would have been found at all times with an IPhone 14 and the latest MacBook Pro laptop, researching for a presentation. But we didn’t have laptops, internet and mobile telephony in the 1980s. You got information by opening a book – or somebody told you. That is why most of us didn’t know about Britain’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst– the Harvard, Oxford or Cambridge of the military world.
I first heard about Sandhurst when people talked about Oyite-Ojok, arguably Uganda’s finest soldier ever. He was central to the overthrow of Idi Amin in 1979 and in the Milton Obote II reign, was army Chief of Staff. When he died in December 1983, in a helicopter crash, the guerrillas of Yoweri Museveni finally began to gain ground in 1984, and by end of 1985 had pretty much won the war. Had Oyite-Ojok not died, one thing is certain: Museveni wouldn’t be President today.
His parents were not big names; so it was clear Oyite-Ojok hadn’t attended Sandhurst because of who his father was. People – even his enemies – didn’t fear Oyite-Ojok; they simply admired him because he was a soldier’s soldier. Looking at Oyite-Ojok, we formed the opinion that people who attend Sandhurst are intellectuals.
And that intelligent, highly trained people are not violent: they settle arguments with brilliant counter-arguments and invite critics for a cup of coffee, at which they demonstrate their intellectual superiority. They don’t torture them and brag about it. And he was so down-to-earth that we played with his children – at least I played football with Isaac, a very nice boy, in Jinja.
But being a great man doesn’t mean you will sire great children all the way. It is when I went to Namilyango College in 1984 that I met Simba who was in Senior Four and in House Hanlon, a few metres away from my House Billington. Like his name, Simba was a lion; but a highly erratic, ill-tempered show-off of a beast with an extremely short fuse.
Simba had arms – and ammunition. He was in O-Level, but freely bullied the A-Levels. One day, a teacher, Mr Oketa, reprimanded Simba for an offence that would, for any other student, have meant automatic expulsion. Simba didn’t like it. He read him the Riot Act and demanded a full, unqualified apology. Mr Oketa, a big man who spoke with a heavy lisp, apologised, saying he was “thorry”.
Life has some rather harsh lessons – highly erratic, violent show-offs don’t live long; their unruliness often catches up with them and cuts their lives short, in their prime. Simba made enemies everywhere and turned up dead, less than a year after his father.
Forget about the Jimmy Akenas, sons of Obote. Simba is the most likely of the elite kids then who would have come out to aspire for national leadership and what a terror of Uganda he would have been!
Mr Tegulle is an advocate of the High Court of Uganda
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