Written by Moses Talemwa
Over the last four years, one group of primary schools has consistently returned poor results in national examinations – Muslim-founded schools. The matter has confounded Muslim leaders, who last month met at Hotel Africana to find ways of reviving these schools’ fortunes.
These schools were founded to enable Muslim children obtain a secular education. Most of these schools are united under the Uganda Muslim Education Association (Umea). Imam Idd Kasozi, a lecturer at the Islamic University in Uganda (IUIU), says he has observed the problem for some time and is concerned.
“These schools have not survived the degeneration that has affected the other schools. Universal Primary Education [UPE] was a major setback for Muslims,” Kasozi says.
Prof Abasi Kiyimba of Makerere University agrees with Kasozi, explaining that many Muslim parents imagined that with the emergence of UPE, the government would take over Umea schools.
“In the past, Muslims used to raise money to support their schools, now you see a Muslim threatening to sue a head teacher for charging fees to buy their own children lunch,” he says.
Kasozi is also concerned that most Muslim-founded schools lack the requisite infrastructure, in stark comparison to their secular counterparts.
“Most don’t have instructional materials or any reading books for that matter. And they have the poorest quality of teachers … in fact, we get the leftovers who can’t be taken up elsewhere,” Kasozi adds.
He explains that school management committees at these schools are poorly constituted, as they don’t take into consideration the qualifications of the members.
“That is why it is easy for some head teachers to hijack these committees instead of working to improve the performance of these schools,” he explains.
In the 1970s and 80s, most Muslim-founded schools like Kibuli Demonstration School, Bwala in Masaka, Lukalu, Kabasanda, Kibibi in Butambala, Namagabi in Kayunga and Kawempe Muslim primary schools were doing very well with most students passing in first division.
Secondary schools like Kibuli SS, Gombe SS and Nabisunsa Girls School used to draw their senior one class from these schools. But head teachers there say Muslim-founded primary schools are now unable to send even one student on merit.
According to Kibuli SS head teacher, Hajji Ibrahim Matovu, Kibuli Demonstration School’s entire P7 class would be admitted into his school in the past, on the strength of their performance.
“Today, Kibuli SS draws most of its S1 students from other private schools,” he said. Prominent Muslim parents are sending their students to private schools started by Muslims, like KY Day and Boarding primary school in Masaka, Umar BA Islamic Centre in Mukono, King Fahad Islamic, Kawempe Junior in Kampala and Lukman primary school in Wakiso. It is these schools that feed Kibuli SS, Gombe SS and Nabisunsa Girls School.
Kiyimba, who has studied the history of education in Uganda, says the Kabaka’s palace was the first source of learning. The arrival of the Arab Muslim preachers in the 1830’s saw the first Islamic lessons also carried out there, under the instruction of Ahmed Bin Ibrahim and Snay Bin Amir.
Kabaka Suna II, who reigned at the time, was among the first converts and students. Later his successor Kabaka Muteesa I also converted and supported Islam.
“This activity transformed Buganda from a traditional society to [an Islamic state] … Muteesa ordered his chiefs to build Mosques throughout Buganda,” Kiyimba explains. The monarch banished dogs from his court, banned the eating of pork and drinking of alcohol, before making the holy fasting month of Ramadhan compulsory.
The Kabaka’s brother, Nuhu Mbogo, and his descendants Prince Badru Kakungulu (Mbogo’s son) and grandson Kassim Nakibinge have continued the tradition. All this would have made for an easy transition for Muslims to secular education.
However, the arrival of the Christian missionaries and later the colonialists changed everything. A new Kabaka, Daniel Mwanga was on the throne and he was hostile to Islam. Working with Christian missionaries and the colonialists, he turned the kingdom faith away from Islam, and helped establish secular schools, starting in the early 1900s.
Most Muslims were wary about these schools for fear their children would be converted away from Islam. This fear was enhanced in 1933, when Yusuf Kironde Lule (later Ugandan president) converted to the Anglican faith, while a student at King’s College Budo.
Lule was the son of Abdallah Kironde, an administrator of the Muslim education secretariat of the time.
“Many children were taken out of schools, with the caveat that they would rather become butchers and vehicle drivers than convert to the Anglican faith,”
But some Muslim families started Quranic schools or Madaris (plural for Madrasa) to provide an Islamic education for their children.
Such schools were to be found at Bwaise in Kampala, Tikkalu in (Bombo), Kabigi in Masaka, Katuumu in Bulemezi, Lukalu in Butambala and Arua in West Nile.
By this time, Muslims were not only missing out on school, the colonial government had marginalized Quranic schools. A budget statement from 1944 shows that out of the 134,000 British pounds allotted for the education sector, only 313 pounds went to Madaris.
Concerned that a lot of Muslim children were missing out on an education, Prince Kakungulu started a campaign in 1944 to promote secular education in Quranic schools.
Later in 1947, Kakungulu started Umea and was its first president as well as chairman of its board of trustees. Ramathan Gava, Kakungulu’s former classmate at Budo was its secretary general. Other trustees were Hajji Musa Kasule, Juma Mugerwa, Musa Musoke, Sheikh Abdurahman Mivule and Amili Malende.
According to Kiyimba, the creation of Umea helped more students access education without the fear of conversion to Christianity. By this time, the number of schools run by Muslims had increased to include Kibuli, Kabasanda and later Bombo. Umea established a partnership with the East African Muslim Welfare Society, which helped these schools access funds.
“By the time the Obote I government took control of schools, Umea was running more than 180 full primary schools, eight junior secondary schools, one senior secondary school and one teacher training college,” Kiyimba adds, indicating that Muslims were making significant progress in education.
A 1991 census report shows that by 1968, some 49,000 Muslim students were in school out of the national enrolment of 632,162. Kasozi recalls that only two Muslims had ever obtained a university degree by 1962.
Idi Amin’s contribution
Idi Amin’s rise to the presidency in 1971 marked a second milestone for Muslims. In 1972, Amin started the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, which took over the running of all Muslim-founded institutions including Umea schools.
But most importantly, Amin supported the growth of several secondary and primary schools and later negotiated with several Islamic NGOs in the Arab world for scholarships for several Muslim students, a scheme that continues to this day.
In 1974, Amin travelled to Lahore in Pakistan for an Organisation of Islamic conference (OIC) meeting where he appealed for the establishment of the IUIU. The conference delegates were surprised by Amin’s insistence on it, but the dream finally came to life on February 10, 1988.
There are just two such institutions in Africa – one in Niger (for the francophone countries) and another in Uganda, headquartered at Mbale. The IUIU Spokesperson Shaban Lukooya, explains that the current Mbale headquarters had been slated for Arua, where Amin had set aside 5,000 acres for the project.
“However, before the project could take off, Amin’s government was overthrown and the subsequent Obote II administration relocated it to Mbale, where it was eventually built under President Museveni,” he explains.
Kiyimba and Kasozi agree that Umea should rise up and reassert itself if the Muslim schools are to be revived.
“Umea is a weak institution and needs to re-establish its financial base to monitor and supervise these schools, without resorting to fundraising from these same schools,” Kiyimba says.
For his part, Kasozi feels it is time to withdraw the schools from government control. “The Muslim community should take back these schools and help improve them,” he says.
Kiyimba adds that Umea should reinstate its inspectorate so that its officials can inspect these schools and ensure that the correct curriculum is followed and teachers are on duty.
Ultimately, Kasozi thinks the government ought to raise the standards of teachers, for learning to survive in Uganda.
“When I went to school, the most respected people in the area were teachers, but now they are the most demoralized … even the teachers’ colleges attract the poorest students, those who have completely failed to go anywhere,” he says. “Education is a service everyone needs and should not be left in the hands of individuals, who are primarily after money.”
Finally, both Kiyimba and Kasozi argue that differences between the UMSC leadership and Umea should be resolved quickly. Kiyimba, who has been involved in efforts to bridge relations between the bodies, is passionate about this.
“The mufti needs to be encouraged to allow the UMSC cede its education function to Umea so the council can maintain a supervisory role.” Crucially, Umea officials declined to comment in this story, with the chairperson Hajji Twaha Ddungu saying he was busy.