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I am a self-made man, says Fagil Mandy

For 20 years, 91.3FM Capital Radio has brought some of the most interesting people stories to its listeners.

For nearly 10 years, The Observer has brought you some of the most passionate journalism ever practised in Uganda.

Starting today, every Monday, The Observer and Capital Radio are teaming up to bring to you excerpts from the Desert Island Discs programme. The programme airs on Capital every Sunday, at 7pm.

Today, Simon Kasyate hosted one of the most interesting Ugandans you will ever come across. And this Monday, here is Fagil Mandy, education consultant, passionate educationist, and chair of Uneb.

You are an avid educationist, a former civil servant, a teacher, an athlete, and artists…everything, but who is Fagil Mandy?

I was born in Fort Portal in Kabarole district, but shortly after my birth, my mother and grandmother decided to move. I have never known why. But they moved and came to Kyebando, next to Nsooba [stream].

My earliest memories are playing in the Nsooba [stream]. I grew up in Kyebando and the surrounding areas like Kamwokya streets, playing around, catching grasshoppers with Ugandans and Indians.

Talking of Indians, you look one. Are you?

I am a mix. My father was an Indian who worked as a postmaster in Fort Portal. That’s where he and my mother met and got me.

Only you?

Yes, only me. It was not a marriage but a one-off kind of relationship, that’s what my mother told me. She was about 14 years when she conceived. She was a baby getting a baby in a way. That’s why I am forever grateful to her as a woman because another silly girl would have aborted.

She tells me that when she told my father that she had conceived, he was not interested. So, really I have never known him to be an interested man in me. That is why I am increasingly grateful to my mum because the responsibility was left to that girl plus my grandmother.

Have you ever seen your father since?

No, I have only seen him in a photograph. Recall that I left Fort Portal as a kid, barely able to walk and all the while, I never made any attempt at looking for my father until when I was 24 years, and working as a headmaster at Old Kampala primary school around 1974.

That is when I went back to Fort Portal for the first time to try and track down at least a bit of information about my father. By that time my mother had told me that my father was an Indian called Amir Afzal. He was a Muslim and working as a Post Master in Fort Portal.

One of my maternal grandfathers was of mixed parentage of a Mutooro mother and a Muganda father. There is a gentleman, Hamis Kasujja, who took me and showed me the post office where my father used to work. I chatted with people who worked there at the time but they did not have any records [about my father].

Then he took me to another Indian who was living next to the market, running a mechanical garage. That was a close buddy to my father. So when he introduced me to him, he remembered that my father had a child here. He pulled out a photograph which was hanging on the wall. In this photograph, this particular man was standing with my father. He told me, “This is your father”. So that is the closest I ever got to my father.

You didn’t ask him where your father was physically...

He didn’t know by that time. Because this gentleman had remained in Fort Portal while my father left about 1958 for India. So, I saw my father only in that photograph and that picture had a lot of things.

It was a memorable picture. He was a tall guy in the picture, I liked him. He had casual clothes on, sort of khakish, and he was holding a gun, a hunting rifle. So I saw my father as a tough guy, a hunter. Cowards never carry guns. Cowards never stand on the stomach of an elephant. They run away from a chameleon. [Laughter].

He was not a plump guy, he was big but well-trimmed. So, that was the closest I got to my father. The other time was when I met the man I replaced as headmaster of Old Kampala primary school, a certain Khan who told me he knew my father. When he was leaving, he told me he was going to try and search for him, but I never heard from him again. [The picture later got lost].

So you don’t know any paternal relative of yours?

No. See, my father didn’t show interest in me even before birth.

Do you, therefore, harbour a deep-reaching loathing for him?

No, not at all. In fact I have said severally that I am grateful to him for having met my mother; otherwise, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be me. I am the only me, a mixture of my mother and him.

For the avoidance of incest, have you had to discourage your own children from being involved with anyone of Indian race, being that could be a relative?

Aahh, you don’t think much about it. My father could have fathered other children in Kabarole. But I never got to know, up to now I have never heard any rumour about my father and any children, so it ceased to exist in my mind.

But don’t you look at every mixed race person as a probable relative?

I outgrew that. I am one person that out grows situations. For me that is a bye-gone. When I see a half cast, I hope they have a greatness in them like I have had to inculcate in myself.

First song: Omukyala Bamukwata Mpola Nnyo, for its melody and great message. Dedicates it to the women in his life, his mother being one of them.

Most people didn’t know your Musa name, why don’t you use it?

I started liking that name when I was in secondary school. I have a philosophy in life. I have never wanted to be known for my religion. I have always wanted to be known by my deeds and character. I am stating this in the context in which religion has earned people positions in politics, everywhere.

But the Mandy name is also one peculiar one, from its spelling to placing it as a surname.

I was born on Monday and hence the name. But when I was learnt to write, it was in Luganda and so I wrote Monday as Mande. Later on in primary five, one of my teachers, an acquaintance, asked why I can’t make my name a bit smarter, give it some swagg. So I went home and gave it some swagg by removing the “e” and replacing it with a “y.” I was very proud to have created my name.

And the Fagil name?

I created that too. My father was called Amil Afzal Khan. But I didn’t want to take on any of his names. With more thought I decided to get myself a name that is closer to his but not exactly. So I played around with letters of his name and picked out Fagil. I am proud to have made myself a name.

Back to your childhood, how can you describe it?

My mother was very close to me. My next sibling didn’t come through until I was over three years. I had always known my mother as a working woman.

She was a house girl working for Bazungu in those quarters formerly housing the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) at Kitante, Mulago. At home my grandmother grew her crops and sold some. She owned a kibanja in Kyebando and I loved to dig with her.

As a housemaid’s child and a grandmother into majorly subsistence farming, did you get a chance to a decent form of education?

First I went to Kyebando primary school. But I want to emphasize that by moving and closely associating with my mother, I met and got exposed to many things children in my setting wouldn’t like entering a mzungu’s house.

So I learnt to appreciate cleanliness, I also got to talk to them [bazungu]. This motivated me to learn even  more English to the point that while I was in my next school, a small school near Erisa on Gayaza road, I had English lessons with classes above mine. My English language and the general social interactions with the Bazungu, lifted me.

My mother then moved me to Makerere primary school after a year. Arriving there towards the end of the term, I  was almost the last in class. And a year later, she shifted me to Jinja-Karoli in Kawempe. So from Kyebando, we used to walk to Kawempe, a distance of no less than eight kilometres one way.

Was your mother ever married?

She didn’t get married officially. I remember she lived with what I call a step fathers, they were two of them.

Do you have siblings from this?

Yes, one was from the first stepfather, the six were from the second. We are eight children, two of whom have passed away.

Are any of your siblings of mixed race like you?

I am the only one who looks like this. One day, my mother sat me down and told me: “You have no brother, no sister, your only brother and sister is your books.” I will never forget that statement, it sunk in well.

Can we comfortably say you are most prominent of your mother’s children?

Yes, I am the king! I am the super star! [Laughter]. Those words from my mother were very instrumental. That’s why I say: “How far you go in school doesn’t make you a wise person.” My mother who barely attended school could philosophise for me, practically that my brother and sister are books.

And that motivated me to work extremely hard in school. From Jinja Karoli, I crossed to Kalinabiri for junior one and two and after, the system changed to include Junior three which I attended in Kisaasi. All my schools have great memories. After here, I went to Lubiri Secondary School, inside the [Kabaka’s] palace.

How was your mother able to afford school fees to such schools?

My mother was a very prudent woman. My stepfathers never chipped in but I was never chased away from school for fees. She always found the money. Twice, I got some bursaries from the Buganda government and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association. But also I started working early in my life.

At what point exactly?

At about eight years. Apart from the domestic chores, I did various jobs on my village, the first being fetching water for people. I used to carry two debbes of water, never in my head. I used to dig, sometimes for my teachers as well as building mud and wattle houses all for pay.

But the bigger jobs came in when I was in S2 and S3. When I talk of bigger jobs I mean pit latrine digging. A neighbour’s son and I would contract a 50-feet deep pit on Friday evening after school and by Sunday evening we are demanding for our money after a job well done.

You must have been quite a sight, a half-caste kid involved in menial jobs at a time when Indians or half-castes were regarded of a higher class.

I was an adorable kid on the village, and the folk were used to me as an inspiring child.

Your life is clearly a mixed bag of fortunes and misfortunes…

I don’t consider anything as a misfortune. For example that I never saw my father, is probably the best thing. Otherwise, I may not have grown into what I am today. I had the opportunity to create father figures from any male I interacted with whether physically or virtually, including film stars.

I started watching films early in life. Remember I had money from working, I was a guy with cash. We went to cinema halls.

How were you able to balance between your academics and the fact that you had quite some cash on you which has a tendency to derail children?

I was a very careful money user. Starting to work early taught me four basic things:

  • I learnt to look for a job. I have university leavers who cannot open any door to search for a job.
  • I learnt to do a job to please my boss.
  • To earn and control my money.
  • Not to despise any job.

So the pit latrine job made me the chairman of Uneb and all else I have been.

There weren’t many children of mixed race, did you ever get teased for your looks?

It was there and it did wonders for me. Particularly there were these boys who called me all sorts of names like ‘Mukyotala’, Mwana wa malaaya. Those hurt me. They would play with my curly hair and say it looked like that of a rat that’s dropped in water. If I were a big boy, I would have fought, but I resolved to beat them academically and on the track.

At what point did you choose the teaching vocation?

By the time I joined secondary school, I wanted to be an accountant because one of my mother’s employers was an accountant. I also wanted to be an engineer. However, after S4, I went to Kyambogo for teacher training as opposed to joining HSC. I wanted to take a short-cut in life.

When I was in S4, I happened to father two children from two mothers. So, faced with this responsibility, it was such a turning point in my life.

How did your mother receive this news?

She was happy. But for me this was a turning point. I resolved to be a serious father and so take a shortcut to Kyambogo where they were paying a little allowance to train as a teacher. I trained in physical education and English language. Here, I was involved in almost everything from athletics, music and politics. Secondary school shaped me, but Kyambogo completed me.

And where were your children and their mothers?

I was fending for them, sending money. But I started staying with them very early as I never married any of their mothers. From Kyambogo, I was taken in as a tutor at Nyondo TTC.

I was the first grade five teacher to be allowed to go and train teachers with a special letter from the commissioner of education. Here, I was staying with my children, a boy and girl. After that I went to Namutamba TTC and then Shimoni TTC, around about the time Indians were leaving [expelled by Amin].

It is here, at Shimoni, that I was spotted by the DEO who picked me from a lesson, drove me to Old Kampala primary school and made me a headmaster, at 24 years! In the misfortune of chasing away the Indians, I had the opportunity of becoming a headmaster.

And I always challenge many young people, “Can you stand out of the crowd?”

After one year, I went to Agha Khan, then called Kampala primary school as a headmaster. I left Agha Khan and became assistant education officer and was deployed in Bukedea district where I worked for six months before being recalled to the headquarter in Kampala.

By this time were you married?

Yes, I did when I was in Namutamba to my first wife who was also a teacher. In 1976, I was the first non-European headmaster of Kitante primary school and I served till 1979 when I decided to quit and pursue a degree in education.

I joined Makerere University when I was already driving. And at this point, I already had all my six children. I am currently a grandfather to 16.

Are you political?

Obviously. I am a manager of society and that’s what politics is. Politics is a noble job.

Do you feel underutilized having never served as, say, a minister of education?

There is no moment when I felt I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. When I retired, I decided that I was going to make my organization, the Fagil Mandy Education Consults, as the biggest thing in that area. It’s a dream I still hold.

What does your consultancy do exactly?

I evaluate schools, I provide innovative solutions to the directors and I train teachers. But I am also a fitness freak whose day starts with physical exercises and this I pass on to whomever I meet. I make 65 years today but see how fit I look!

Any regrets in life so far and where do we hope to see you in the future?

I don’t  want to be in a wheelchair or financially a dependant of my children. No.

Tell us about your children.

The oldest girl is currently working with the president’s office, but she is a trained teacher. The boy studied electrical engineering and is working in Burkina Faso with the UN. The third one studied Mathematics at Makerere but left for Russia to study industrial machinery and now works and resides in Ukraine.

The fourth is a medical doctor/surgeon in Sydney, Australia and the fifth one went through Kyambogo to study architectural drawing and civil engineering. Currently self-employed.

The last born studied immunology and is working at the Virus Research Institute in Entebbe. She is not yet married, hardly talks about it and I don’t bother her. The mother of the last four children passed on in 1993 and a year later, I married my current wife, who is also a teacher. But we are currently business partners.

What one thing would you carry with you on a desert island?

A mobile phone, to keep in touch with the outside world!

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