Amazing Story of an African Teacher

Joseph Apel

Joseph Apel Is an agriculturalist by training, an industrialist by trade, studied at Makerere University and in universities in North America, in the following article he reviews this exceptional and forthcoming memoir by his childhood friend, David Livingstone Ongom


When I first met him in in 1954 in our primary six class at Boroboro Primary School (Northern Uganda) under the distinguished headship of Wilson Okaka, Ongom David, as he was popularly known throughout the school, was a gangly youth. He appeared the kind of boy, school bullies will underestimate and seek to dominate. But they would be wrong. David was a fighter. In that spare frame, David packed a power-keg and a spirit that saw him sail through many stormy weathers.

For so long white people had it their way in Africa. Now independence had come and many white people did not know how to take it. Back then, in the Faculty of Education at Makerere University, where David was a student, the issue of racism came up. The predominantly white faculty was discriminating against African students in preference to the predominantly white student population of the faculty. Frequently undermarking Africans. David acting secretly with another student took the matter to the student newspaper, the Makererean, where the news of racism at the university made a big splash. The faculty responded with reprimand and stern warning against the Africans. A week later David took the matter to the Uganda Argus, the leading Kampala newspaper of the day and there the matter exploded.

Professor Lucas, Head of Education, was mad and wanted revenge. He was desperate to find out who done it but he failed. At the last minute he discovered that David had done it. And his anger returned with all its fury. He looked for a way to fail David out of the program. But it was late. External Examiners from the University of London had arrived and were themselves now examining students.  Short of appealing directly to the external examiners Lucas could do nothing about David. The London examiners found David’s work superlative, the best they had seen in 10 years of examining students. Lucas had no choice but to withdraw the failing grades he already awarded David.


There are many such incidences reported in this gripping memoir. The author spares no one, including himself. Be they classmates, teachers, colleagues or just friends. The strength of this work lays in its brutal honesty, its breadth of coverage from earliest childhood memories in colonial days, to the very last events in the author’s simple but amazing life. Not least, the

book’s strength is to be found in the clarity and the economy of its language.

When I first met him, David was a loud mouthed and talkative boy, the sort of boy that serious students would avoid, and most teachers would ignore. But they would be mistaken. David had a mental agility that seemed to flourish under chaos. As he was all physical, David was also, all intellect. This was a rare combination. It was nothing surprising that throughout his school and college career he combined music, football, dance and debate, with his school work, with amazing ease, always managing to keep himself within the ranks of the top five.

I was so grateful when at the end of his undergraduate studies at the University of Nairobi in 1967, David branched out into teaching as a career. With his qualification and good grades, he could easily have gone elsewhere as he in fact almost did. The teaching career, in my opinion, offered David an ideal platform to share his amazing gifts with young people. Early this year we received. David was dead. What a sad moment that was for me. What a sad moment that was for his dear family that I knew so well. David was a friend. And now it seemed all had ended and had come to naught. And along comes this book. His own story in his own words about the work he did and about the life he lived while he was in the world with us. It is a living testimony. This book, Amazing Story of an African Teacher, will eventually be read across the world by many generations to come. It shall become a classic.