FROM Budadiri in Mbale, he failed all his examinations at primary and Oâ€™Level. Then he sneaked into Kenya where he had no relative. So to survive, he worked as a houseboy and labourer on construction sites.
After one and a half years in Nairobi and Mombasa, his next destinations were London and Paris where he was a dish washer (1970s) in UK and French restaurants. He then shifted to New York in the 1980s as a street hawker.
That is the resume of Chief Musamaali Nangoli, a 51-year-old father of four, who went on to become an internationally acclaimed intellectual with 21 books to his name. His latest 110-page piece, Preparing Well for and Passing any Exam is a collection of his experiences as a â€œbelow par studentâ€.
â€œThis book is meant to inspire you to look beyond just exams. To regard exams as a means to an end, but not an end in itself,â€ explains the introduction.
Despite being a son to a schoolteacher, Chief Nangoli was one of the tail-enders in his class. â€œMy problem started in later primary education,â€ he recalls. â€œClass work wasnâ€™t very bad, but when it came to exams, I would almost freak out.â€
As a pupil at Kolonyi Primary School, in the 1960s, Nangoli barely made it to primary seven after failing examinations.
â€œI think I must have come last or second last,â€ says the fourth born in a family of 13 children. After an aptitude test, he was promoted to P.7.
Thank God his father Magumba Nangoli never gave up on him. He always encouraged him to â€œpull up his socks.â€ Once a teacher referred to him as a sheep (a person who cannot learn). But other teachers knew he was intelligent, only having a problem with how to approach examinations.
In his Oâ€™ level at Bukedi College Kachonga, he would score only between 5% and 10% in examinations. â€œOne time I got 15% in physics and my teacher (Bob Withnal) was very happy. He called me to his office and gave me money for performing exceptionally well,â€ Nangoli reminisces with a chuckle.
When the Oâ€™Level (then called Cambridge Certificate) Examination results were released, his best papers were two pass eights in English and History. The rest were G9 (worst than F9). â€œI was a G student, not even an F student,â€ he explains.
Nangoli says there are a number of reasons why people fail. â€œSometimes we are asked the wrong questions, so we end up giving right answers under wrong questions.â€ Then, he says, other people (like him) take long to develop intellectually. So failure to pass exams at one level does not mean that a person is dull.
Today, the life of Nangoli, whose title of â€œChiefâ€ was derived from his ancestral lineage of chiefs, is that of an intellectual, who speaks like a Professor. While a refugee in France in the 1970s, he pursued a course in French (at Alliance FranÃ§oise centre) and later scooped a World Universities Service (WUS) scholarship to finish a Bachelor of Law at UKâ€™s University of Sheffield.
â€œNobody is stupid and nobody is a failure. Sometimes the syllabi lead students towards reading only to pass examinations,â€ he stresses. Upon reaching higher education, Nangoliâ€™s brain â€˜woke upâ€™. He became an intelligent boy and he wrote his first book Nelson Mandela and Apartheid when he was 17 years old. Today, many of his books are used as references and taught in many universities around the world. The latest title Preparing Well For and Passing any Exam, was launched recently by Makerere University Vice-Chancellor, Prof Livingstone Luboobi. He hailed Nangoli as a beacon of determination. â€œSometimes failing is a process of training. Perhaps failing is the best way of learning,â€ Luboobi said.
Failing exams is not the end