Book Review: A Look into Former SMACK Headteacher Br. Tinkasimire’s Autobiography

By Philip Matogo

“Those of us who were fortunate enough to attend the greatest secondary school in Uganda in the early 1990s can never forget our great Headmaster, Br Joseph Tinkasimire. He was a wonderful mentor,” says Lieutenant General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, Senior Presidential Advisor for Special Operations – Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF).

Whether you were in St. Mary’s College Kisubi (SMACK) or not, you can’t fail to appreciate the ardor infusing the General’s words with a fiery ring of truth.

Indeed, his words are equipped with the certitude of knowing that the 90s were another country.

A time when Uganda had just emerged from the war-torn 80s, sustained in the hope that hope itself would bloom eternal with the possibilities, not the conclusions, of our Ugandan life.

Br Joseph Tinkasimire’s book “Telling God’s Work: The Story of Br Joseph Tinkasimire, FICP” is testament to this time and how it shaped our times.

An intensely humble man, Br. Tinkasimire’s gratitude to the Lord cannot be gainsaid. Even though his father named him “Tinkasimire” which means, “I haven’t given thanks yet.”

Brother “Tinka”, as he was fondly known by students of SMACK, uses the whole book to give thanks in so many ways.


Born to Mr. Valentino Maketu Araali, the assistant catchiest of Matiri sub-parish of Kihura Sub County, Kyenjojo district, and Ms. Victoria Mugizi Akiiki, Br Joseph Tinkasimire’s story began on 1st May, 1937. It was a Saturday and Labor Day, too.

He was baptized on 15th August, 1937, a year before the birth of Kenyan leader Tom Mboya.

As a child, his mother says, he seemed to have the innate realization that cleanliness is next to godliness and thus became “meticulous” about keeping clean.

He shares an anecdote about his aunt Victoria Byabali and his sister Roza Kabonesa teasing him that, as a baby, his mother came from the garden after digging. So she was obviously dirty.

Furthermore, she was not ready for the rejection she summarily received from her son. For little Joseph promptly refused to be breastfed by her until she washed the garden soil from her hands!

In January 1945, when he was seven and a half years of age, Joseph started schooling and would walk up to 20 kilometers to and from school! It was tough going, but the furnace of this experience helped trigger those impulses of gentleness and vulnerability so distinctly incarnated in his humble personality.

When he reached primary three at the age of ten in the 1947, he was prepared to make the Solemn Profession of Faith.

Instructed by the Daughter of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus Sisters, DST, (Banyatereza) for two weeks, he passed his exams and made his sacramental confession.

Sadly, in this same year, his paternal grandmother and great friend Zabeti Kajoote Ateenyi passed on. This was his first time to see a dead person.

Apart from other deaths in his family, on a Saturday evening in October 1949, a dry stem of a shrub struck his left eye to leave him blind in that eye. The impact of the springy stem of the scrub had done irreparable damage. However, this never dented his spirit by making him feel sorry for himself.

Brother Tinkasimire seems to take all blessings and misfortunes as part of a moral covenant to take the good with the bad in order to winnow out the bad. This is the connecting thread running through the smooth fabric of this literary masterpiece.

Without a doubt, this well written book captures each of Brother Tinkasimire’s milestones with such fluidity of pen.

For example, on 31st December, 1956, he was declared a Canonical Novice so as to start his novitiate legally. This experience he sets forth elegantly in his simple yet sophisticated turn of phrase.

After witnessing the Union Jack coming down and the Ugandan flag rising in its place at the Independence Celebrations at Kololo, in mid-November 1962 he was informed that he was allowed to pronounce his Perpetual Vows.

After an eight day retreat at Kisubi on 6th January 1963, he made his perpetual profession of the three religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as he received Life Membership of the Institute of the Brothers of Christian Instruction.

Brother Tinkasimire had come into his own. Through his words, you can almost visualize the sun rising on his fortunes with the liquid grace of an orange ball in the east. Thereupon, his life had many triumphs and accomplishments as evidenced in his further education abroad.

Although, sometimes, it seems that the sun would set on his story.

For instance, in March 1979 at Nakulabye Parish Church; he survived a bomb blast as his last moments appeared to glimmer in the darkness of war. His life is a testament of gratitude to the Lord for giving his life exemplary value.

In an age where cynicism reigns like some misbegotten despot, Brother Tinkasimire’s life embodied the consciousness of a time when the innocence of “fundamental change” rang forth from the steps of parliament.

A time when we dreamed of dreams in fresh lights and made new connections to the better angels of our natures.

Brother Tinkasimire is a shining example of the humility that comes with unsuspected possibilities of purpose and the willingness to fulfill one’s own possibilities.

The cover of the book says it all: a smiling man who is brimming with the joy of his faith; a faith he never takes lightly and so doesn’t bear false witness against his neighbour or the Lord.

As he says in the conclusion to the book, “I realise how absolutely necessary it is to listen to others, and particularly to be attentive to the voice of the Lord. He is our Creator and knows what he wants for us, ‘Yes, I know what plans I have in mind for you, the Lord declares,’ Jr 29:11.”

When many of us are right for the wrong reasons, Brother Tinkasimire has shown us that we can be right for the right reasons through thanks to the Lord and by accepting that God’s work must be reflected by our own.


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