‘My father left and I lost my identity’

Wednesday September 22 2021
Tonny Mugabe

Tonny Mugabe, has struggled for identity since his biological father disowned him. PHOTO | MOSES K GAHIGI | NMG


One sunny afternoon in 1998 at the age of seven, while walking home from school Mugabe Tonny was told by his father that he wouldn't be going home.

His father told him he was taking him to his mother. A bewildered Tonny got into the car with his father and they drove until they found his mother on a roadside.

Everything was confusing for the young boy, he wondered if perhaps the family was shifting to another place, or maybe the plan was for the three of them to go back home together.

But on seeing his mother and talking to her, he found out there was no home to go back to, his parents had separated and his mother was staying by herself. His parents told him he would spend the holidays in the village.

When he finally went home to pick his clothes and head for the village, he found the house in total disarray.

His father then stopped paying school fees for him, and his mother could only afford a cheaper school where most of the children didn't wear shoes.


The next time he saw his father was when he picked them both and drove them to a lab in Kampala, where the three of them were to be tested for DNA.

Shortly after Tonny found out what was behind all these changes. His father had disowned him, declared that he was not his son, and that was the beginning of an identity crisis that would bedevil the young man for the rest of his life.

It was not clear what triggered his father's decision. When Tonny would ask his mother, she would tell him she didn't know why.

"My mother told me he was the only man she had ever been with and there was no doubt that he was my father," he said.

Tonny was the only child born to Banyarwanda parents in Uganda, and what followed after his biological father denied him was a life of hardship, torment and brokenness.

Given that it was 1998, the DNA results were not conclusive and they were to take more tests, but this never happened.

"He just couldn't wait any longer, he was so bent on getting me out of his life that my father refused to take the second test," he said.

Tonny became aggressive at school and was always fighting other children at school. His mother was forced to start a small hair salon to cater for their needs.

"He broke me. I remember being completely lost as a child, I was angry most of the time and had so many questions," he said.

"My mother taught me how to read the bible and pray," he added.

While in P7, Tonny's mother started dating and later married Kennedy Ssenoga.

Life started changing for the better. Tonny's step father took him to better schools, bought him everything he needed and became the father he needed. He also got a sibling, but he never forgot his biological father or the brokenness he left with him.

His step father went out of his way to support the young boy, he would sit with him and give him additional coaching in all subjects, so that he could do better at school. Tonny said many kids in his situation aren't as lucky. But, he still harboured an identity crisis and had unanswered questions.

Twenty years later, while driving on a road in Kigali, he saw someone who looked like his biological father. He got his number from one of his relatives and called him. He arranged a meeting because Tonny wanted to look him in the eye and ask him the questions he harboured from childhood.

"When I faced him, the only question I could muster was, 'Are you my father', which he couldn't answer directly. I told him I would never ask him this question again, and I left," Tonny said and he was a little happy to meet him after all these years.

"To be honest I lost one thing that money can’t buy, and that’s identity, I see its deficit manifest in my life," he said. Because of this he still doesn't know up to now if he is Rwandan or a Ugandan.

His biological father told his friends that he disowned him because Tonny was dark yet his parents were both light skinned.