On the greatest lesson in life
His dream as a student at Old Kampala Senior Secondary School was to become a doctor but he ended up at Bukalasa Agricultural College.
“I did sciences for prestige and ended up performing poorly, and not being admitted to Makerere University – the only university at that time,” says the outgoing Uganda Chief of Defense Forces (CDF), Gen. Katumba Wamala.
In 1979, Katumba says, he emerged best student at Bukalasa where he studied General Agriculture. But this was the year that the liberation war launched by exiled Ugandans in Tanzania to overthrow then Ugandan President Gen. Idi Amin’s regime climaxed. By April 1979, Amin had been ousted and the Uganda National Liberation Front/Army (UNLF/A) formed the new government.
When the new UNLF government called for applications for those with qualifications of senior six and above to join as officer cadets, Katumba and some colleagues under a group they called ‘Baana ba Kintu’ joined in May 1979. He says they want to be “change agents” because he had studied with some of Amin’s soldiers at Bukalasa and seen firsthand, how violent and badly behaved they were.
One time, Katumba and his elder brother, Benon Sentongo; whom he refers to as ‘daddy’ for the great role he played in raising him, were harassed by a soldier at a check point for failing to offer him a lift. Unknown to them, the soldier took another vehicle and arrived at another check point ahead before them.
“He harassed us for over seven hours,” he says.
Katumba says the recruitment process was far from what he had expected as a civilian. He and others who had gone to as far as College and High School did not anticipate the tough recruitment process. They arrived dressed in suits with bell-bottom trousers and trending thick-soled Gabon shoes. When the drills started, the heels were the first to go.
Katumba says one of the things that helped him persevere was having a leadership background in high school and college that prepared him for the bigger world.
“The body has to be conditioned and mind tested on patience, resilience and temper,” he says.
He has vivid memories of when he was teased countless times to choose between stockings for the left and right leg. He later discovered that it was a test for his patience and resilience.
After nine months, Katumba was among the 300 first cadets passed out with about only 20 still living including Gen. Elly Tumwiine, Gen. Pecos Kuteesa and others. The following year, Lieutenant Katumba was posted to his first work station in Moroto at a time when Karamojongs had just acquired guns from fleeing soldiers of the defeated Amin regime and there was real hunger. The naked Karamojong men and children shocked him but he stayed.
Today, he prides in his 37 years of service in the army without skipping any rank. In 2001 at the rank of Major General, Katumba was appointed Inspector General of police (IGP) becoming the first military officer to serve in the highest capacity within the Uganda Police Force. A government probe into mismanagement in the police, which came to be called `The Sebutinde Commission’ had just issued a report of its findings and Katumba was to implement its recommendations. This came with dismissal, suspension, and investigation of some officers which did not go down well with many.
He describes his tenure in the police as the most challenging of all his service because “the army and the police are two different institutions as one is about fighting the enemy while the latter is about dealing with suspected criminals”. Only the strategic leadership training he had pursued in USA helped him thrive.
In 2005 he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General and fell back into the army as Commander Land Forces. On May 23, 2013, he was promoted to the rank of four-star General and appointed Chief of Defence Forces (CDF). Katumba says he could not ask for more.
He says, “37 years of service with no scratch on the body and never lost an eye or leg, never been before a disciplinary committee of the army or the civilian court is such a great achievement”.
He attributes it to his humble background that pushed him to work hard without being compromised. He is the last born of the nine children of the late Henry Wamala and Marjorie Wamala (rip) of Bweeza, Kalangala-Ssese Kalangala.
Although he only spent the early years as a child with his parents, Katumba was lucky to fall in the hands of a disciplinarian sister and fatherly brother who took him through school.
He started school at Nakibizzi primary school at a time when the floor was the only sitting and writing option before progressing to slates (tiny wooden panes painted black – which colour would be renewed with potato leaves) as writing materials.
He completed primary school at Kasubi Primary School in Kampala where his brother and mother had relocated. At Kasubi Primary School, Katumba says, he learnt a lesson that has pushed him to greater heights.
“I excused myself from class to read a novel only to be caught by the headmaster who punished me for `doing the right thing at the wrong time and wrong place’,” says Katumba.
“That lesson has stuck in me to today because even when I was made IGP, I went to visit Mr Wakatamba – the headmaster and appreciate him but met him in a situation where he could not recognise me”.
Gen. Katumba married Catherine, his high school girlfriend, in 1987. They have six children; five girls and one boy. They are also grandparents.
On Jan 10, Katumba was appointed Minister of State for Works. He views this as a double opportunity to achieve in another area while walking the journey to retirement since by 65, as a general in the army, one must retire.
“The current infrastructural projects like the standard gauge railway need some energy which I posses and with willing players like Kagina and Minister Azuba, I hope to achieve there,” he says.
His wish is to be remembered as someone who contributed something positive to the growth of this country.