Kampala, Uganda | URN | An Army General who loves farming and villagers is how one peasant in Mukono described Gen. Edward Katumba Wamala, the former Works and Transport Minister, just after getting news that he had survived an assassination attempt.
He is also a four-star General that has been at the heart of efforts to modernize the transport industry in Uganda for the last 15 months.
Prior to his appointment as a full cabinet minister, Gen. Katumba served as State Minister for Transport for two years. Under his docket lay the roads sector that covers the railway, taxis, buses and boda-boda, water transport as well as the aviation and other related services.
His most recent high-profile action was when he sent top managers at the Uganda Airlines on leave, amidst allegations of mismanagement and causing a loss of more than Shillings 100 billion. He however denied that his action had to do with the allegations, instead saying the officials had worked for too long (three years) without rest and needed time to rest.
This came as the State Minister for Transport Joy Kabatsi was at loggerheads with the board of the company, for failing to act on her directives to rein in on the errant managers. General Wamala denied suspending the managers led by Cornwell Muleya, the Chief Executive to pave way for investigations as reported.
General Wamala, as Minister for Works and Transport oversaw several projects and contracts in the sector that have been the second most funded in the national budgets. The tasks he has been handling, apart from the Uganda Airlines saga include the planned eviction of hundreds of settlers on the land that belongs to Uganda Railways Corporation.
Just before he handed over office earlier this month, Wamala confirmed that the people especially those along the old railway routes would have to leave in six months. He also confirmed that some people operating a steel company had been arrested for vandalizing the old railway when they were found smelting the rail pieces.
The railway network has continued to decay and the management by the Rift Valley Railways, which was cut short after about 10 years in 2017, made matters worse according to the veteran soldier. He says under Rift Valley Railways, the government lost land, wagons and other assets which he said have to be recovered by the government, as part of the revival of the old meter rail network.
As a minister, General Wamala also gave direction over the ongoing reorganization of the transport system in Kampala, mainly aimed at taming the traffic congestion. It involves the renovation of the Old Taxi Park, now awaiting re-opening. The process has been disrupted after at least four property owners claimed part of the facility.
He is also in support of the Tondeka bus project that was supposed to take off last year with the deployment of 980 buses. But this has not been received well by some city leaders and transport sector players.
They say for example, the taxis which are in their thousands could be pushed out of business if buses are introduced without planning for the other transporters. The Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago supports the taxi operators saying a bus system cannot operate in Kampala unless there are special lanes. The general also wanted motor vehicle garages and parking business licensed and regulated to curb vehicle-related crime like thefts and vandalism.
He says many cars that are stolen in Kampala are either picked from such places or end up in garages where their identities and specifications are altered, making it hard to trace them. One of the accomplished mission was the transfer of the driving permit processing and issuance from a private company, Face Technologies to a joint venture earlier this year.
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Face Technologies had managed the process for 17 years and at the end of their contract, the Works and Transport ministry unveiled the Uganda Security Printing Company (USPC), replacing the South African company. The General owns Buyigi Estate Farm along Katosi road, consisting of thousands of poultry, fish-ponds and piggery and various crops all on 12 acres, which the community around call a model farm.
He has allowed people from everywhere interested in learning a thing or two, to get technical knowledge and other benefits from the firm, hence appropriately referred to as ‘model’. He has on many occasions also engaged in giving tips to farmers about agriculture, especially long-term ventures like forestry which he does as a hobby, but also an industry in which he has a school certificate.
Previously, General Katumba has revealed how he has ventured into tree planting as he prepares for retirement and sources say he has several acres along the Mityana-Mubende road.