KAMPALA —Early 1990, about 32 years ago, 345 senior government officials were selected for a compulsory four-months Basic Cadre Development Course at the National School of Political Education (NSPE), Kyankwanzi.
The officials included then Deputy Inspector General of Police Julius Odwe and then Kampala Extra Regional Police Commander Grace Turyagumanawe, both retired now. Selected parastatal managing directors and chief executive officers were also part of the Cadre 14 trainees.
Although I was not a senior person, I was among them. We arrived at NSPE after midnight, and were accommodated in vanquished, dilapidated and gaping former farm houses. At 4:30am we were woken up for chakamchaka, the morning run. Later we did physicals, before picking breakfast porridge.
There was neither dining hall nor organised place for the purpose.
We were ordered to disperse into the bushes and collect local materials to erect 345 Mama ingia pole, makeshift accommodation structures. Each of us was then allocated one.
For the next four months we lived in grass tents neatly lined up in regular rows and columns. However, we were ordered to torch them after pass out presided over by President Yoweri Museveni.
Posho and beans ruled our diet except Saturdays when meat joined the menu. We fetched water from a borehole about a kilometre away and firewood from the bushes. There was neither electricity nor telephone network.
The “lecture theatre” was open air under a huge tree. We constructed a temporary podium on raised ground using grass and straw, before erecting a shade atop to shield the lecturers’ notes from light drizzles.
Seats were stones arranged in no particular order in class but you could also squat or stand at the back. Our trainers were known as KMTT (Kyankwanzi Military Training Team).
Their tactical headquarters, staff quarters, armoury and communication unit, among others, were mud-and-wattle grass thatched huts.
The school’s Director was a junior commissioned officer, Capt. Robert Rusoke, now retired Major-General. The few members of staff were other ranks, mainly sergeants, corporals, lance corporals and private trainee entrants.
Recently, in May, I was among 119 government communication officers who reported for a two-week
Transformational Leadership Development Course at the school, organised in conjunction with the Ministry of ICT & National Guidance. For me, it was a kind of refresher but I was pleasantly surprised to find significant transformation in the camp.
The first was the change of name to the National Leadership Institute (NALI), Kyankwanzi. This followed over 10 years of closure “to level the ground”, demanded by political parties in 1996. A new vision, mission and objectives were formulated before reopening it as NALI in 2017. A formal Political Education training manual was also developed.
A burgeoning Rushozi town emerged near the camp. There had been no single building in that area before. It was bush along the entire 30km stretch from Kiboga town to Kyankwanzi. Now, there are human settlements: farms, small towns and trading centres, town councils, health centres, schools, places of worship, etc.
The Quarter Guard has a modern gate, a starting point for kilometres of tarmac roads within the camp.
A huge fully furnished Administration Complex with a spacious auditorium, is a conspicuous feature.
Other facilities include the library, restaurant, syndicate rooms, a quadrangle, modern digital presentation facilities, free Wi-Fi and giant wheeled screens. Some lectures are conducted on zoom, with dedicated IT professional soldiers on hand to aid the process.
These are accompanied with Institute-branded hardcover notebooks and pens distributed to participants free of charge.
During Cadre 14 training we brought our own stationery, beddings, clothing, plates, cutlery, soap and other personal effects. We fetched borehole water, which we also drank. Now, there is piped water. Bottles of mineral water are provided throughout the day, even in class.
A plethora of dormitories, halls of residence, hostels and other permanent buildings sprawl the 21-square kilometre military camp.
Most have been named after departed Ugandan nationalists like Shef Ali, Oliver Zizinga, Victor Bwana, Hannington Mugabi, Yusuf Lule, Mwanga and Zerida Rwabusyagara.
Others carry names of Pan African revolutionaries such as Ignatius Musaazi, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah, Samora Machel, Muamar Gadhafi, Agostino Netto, Amilcar Cabral, Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba and Herbert Kitepu, a former Zimbabwean prosecutor.
The late Dr Jimmy Lukwiya, the Ugandan Ebola hero, also has a building named after him, and there are still many others yet to be named. The hostels are self-contained with water heaters, fully furnished with beds, 6-inch mattresses and blankets, as well as toilet and washing soap. All these facilities are provided free-of-charge.
According to the Course Coordinator, Maj. Daniel Watasa Masela, the new buildings can accommodate unlimited numbers of trainees, even in thousands. The entire camp was connected to the national grid by a three-phase power line, complemented with an automatic standby generator and solar power.
There is also a fully-stocked canteen and an Officers’ Mess, the Dr John Garang de Mabior. Bread and butter, chicken, fish, eggs, milk, meat, greens, posho, sweet potatoes, cassava, matooke and rice now take turns to balance the weekly diet.
The calibre of training staff was enhanced, with majority soldiers having Masters degrees from here and abroad.
Until he was appointed a Permanent Secretary, Maj. Gen. David Kasura-Kyomukama was NALI’s Director for eight years, deputised by Col. Henry Neverton Serugo.
Soldier-lecturers are now titled Directing Staff, composed of several lieutenant colonels, majors, captains, lieutenants, 2nd lieutenants and other ranks. Lt Col. Godfrey Rwabujumbure is the Head of Faculty and Administration.
Course participants are issued with full military attire unlike in the past when we had our own civilian clothing. What has not changed is the institute being supervised by the Office of the President.
The writer is the Assistant Commissioner for Information Monitoring at the Ministry of ICT & National Guidance, and Secretary to the Media Council of Uganda