Interview. The Uganda Scouts Association will hold their annual scouts camp at the Kaazi National Camping Site, in Wakiso District starting this weekend. Gen Katumba Wamala, the chief commissioner of the association, spoke to Paul Murungi about the annual camp and a wide range of issues affecting scouting in Uganda.
Tell us about the history of scouting in Uganda
Scouting is not new in Uganda. It has been around since 1915. It was introduced by Rev Canon Myers Grace, a former head teacher of Mbarara High School. After sometime, it picked up and grew, but like all other organisations, it suffered from backsliding when the country went into turmoil because of the wars and the disorganisation that came with it. People lost interest and focus. It was under threat. But as I speak, scouting has the potential to grow.
Tell us about the scouts’ camp that began yesterday [Saturday]
Every year, we hold a scouts’ camp during the holidays. It will be a week-long event from August 23 to 29 and we expect between 3,500 and 4,000 participants. It is meant to bring young people, especially between 10 to 18 years old, together since it is mainly a youth movement.
We hold it during holidays not to disrupt school activities. We have realised that many children are idle during holidays. We want to get children out of their comfort zones and take them to Kaazi, which is our traditional camping site.
We give them survival skills, first aid and teach them health issues. They have an opportunity to exercise their freedom and leadership skills but under guidance.
Since it’s organised along camping, every school sets up its own camp. We examine them on how organised they are in the camp, for example, their sleeping and sanitation facilities, arrangement of their package and luggage for storage, discipline for children. At the end, we examine them and the best school takes a trophy home. It’s exciting, challenging, engaging and educating.
In 2017, you suggested military training for scouts. Why should children under 18 years undergo military training?
What I meant was that there would be no harm for those who are mature to go through a youth military training as it had been suggested before. It adds more to what they already have, and it would be a lot easier for them to understand because the small drills they go through introduces them partly to the training.
I am a military product, but I have scouting as a background. When you have such a background, it builds into your military and political career. In some of our East African countries, you cannot be recruited into the police or military if you don’t have a scouting background. So, a person with such a background has a bigger advantage in joining the forces.
In the past, you complained to President Museveni about lack of funding for the scouts’ movement. Has government been of help?
Government has responded. At the time I came in as chief commissioner, the scouts didn’t have a home in any ministry.
The Gender and Education ministries all fought for the scouts. But when we made the appeal, the President eventually directed that since scouts programmes involve children and students, it made more sense that we are pegged to the Education ministry. We haven’t yet been able to access a budget, but at least we are able to be identified under Education (ministry).
Exactly one year from now, Uganda will host the 8th African Scouts Jamboree. What does this mean for Uganda and the scouts’ movement?
It will be a very big landmark for our association. To host 52 countries with various groups will send a big message. It shows our association has come of age. It takes a lot of organisation to be able to host such a big event.
It also gives us external exposure to how other groups are organised in other countries. We still have a challenge of the budget, but we know the ministry will definitely help.
Our scouts will be exposed to other brothers and sisters of the African continent which is good for the continent. And these youth, if they form friendship and comradeship at that level, the potential is there for them to interact better in the future.
You talk about being exposed to other African brothers and sisters, but Ugandan scouts were blocked from entering Burundi in December 2018, ahead of their participation in the East African Scouts Zonal competitions. Isn’t scouting supposed to be above politics?
We were disappointed to say the least because politics and scouting don’t mix since we are an international organisation. Recently our scouts were in the USA for the World Jamboree. We have nothing to do with politics, we don’t subscribe to party colours or manifestos. It was a shock for us to see our scouts being denied an opportunity to go and interact with their fellows from the region. We didn’t understand what the hullabaloo was about the blockage.
Gen Katumba’s take on key issues
On scouts’ land being grabbed at Kaazi
It’s a long story. That land was given to the scouts many years ago by King Chwa II. Everybody knows; it’s the scouts camping land. The land was ‘leased’ to scouts and we are supposed to be paying to Buganda Land Board but because of the turmoil we went through, there was lack of attention to paying for the land.
Therefore, the land board treated us as tenants who are not willing to meet our obligations. We have set up a negotiation team and the case has been withdrawn from court and I am sure the Kabaka will not chase us off that land given the fact that he knows its history and his love for the youth.
We have preserved the land and it is the only well-greened park in the whole of Kampala.
On relevance of scouting to today’s boy and girl.
"Scouting introduces some unique aspects into children. One of the challenges with our youth today is many of them think life is very soft and simple. Scouting teaches a young boy and girl to be able to stand on their feet. You must use your hands, brain and think out of the box to be able to live.
At the same time, it teaches a person to love and honour him or herself. We also teach them to respect God, regardless of what religion you subscribe to,”
Gen Katumba, chief commissioner of the Uganda Scouts Association