Career success requires hard work, patience -Mwandha

Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) executive director, Sam Mwandha. 

What you need to know:

  • Success. Sam Mwandha is the executive director of Uganda Wildlife Authority. He attributes his successful career to being a team player, having integrity and dedication. 

Which are your top tourism attractions in Uganda?
Actually, that is a very difficult question to answer. Kidepo Valley National Park is my best. It has landscapes that are out of this world. When you get in there and are in Narusi Valley, and you look to the east and see hills, to the west and you see mountains and then to the south, in a distance are more mountains and you are assured of herd of buffaloes in the valley, it is an incredible experience. To top all this, the east is where you will see lions, elephants, elands and more. All these make it my best local tourism attraction. 

But, I can assure you that each park has its attractions. When you go to Bwindi, you will see the mountain gorillas, and these days you are assured of seeing a silverback, mothers and juveniles and a gorilla carrying a baby. Climb Rwenzori and you will see a different type of mountain vegetation and then the snow on top. So do not go to Kidepo because the ED of UWA has said so, you need to visit each one of them at different times for their uniqueness and beauty.

Your work seems to be about managing the beautiful side of Uganda, what brings pressure to the ED of UWA?
Getting the resources to run the operations of the institution. Resources are hard to come by especially given the impact of Covid-19 where tourism has reduced and yet the money we use is from the industry.  The other reason is that if you are dealing with more than 2, 000 staff members and all of them must do their work and be happy while at it, so that they can deliver, that requires a lot of thinking and planning and getting new ideas all the time. 

We have done a good job increasing the number of wildlife in the national parks but they do not know the boundaries between the park and communities. To them, it is all grass so they get into people’s gardens, and sometimes they have killed people and I must deal with that every day. Even this morning, I got a message from people telling me monkeys are disturbing them in Bunga, Kampala and needed me to address them. Then I have poachers to deal with, then hostile communities who are fighting with UWA staff all the time. Even with all these challenges, the beauty of Uganda is enough to keep a smile on my face.  

What do you do to destress?
I am open to engaging with stakeholders and staff to look for solutions together. And when I am off, on leave, I go away. My faith in the good Lord, Jesus Christ and prayer help reduce the stress. 

Are you a leader or a boss?
That depends, but I listen to everybody’s opinion and based on what they tell me, I normally engage my directors so we make decisions together. Mine is a style of working as a team because I do not have all the solutions and answers. I believe each one of us is endowed with some ability that needs to be enhanced and utilised to deliver the big objective of the institution. That is why the institution has hired each one of us.

How did you get here?
Well, first of all, I had to have the training and that training enabled me to be able to meet the challenges because as I trained, I learnt a number of things. But I must tell you that success is not how well you have done in class, not that you should not go to class but it should only prepare you to think outside of the box to be able to find solutions to the challenges that come your way, so if I went to school and started working, I would be different. 

I did forestry at Makerere University but there was no job when I graduated. That is when jobs began becoming scarce but fortunately I got a teaching job at Nkuutu Memorial Senior Secondary School in Buseesa, Bugiri District for three years. I taught mathematics and physics, and for one or two terms, I taught accounts as well.  

Then I got an opportunity to work with Busoga Diocese. It had a non-governmental organisation (NGO), a multi-sectoral rural programme so they needed afforestation officers. I worked with them for three years supporting communities in Busoga to raise tree seedlings and plant them on their land.  That was a very difficult job because people were not interested in planting trees especially in the 1990s. 

The incredible Kidepo Valley National Park is Mwandha’s best Ugandan tourist destination. PHOTOs/EDGAR R BATET 

It is from there that I got into Uganda national parks and then the rehabilitation of Mountain Elgon which people had encroached on.  I then grew within the Uganda National Parks ranks and transitioned into Uganda Wildlife Authority. There is a time of seven years when I went away then came back three years ago, as executive director

What career lessons did you learn along the way?
Career growth requires patience, hard work and a listening ear. You need to be advisable. When people tell you what you are not doing well, you do not bear a grudge but find out if it is true, you make the required changes.  Your career will go far when people realise that you are advisable, trusted and you have integrity which is a big issue in Uganda.

If  there is one person you could invite for a cup of coffee or tea, dead or alive, who would it be, and why?
The person I would invite for coffee would be the President of Uganda to tell him two things; to thank him for his leadership and tell him about the need to do more about corruption in the country.

What is the last book you read?
I am currently reading a book called Brokenness by Nancy Leigh. It is about being able to recognise that all of us are sinners, and have a problem with being able to appreciate that we are wrong. We need to get to a point when we recognise that we all fail and that we need to correct our ways so that we can do better.  

Last month I finished another book called Finishing Strong by  Steve Farrar.   Farrar writes about every sphere of life and notes that  if you start with 10 people focused on something, only one of the 10 will finish what he calls strong. 
Consider the footballers who play football which we love so much, and consider those who start early, only one out of 10 make it to the big leagues because many things derail people along the way.

Even in leadership, it is the same thing. Let me give you an example. I started out working with Uganda National Parks in 1994 with many people. Very few are still in UWA and have grown in rank.  Several things such as the desire to make a bit more money derailed them while others chose a different route.  So if you are to finish strong, you need to be persistent but also check and identify things that are likely to fail you so that you work at avoiding them.

What is your favourite Bible verse?
Luke 9: 23 (Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. )changed my life in 1988 when I became Born Again.   The verse urges us to make a decision to do what is right, not when it is convenient or want to be seen but every moment whether in public or in private.  


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