How UPDF engineers re-built Mandela National Stadium

The entrance of the gigantic Namboole. PHOTOS/MAKHTUM MUZIRANSA 

What you need to know:

The press conference room, media centre and tribune have been demarcated with the latter having 120 seats. There is a provision to create a mixed zone too.

The story of Mandela Stadium, Namboole is one clouded in controversy and a lack of communication.

The pressure from the public – as this is the revered home of the national men’s football team Cranes – only serves to escalate the accountability queries surrounding the reconstruction of this stadium that started way back in early 2022.

Yet a three hour trek in and around the stadium that is expected to host the national side for the first time since November 2019, reveals a lot of good work from the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) Engineering Brigade.

The project engineer Lt. Col. Peter Seku Kidemuka said the initial problem when they were deployed to work were the squatters that had encroached on the 128 acre piece of land.

“We convinced them that fencing off the land would help them too but eventually most of them saw the inconvenience in having to be checked at the main gate and left,” Kidemuka shared. The perimeter wall at its construction was said to cost Shs3.8b.

“We managed to recover 120 acres of the land. See most of the people brought titles of 2020 and 2021 for land that had an original title from 1986.

“Only Sports View Hotel refused to leave yet it is in the land that would partly host the swimming pool in Phase Two but that case is being handled by Court.

“However, we do not expect to recover all the remaining eight acres. The road (connecting Bweyogerere and Kireka on the eastern wing of the stadium), for example, is useful for the public. And there are some good investments like a Petrol Station on the land that could be useful to the people – so Namboole management has a decision to make on hiring or leasing out that land to make money,” Kidemuka further shared.

The other troublesome party was the Pioneer Bus but they left recently after some public pressure that greeted the announcement that Caf would not endorse the stadium without sizable parking.

UPDF project engineer Lt. Col. Kidemuka (L) and the army deputy publicist Col. Deo Akiiki. 

Razing down structures

Proper construction work started with the removal of all fittings and amenities inside and outside the stadium. Over 4,000 iron sheets – of gauge 22 – were brought down, pitches and the tartan track dug out, dressing rooms and offices emptied, seats unhooked, flood lights, electrical systems and transformers taken down, publc address system speakers and valuable copper cables unconnected, among other things.

The UPDF put the tonnes of scrap value at Shs3b and expect some of these things to be auctioned by the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets (PPDA) Authority after the Force has handed the stadium back to its management.

However, the UPDF have had running battles with youth that climb over the wall to steal the scrap.

Water trouble

In the initial stages of construction, UPDF was paying Shs27m per month to National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) for water.

“We realized it was not sustainable because the expense was going to grow with watering of the pitch among, dressing rooms, flushing toilets in the stadium and hotel among other things. We dug up our own borehole because this area is rich in water and can produce up to 7.5 cubic metres (7,500 litres) per month.

So we have reduced the NWSC bill to around Shs1m per month to cater for water for drinking, cooking and a bit of washing,” Kidemuka added.

Power and parking

During the Uganda Premier League (UPL) test matches on May 1, it was reported that there was no parking. With Pioneer gone, the parking capacity is expected to grow from just 400 cars for the VIPs and VVIPs to 900 cars for ordinary fans.

Cleaning up the mess left by Pioneer over the last 12 years has started in earnest.

Right from the main gate, the signage to lead one around the stadium and the lights are visible. These are said to use hybrid solar and hydro electric power systems.

The place is also fitted with over 120 360degrees cameras that are already helping UPDF deal with those trying to break in for scrap.

Workers fitting the screen. 

Work to re-install the floodlights has started with 212 Thorn-produced floodlights that can produce 2000 lux already procured from distributors in China. They used provisional lights during the test matches.

Access control

During the UPL test matches, fans could not enter using their tickets despite purchasing them digitally. Kidemuka said some tickets did not have information on which gates fans had to specifically use to access the stadium.

“Maybe there were issues with the quality of the tickets and some people were also not conversant with the use of the tickets. So we probably need to educate them,” Jamil Ssewanyana, the chief executive officer of the stadium, said.

Kidemuka revealed that six of the nine modules are now working and were handed over to the stadium management on May 21 after integration by NITA (National Information Technology Authority) and should handle Uganda’s World Cup qualifiers against Botswana and Algeria on June 7 and June 10 respectively.

Inside the stadium

Two standby generators that can run for 10 hours straight have been installed. It is said these work in a way that one can compensate if it senses a deficit from the other.

The lobbies, for the VIP and VVIP fans, plus offices, for the board members, are ready for use and their furniture, imported from China, is ready for setting. The boardroom is housed where the old press conference room used to be on the western wing of the stadium. A VAR office had been set too but now has to be moved to the eastern wing.

The lobbies are further shielded with a 60x1.8m bullet proof glass window. And the fire detectors are visible throughout the stadium.

Namboole as seen from the media tribune. 

The scoreline screen, also imported from China, was being fitted and expected to be completed by the evening of May 22. There are 16 kiosks around the fan areas and 139 toilets and these flush with no waiting time or need to refill no matter the number of users.

There are 41,000 seats in the all-seater stadium but since some are behind pillars, the holding capacity of the stadium is said to be 38,000.

Four dressing rooms are fully furnished, with furniture bought from within the country and safe boxes for players’ valuables, on the eastern side of the pitch. These are fitted with coaches rooms too, ice baths, showers, toilets, cafeteria and there are also rooms for referees and Caf/ Fifa officials.

The press conference room, media centre and tribune have been demarcated with the latter having 120 seats. There is a provision to create a mixed zone too.

Since this is a multipurpose stadium, the tartan is ready to be laid but Sports Lab, a UK-based accredited firm by World Athletics Federation, were on site checking how the asphalt had been applied before giving a go ahead or recommendations on a way forward. There were also spots for other field athletics games like pole vault.

“If we hurry laying the tartan, we shall waste the Shs8b that was invested in that if World Athletics come here and say things are not up to standard,” Kidemuka said.

On the field of play, the grass, which will host football and rugby, is as green as it has appeared in promotion pictures. The seeds were imported from Portugal.

“The more the stadium is used, the more firm the grass will get. We understand the lifespan of the grass is 50 years if well maintained through poking it to absorb water, adding fertilizer and slashing,” Kidemuka added.

UPDF are working and learning from Indian firm SIS Pitches, who recommend that the pitch can handle two matches a week and should be allowed to recover for at least five days.

It can also host concerts, because Namboole needs the money, but only after being protected by a pitch cover valued at Shs3.5b.

“We had to remove all the existing soil to the depth of 80cm. We put hardcore and aggregate, created a channel for water and a cumber to allow for run-off; this is done by a leather machine, whose accuracy is high.

"We put an automatic drainage system with 35 sprinklers. We had to send 40cm of sand for testing in a UK-based lab even though we bought the sand from Lwera.

In the compound on the eastern side of the stadium, the training pitch has been installed too. Works on dressing rooms are ongoing while the track there was also waiting for a nod from Sports Lab to install tartan.

Namboole land reclaimed by UPDF. 

The criticism

There have been reports criticizing why the government deems it necessary to increasingly offer construction projects to the UPDF Engineering Brigade. In fact Fufa president Moses Magogo fell just short of saying they were not up to task.

“There is no monopoly over knowledge and it is transferable. Manuals are sent to us and we learn from others like them (SIS Pitches), Ministry of Works and then also teach the employees of Namboole how to maintain it because we will not be here forever. What matters is the methodology.

“What is said about us is out of bias and we no longer need experts to do these things. When this project was brought to us, they said it would cost Shs438b (as stated by National Council of Sports general secretary Bernard Patrick Ogwel in a committee meeting in Parliament) but we expect to do all three phases at about Shs280b (or Shs291b as told by Minister of State for Sport Peter Ogwang in the same committee) so we are saving the country money.

“Besides, some engineers have turned construction into a money making venture and over charge. Yet for us, if you are found to steal government money in the Military, you are cooked because our Courts are not as merciful.

Our work was VAT (Value Added Tax) exempted and we had to work on the hotel, which has 72 units and roads,” Kidemuka explained.

The brigade has over 3,500 staff and is pushing to grow to 5,800 but they mostly take pride in the theory that civil engineering was birthed out of military engineering, which involved minor construction of bridges or jumps for training drills among other things. 

The Numbers

Shs438b – The initial estimate of Namboole’s reconstruction

Shs219b – Expected expense after three phases of total reconstruction

Shs97bn – Cost of Phase I work: Reconstruction of football and athletics aspects, hotel

Shs3.5b – Value of a pitch cover

Shs3b – Estimated value of scrap after removing all stadium and hotel amenities

4000 – Number of iron sheets taken down from old Namboole. These were 22 gauge iron sheets

4: Over four years since Cranes last played a match in Namboole. Uganda's last international match at the stadium was played in November 2019, a 2-0 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier win over Malawi

41,000 – Available seats. Holding capacity is 38,000 seats as some are behind pillars

50 – Lifespan of the grass is 50 years