By Benon Herbert Oluka
While some senior four and senior six students at Nabumali
High School in Mbale district were sitting their district
mock examinations at around 11a.m. on Thursday, August 10,
another group of candidates was orchestrating an attempt
to burn their embattled school bursar, Jackson Tomboto Wakholi’s
Wakholi, who along with Nabumali headmaster, Sam Wamala
Mafabi, was arrested on August 2 at Green Garden Hotel in
Mbale town and suspended from the school pending investigations
into alleged mismanagement of school funds, had defied a
police directive not to appear at the school premises.
Mafabi had been sent on forced leave on July 29 following
a peaceful demonstration by more than 1,000 students. On
the morning of August 2, the day he was to hand over to
his deputy, Mafabi and his bursar met at Green Garden Hotel
— from where they were arrested in possession of school
vouchers, books of account, receipt books and bank statements.
Police later told journalists that the duo was arrested
attempting to alter school accounts books. Days later, before
releasing the two on bond, police reportedly warned them
to stay out of the school. But Wakholi seemed to have some
more unfinished business.
However, when he showed up at the school premises, the
students were furious, saying the bursar had used their
money to buy himself a car and had now come to show it off.
It took the intervention of the deputy headmaster in charge
of the school curriculum, John Wanda, to calm the students
down and help the beleaguered bursar escape.
“If you burn the car it will paint a very bad picture
of the school,” Mr. Wanda pleaded, before the furious
students reluctantly relented.
Shortly after this incident, the students were summoned
to an assembly at the top floor of the newly constructed
main block that lasted more than two hours. Deputy headmistress,
Margaret Mwanamoiza Violet Kikomeko, spoke longest; her
speech was punctuated by thunderous clapping, desk thumping,
shriek whistles and angry boos.
|Acting headmaster Israel Wabusela
| Deputy headmistress Margaret
Mwanamoiza Violet Kikomeko
After the assembly, the deputy headmistress declined requests
for an interview or even to make a comment on the school’s
troubles. “I cannot talk about that now,” she
said at her office. “As you can see I am very tired
after handling that, so I suggest we talk some other time
– not today.”
For the last two years, teachers at Nabumali have had to
contend with such scenes since the most violent strike in
the school, also the first in ages, which took place on
October 11, 2004.
That day, students who were protesting the lack of water
at the school set many structures ablaze. Buildings burnt
included the school library, the dining hall, the administration
block and a number of staff houses.
After that incident, 52 students were expelled – but
even such punitive action seems not to have tamed the students,
as the August 10 episode showed. And the parents are getting
On learning of the latest incident, John Mungoma, a parent
from Mbale, said: “Nabumali was not like that. It
was in the same category as schools like Budo and Namagunga.
Now I don’t know what is happening!”
The acting headmaster, Israel Wabusela Walukhuli, seems
to know the problems afflicting Nabumali. But, at the same
time, he gives the impression of a man who barely has a
clue where to find answers.
In his end of term two circular to parents, Mr. Wabusela
wrote: “Our school is facing a lot of challenges and
time will tell whether they are being addressed. We need
to improve the image of the school, especially in the academic
sphere, public relations, etc. The staff room and administration
block are still in ruins. We totally lack decent transport
and the school still remains heavily indebted to many. Certainly
something must be done.” That sums up Nabumali today.
Question is: Who will do that something to revive Nabumali?
With Wabusela having taken over just a month before the
term closed — moreover on a caretaker basis —
it would perhaps be asking too much of him to have a master
plan for the revival of Nabumali. The more disconcerting
thing, though, is that many stakeholders, including the
old boys’ association, have been watching almost indifferently.
Each student at Nabumali High School pays tuition fees
of Shs 242,500, meaning that the school administration on
its own can barely afford to effectively settle all school
bills while making any substantial improvements on any other
areas, like infrastructure, in which it falls short.
Moreover, a 29-page August 10 audit report by the office
of the Auditor General in Mbale recently revealed excessive
mismanagement of school funds by the Mafabi-led administration
that led to unauthorised expenditure of more than Shs 1.5
Covering the period October 12, 2004 to December 31, 2005,
the report cited more than 12 incidences where the school
administration under Mafabi flouted accounting regulations.
They include payment for undelivered services, expenditure
on meetings that were not held, unaccounted for expenditure,
contingency losses and suspicious transfer of school funds.
The report recommended that not only should the headmaster
be retired in public interest, the school board of governors
should also be dissolved and replaced.
The deputy headmistress, Mwanamoiza, told The Weekly Observer
that such resolutions could only be implemented by the Ministry
of Education together with other stakeholders. Even then,
she said, the implicated parties will first get an opportunity
to tell their side of the story.
“The former headmaster is supposed to first answer,
and then the board members are supposed to send their response.
Until then, those resolutions will not be taken on.”
A colourful past
Nabumali’s current problems camouflage a rich legacy
borne of producing students who have gone on to become distinguished
citizens in their home countries. Nabumali nurtured, among
others, Southern Sudan liberation leader, John Garang de
Mabior (RIP), and Kenya’s first African Chief Justice,
Maluki Kituli Mwendwa.
Located a few kilometres from the foot of Wanale, one of
the mountain ranges that make up Mt. Elgon, Nabumali is
12 kilometres east of Mbale town, off the Mbale-Tororo highway.
The school, founded by the Church Missionary Society (CMS)
in 1900 with considerable help from Semei Kakungulu, moved
to its present location in 1912.
“This site was known by the name of a famous lady
called Nabumati. But because the Bazungu couldn’t
pronounce the name Nabumati, they ended up calling it Nabumali,”
Nabumali, then known as Mivule High School, was originally
located at a site called Musota in Mbale town but an infestation
of mosquitoes and snakes resulted in a change of location
to the school’s current address.
According to Wabusela, the school, under the leadership
of Rev. Crabtree, formally opened in 1901 with only 10 students
studying the alphabet and hymns. By the 1940s, when Nabumali
students started doing the Cambridge Certificate, the school
had quickly been catapulted into the position of leading
academic institution in what was then known as the Upper
As a result of that reputation, several students came from
across the Kenya and Sudan borders to study at Nabumali.
Wabusela said the introduction of the Cambridge Certificate
was part of the great work of Rev. Woram Bottomlay, who
took over the reigns of leadership in 1933 and left in 1964.
He is still hailed as, not just the longest serving, but
also the most outstanding headmaster the school has ever
| A dormitory block
| A dilapidated swimming pool
| The former administration
block that students burnt in 2004
Former Samia Bugwe North MP, Aggrey Awori, who was a student
of Rev. Bottomlay when he was at Nabumali in 1956, describes
his former headmaster as “an epitome of colonialism
because he used to teach very English manners, and was a
disciplinarian.” Awori, however, added that Bottomlay
was not keen on African tradition and didn’t care
about sports such as football and athletics.
Nevertheless, according to Wabusela, Rev. Bottomlay’s
good deeds outweigh his few inconsistencies. He explained
that it was during Rev. Bottomlay’s era that the Advanced
Level classes were introduced at Nabumali. He is also credited
with building the school dining hall and administration
Many of these buildings are now dilapidated. While some
have been worn out by years of neglect, others – like
the old administration block and the dining hall –
still have black soot to show for the fires of 2004.
Old students reminisce
Awori remembers Nabumali as the place where he also horned
his skills in athletics. He started representing Uganda
at international athletics competitions while still a student
“I won the high hurdles at the East Africa Athletics
Association competition in Arusha but I was disqualified
on account of being underage,” said Awori, adding
that he was “barely 17” at the time.
Awori said they also had a tradition that required students
to assemble and sing at the school chapel every Friday.
Awori was however not comfortable with the tradition because
“I felt it was not part of the syllabus.”
One day, he says, he led a group of students in walking
out of the chapel and they went on strike, protesting the
tradition. Awori says his headmaster and music teacher,
James Aryada, were not impressed.
“Rev. Bottomlay thought it was sacrilege for anybody
to walk out of the chapel,” Awori said. Fortunately
for Awori, his class was about to sit for O-level exams,
so his group was not punished but merely warned.
Although he led a students strike during his time, Awori
does not approve of the recent actions of the current generation
of Nabumali students. Describing the current state of Nabumali
as ‘pathetic’, the 65-year-old Awori explains:
“To hear that a school has been burnt down demonstrates
a lack of discipline on the part of both the teachers and
To help Nabumali regain its lost glory, Awori said all
old students of the school should play a more active role.
“We should pick up where Wapa [deceased former minister,
James Wapakhabulo] left off. He was trying to mobilise old
students to help the school administration.”
Until such things are done, Nabumali will just remain another
‘once great school’ gone to the dogs.
PROMINENT OLD STUDENTS
- Justice John Wilson Tsekooko
- Justice James Ogoola
- Justice Yorokamu Bamwine (Commercial Court)
- Ex-Chief Justice George Japheth Masika
- Amos Dayan Wejuli Ngolobe.
- Lameck Akongo,
- Erasmus Amukun (RIP),
- Aggrey Awori,
- Michael Werikhe,
- Beatrice Wabudeya,
- Edith Sempala,
- James Wapakhabulo (RIP)
- Abner Nangwale.
- John Kevin Ogen Aliro (RIP).
- ARMY: Maj. Gen. David Oyite Ojok (RIP).
- Kenya’s first African Chief Justice Maluki Kituli
- Maj. Gen. Dr. John Garang de Mabior (RIP)
Next week we visit Mt. St. Mary’s Namagunga