7th September 2006
Nabumali High School: From glory to ashes
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 car.

The school chapel
A basketball court behind a classroom block
The new administration block

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 Walukhuli
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.”

Perennial problems
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 understandably concerned.

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.

Money troubles

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 billion.

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,” explained Wabusela.

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 Volta Diocese.

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 had.

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 block.

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 here.

“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 the students.”

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.



  • 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 Mwendwa (RIP),
  • Maj. Gen. Dr. John Garang de Mabior (RIP)

Next week we visit Mt. St. Mary’s Namagunga