Unsung Heroes of the NRA/M Revolution

By Dennis Katungi

Ugandans in their twenties may not be familiar with the title SDA - Special District Administrator, the precursor to the current Resident District Commissioner.  As the Resistance war drew to a close in 1985, there emerged a challenge of governing territory under NRA Controlled areas.   Officials in local government in those areas had either fled or absconded.

To fill this vacuum, Special District Administrators were appointed by the Chairman of the High Command, Yoweri Museveni.   They were the agents of change of the NRM revolution at District level; therefore ‘Special’ in that respect.  They were a mix of military and civilian cadres well imbued in the ideological mission of NRM - pro-people and working with the people.

A number of SDAs had been Political Commissars who were previously handling Civil/Military Relations.  Among those were Brig. David Diba Sentongo, Col. Tom Butime, Capt. Sula Serunjogi, Maj. John Kazora , Lt. Col. Sewankambo and Brig. Phinehas Katirima.

I also remember the late Robert Zakye, Busingye Amooti, Abbey Mukwaya, the late Victor Bwana, the late Israel Kabwa, the late Lt Col. Jack Mishambi, Benon Biraro, (now retired Maj. Gen.) the late Kodi Nunguri and  Kayumba Nyamwasa the exiled Rwandese renegade General to mention a few.

The immediate task of SDAs was to ensure security in area of control, organise elections of Resistance Councils/and Committees (RCs), arrange recruitment into NRA and mobilise food for the combatants and the displaced population. Quite often the SDA became an arbiter in wider matters including land disputes, rationing essential commodities, acting as returning officers in Resistance Council elections and handling the welfare of abandoned workers.   

 Brigadier Katirima has a thrilling tale. As SDA Kasese, he found employees of Uganda Railways in dire straits in 1985/86.  They had not been paid their wages for months; families were suffering.  He strolled into the local bank and inquired whether Uganda Railways had a bank account. Indeed it had one- with money on it.  He asked the Bank Manager whether workers could be paid since Railways managers had abandoned workers. He was asked to put it in writing.

 He then crafted a letter stating: “By the Powers entrusted in me as the Special District Administrator, I hereby appoint myself a signatory for Uganda Railways account with the sole aim of paying its workers.  Records of workers and wages paid will be filed for accountability”.  All documented workers were paid and the Kasese SDA became their hero.

In 1987, I found myself handling some elements of Special District Administrators’ welfare, albeit informally.  As a student in vacation, I was resident at the home of then Army Commander Gen. Elly Tumwine.  All SDAs obtained their supplies from there. Sugar, mattresses, Sundries and other essential commodities. The stores were within the General’s escorts quarters  at his Acacia Avenue residence in Kololo.  I assisted Sgt Amwine Rutashoberwa, then Aide de camp to the General in sorting out SDA’s supplies.  This is how I got to know most of the SDAs on a personal level.

 In later years when Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa, then RPA Army commander was attending the same course as Maj. Gen. Benon Biraro at Cranfield in United Kingdom, they hosted me and a few other friends from London to a sumptuous Dinner at their senior staff quarters in the Swindon Military Academy. We ate, drank and danced - reminiscing about their days as Special District Administrators with nostalgia. Soon after,Gen. Kayumba was appointed Rwanda’s Ambassador to India and Gen. Biraro became Chief of Staff of UPDF.  In the Kololo days, Biraro was a JO1- equivalent of Captain and Kayumba was a Sgt! How times and ranks fly!

In the early 90s, some people in the NRM broad based Government were not happy with the title SDA.  They reasoned that there was nothing special about the Administrators and soon the prefix ‘Special’ was dropped.  They became plain District Administrators (DAs). The same people argued later that since we had traditional civil servants to carry out the day to day administrative roles, the District Administrators should only represent the President and Central Government and carry out the oversight role in the district on behalf of the centre.     

 The role of RDC is captured in article 203 of the constitution and other enabling pieces of legislation such as the Local Government and the National Security Acts.

The RDC chairs District Security Meetings and coordinates the different security actors. He/she Monitors, inspects and supervises the implementation of central government programmes.  National and regional roads constructed by UNRA, Secondary schools and other post primary training institutions, regional referral hospitals, NAADs and advises the relevant authorities accordingly.

The RDC sensitises the population on government policies and programmes while at the same time consolidating and submitting monthly reports to the Presidency.

He/she maintains an assets register of equipment under the Office of the RDC supervises and appraises the performance of staff.  He represents the President and Government in the district and carries out any other functions as may be assigned by the President.

The RDC receives and acts on petitions from citizens, coordinates crime and intelligence reports with technical actors like DISO and Police, signs passport application forms, officiates at every project launch or handover in the district. Above all the RDC should have ideological clarity.  He or she should comprehend the core values of the government they represent; in this case: Patriotism, Pan-Africanism, Anti-Sectarianism and Social Economic transformation.  These are the core tenets of the NRM government.

The Writer is Communications & Media Relations Manager, Media Centre, Office of the President.