HOW DR. JJUMBA BUILT YMCA FROM SCRATCH
By John V Sserwaniko
As of 1994 when fallen YMCA Uganda CEO Dr. Joseph Robert Jjumba took charge, the situation was so helpless the organization couldn’t even pay salaries.
Roselyne Birungi, who has deputized Jjumba for 25 years (until his sudden death in Lisbon last Wednesday), recalls how the US Chicago YMCA office often came in to pay staff’ monthly remuneration. There had been lots of intrigue and obscurantism and as Dr. James Nkata put it, YMCA Uganda was on its death bed notwithstanding the fact that the organization had operated in Uganda for more than 80 years.
For starters, the YMCA younger Jjumba was taking over comprised of not just the Wandegeya establishment but several other branches in Mukono, Jinja, Kasese and Mbarara.
Birungi says all these had a combined annual budget of just Shs200m which 100% was being funded on donations from wealthier chapters in the developed West. Jjumba was never comfortable with that status quo and was intrigued that donors were using their funding to impose managers and leaders who were either incompetent or had no YMCA institutions at heart.
At some point, the donors drew a line in the sand and said there would be no more funding if the recipient YMCA Uganda wasn’t ready to accept their conditionalities. As new head, Jjumba said it was okay. He called meetings and rallied his troops repeatedly saying “with hard work we can have programs and generate our own resources.”The very expansive YMCA infrastructure that Dr. Jjumba built from scratch
So poor was the organization, branches like Mbarara operated in rented dilapidated buildings. Birungi says total enrollment at the different centers or branches was 685 students (237 at Wandegeya, 114 Jinja, 104 Mukono, 85 Mbarara & 145 Kasese).
Dying 25 years later, Jjumba is leaving in place an institution that is much more grown numerically, in infrastructure terms and most importantly zero donor-dependent.
Enrollment has since grown to tens of thousands. The Shs200m budget has grown to over Shs20bn annually. The infrastructure has vastly grown into gigantic buildings we all see at Wandegeya; Mbarara now has its own premises and the same goes for Jinja and Mukono where storied buildings continue to go up.
Vocational education training programs alone have more than 15,000 students at the different centers. From the traditional 5 poorly-managed training centers inherited in 1994, workaholic Jjumba had grown YMCA to having new ones at Kayabwe, Kakooge in Buruuli, Kalanamu and Iganga.
During his time, YMCA Wandegeya branch (for which he was Governing Council Chairman) grew from being merely a training center like others into YMCA Comprehensive Institute (YCI); a status way above the rest.
In also grew into “other degree-awarding institution” (a University of sorts) with a State of art campus in Buwambo Wakiso District. At Buwambo, YCI has 43 acres of prime land where the campus is situated with hundreds of students already there pursuing different degree programs. Dr. James Nkata of UMI (who also chairs Uganda’s YMCA NEC to which ED Jjjumba reported) is Chancellor for the Buwambo University.
Jjumba is also leaving the institution he found nearly insolvent with an asset base of over Shs100bn. Jjumba believed in grand infrastructure accomplishments and Birungi recalls how he persuaded colleagues he led to vote for the demolition of the Tennis Courts to pave way for the huge structures now standing at the Wandegeya campus.
Staffing levels too have grown to the extent that YMCA Wandegeya and Jinja, the two centers whose Governing Councils Jjumba chaired, have a combined work force of more than 300 staffers.
HOW DID JJUMBA DO ALL THIS?
Politically, he associated with NRM which had ruled for 8 years as of 1994 when he first took charge under the mentorship of Bart Kiggundu. With his brother William Katumba of UTODA passing off as an influential figure and funder of NRM, Jjumba easily networked with the mighty in government.
Birungi says the man from Nkokonjeru in Kyengera loved his party so much he always insisted on using yellow things like pens to the extent he would protest if it was any other color. He would jokingly say “don’t you know that I’m a yellow man?” This ensured the YMCA project he had been entrusted with had full support of the Central government.
This explains how several collaborations (between YMCA & GoU) came to be forged regarding vocationalization of education in Uganda. Political correctness also ensured nobody would use political office to stand in the way of the clear vision Jjumba had for YMCA.
Childhood friend Mike Sebalu, who was the MC at the Thursday funeral services at YMCA Wandegeya and Namirembe Cathedral, says being NRM never prevented Jjumba from reaching and hiring the expertise of those he thought had a contribution to make. “It was always about merit and you couldn’t win his favor just through political connection,” Sebalu said in a bid to correct an earlier speaker who had bordered on characterizing Jjumba as a fanatic NRM supporter.
Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago corroborates Sebalu’s observation on the reasonableness with which Jjumba always approached life. He never allowed his business decisions to be blurred by political affiliation and strong love for NRM. Lukwago says Jjumba identified him as brilliant enough to work with in 1998 as he completed his Bar Course training at LDC.
“We live in a country where it’s increasingly hard to find people to trust but Dr. Jjumba trusted me when I was a still a youth. It was 1999 when he became my client as a young lawyer who was just starting out. I have been his lawyer for 20 years now and in that period he has trusted me with a lot of things which I can’t even disclose here,” Lukwago told mourners during the Thursday requiem service at Namirembe.
Here friends and relatives of Jjumba filled the large Cathedral to capacity with many men and women openly wailing. Justice Easter Kisakye of the Supreme Court was among them.
Among the many assignments Lukwago & Co was instructed to undertake was to coordinate and oversee the review of the YMCA Uganda Constitution which enabled Jjumba to realize his vision of getting YMCA admitted into the membership of the World Alliance of YMCAs. The admission was proclaimed during the 2006 grand global YMCA gathering in Durban SA.
Lukwago says Jjumba had been given very few slots but told him; “I will find a way to convince my colleagues but you have to be part of the delegation I’m going with.” That in SA, Jjumba took good care of his delegation members by waking up every morning to ensure they took breakfast together since they stayed at the same hotel.
Lukwago says even as they related on professional work, Jjumba always jokingly invited him to join the NRM and serve his country better. Lukwago too often called on him to embrace change in the country’s governance. With the Lukwago strong legal representation, Jjumba was able to legally secure each and every transaction he entered on behalf of YMCA.
He stuck to Lukwago not because they belong to the same Nkiima clan but because of the integrity with which the Lord Mayor goes about his professional duties once instructed.
Birungi recalls that Jjumba ensured there was a Strategic Plan for YMCA and in 1999, only 5 years into the job, a four-year Strategic Plan was proclaimed clearly articulating the direction he wanted the institution to take with clear time lines. On streamlining things, Jjumba (who used the 14th YMCA World Council in Cologne Germany to deepen his understanding of the organization’s global values & mission) found himself having to shed off some employees and replace them with those with appropriate skills and exposure.
Many had experience but lacked the relevant qualifications. Birungi recalls Jjumba rejected proposals to lay them off and instead invested in their re-training. He encouraged them to return to school and upgrade to remain relevant to the new YMCA.
Jjumba, who initially had just the Kyambogo NTC Diploma in education, led by example. He upgraded and got many more qualifications including the PhD which he pursued at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in SA. He completed it in 2011 and held a very big party at his home insisting his wife Carol Namukwaya too had to pursue the same to equalize with him.
Jjumba had many other qualifications including a diploma in public administration, bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees from Makerere and UMI. These are in management and education. This inspired many YMCA staffers to undertake further studies and thereby being able to keep their jobs. Jjumba rightly avoided the very costly infighting that would have resulted from people being laid off. This stability enabled him to steer YMCA to greater heights.
He was also punctual and always preferred delivering tasks assigned to him by the Dr. Nkata-led NEC months ahead of set deadlines. He also kept friends and never lost any unlike some administrators who like intrigue and keep sacrificing old friendships in favor of new ones. This is the point Dr. Anthony Mukasa (YMCA NEC member), who studied and remained friends with Jjumba for 43 years since their school days, highlighted during the Thursday morning eulogy-making session at Wandegeya. Mukono MP Muyanja Senyonga corroborated the same saying he wasn’t aware of any friend Jjumba lost during his life time.
Benon Sentongo, the deceased’s young brother, enumerated employees Jjumba had supported since his classroom teaching days at Trinity College Nabbingo and urged them to stand up for recognition as further proof the deceased kept his friends.
Dr. Nkata, who saw Jjumba start out as a primary school teacher at UMEA Namagooma, is another longtime friend who testified about Jjumba’s dependability and true friendship. He never stabbed friends in the back. Jjumba also had plenty of humility as was testified by representatives of the Boda riders operating outside YMCA Wandegeya. They said they had lost a customer, mentor and friend. The cyclists contributed Shs100,000 towards funeral arrangements. To many mourners at the Wandegeya requiem service this was unprecedented; riders making such a contribution.
But Jjumba was equally strong and firm to the extent some speakers described him as a fighter who never gave up a fight the moment, he was convinced he was right. He always stood up to bullies-both family and work-related; wherever he encountered them.
Benon Sentongo said this is the reason he vowed not to show any emotional brokenness through the bereavement period because doing so would be betrayal to a man who always trained him to stand firm in all adversity. In the different organizations where he served as either board member or chair, Jjumba rallied his members to resist intimidation and blackmail whenever they were right.
A devout practicing Anglican, Jjumba was also Godly and generously donated towards church projects. At Namirembe Cathedral he was an active member of father’s union. He was also the leading funder for the All Saints Church in his native Nkokonjeru outside Kyengera town. It’s built on land his forefathers donated to the church and Jjumba firmly took on those who were trying to reverse or alter this bequeathment by his grandfather.
He was also exemplary and never corrupt otherwise he wouldn’t have lasted this long in such a coveted position of influence in the YMCA movement. He also knew authority and naturally respected his bosses Dr. Nkata and YMCA Uganda Council President Dr. Elizabeth Kiwalabye who says his death is a very big loss to the YMCA movement not only in Uganda but globally.
He was also business-minded, visionary, travelled and well exposed. He saw opportunity where his peers anticipated failure. That’s how he realized that partnering with FUBA to erect the Basketball Court at Wandegeya was Godsent opportunity. In this he looked not only at the little income that could be generated but the immeasurable free publicity and visibility YMCA would get from the resultant sporting activities.
WHO WAS JJUMBA?
Born on 30th June 1956, Dr. Jjumba went to many schools including Old Kampala SS. He thereafter enrolled at NTC Kyambogo where he graduated with a diploma in education. And as a teacher, he started out teaching History and Geography at Trinity College Nabbingo (1981-1984) where he distinguished himself as hardworking and available to take up administrative duties. That’s what made him noticed for promotion and deployment to Kiwawu SS in Mityana where he was head teacher for 8 years (1984-1994).
Before joining Nabbingo, Jjumba humbled himself and became a primary teacher at Namagooma UMEA where he taught his brother Sentongo and Mike Sebalu. It’s from Kiwawu that he joined YMCA in 1994 where he served as national ED up to his sudden death last Wednesday in Lisbon Portugal during the IASIA Annual Conference.
Jjumba, who was battling hypertension, succumbed to cardiac arrest. He is survived by widow Carol Namukwaya and four sons (Ivan Kabugo, David Sentongo, James Mugerwa and Andrew Kiggundu) all of whom longtime friend Mike Sebalu says have masters degrees and are gainfully employed.
Namukwaya, who was in UK when the news of Jjumba’s death came through, is already studying her PhD at the strong prompting and urging of her now departed husband. Rest in Peace Dr. Jjumba. (For comments, call, text or whatsapp us on 0703164755 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org).