In 2018, after serving in the army for over 50 years, 74 year-old retired major general decided to end his illustrious career and found his footing in farming and hotel business.
Maj. Gen. John Mateeka is a man of quite some confidence. He comes across as someone who takes a great deal of effort to speak about his own achievements, even though his army career and how he shuttled into thriving hotel business and farming projects speaks volumes.
In fact, this interview took place at his beautiful Country Motel Lounge, which is strategically located in Rubaare, Ntungamo district.
This meeting wasn’t about his military career, but it was about his retirement and how he gave farming and hotel business a shot.
He says his interest in cattle keeping dates back to his early years. He grew up in a farming home.
“My father, Festo Furegye , was a local chief (omukungu) and was a typical farmer, who owned herds of cattle that we looked after. As a child, I picked interest in what he was doing and I wanted to follow in his footsteps, but opted to join the army” Mateeka says.
Few years ago, his son, Solomon Mateeka, took a bold step when he decided to quit his lucrative job in the US and return to steer the family farming projects and hotel business ahead.
“My wife also did the same, she abandoned a seemingly good life in the US and returned to take care our farming enterprise after my sister, who was our catertaker, passed on,” he says.
Joining the army
“I did not go far in school. I dropped out after senior four at Old Kampala Secondary school to join the army in 1966,” Mateeka says.
His original dream was to continue studying and excel in his academic pursuits, but due to his father’s financial constraints and the inspiration from the buoyant military men, he shifted towards the army career.
“I was more interested with their military attires. When I inquired about their service I was told that that they are in military to defend our country. I also felt I wanted to join them and offer my service to the country at the time when there was a lot of political misconduct,” he says.
In April 1966, when Mateeka joined the army, at the time it appeared like his other dreams and farming had stifled, but it was not the case.
“I remember when I got my first salary from the army, I bought cows, which later progressed into a big herd with the help of my father,” he says.
“I started planning for my retirement in 1968 when I started earning my first salary. I felt that I should invest in farming that it can keep me going without wondering where to get food for my family,” he adds.
In 1972 when he got married to his wife Stella, she took on the mantle of steering farming activities as her husband was serving in the army in Uganda and later the US where he spent so many years.
“My wife is a hard-working person. She turns whatever she touches into gold,” he says.
In 2018 when he retired as serving officer at the General Military Court Marshal, he found his footing in was once his first love – farming.
Mateeka has every reason to talk about farming because it has been a lifeline for his family.
And through the proceeds from the farming enterprises, he was able to construct a beautiful country motel in Rubaare town council, Ntungamo district.
Mateeka’s is a typical modern homestead and sits on 128 acres with a manmade lake which has been in existence for many years.
It is here that the retired general operates all the farming projects with his wife and son.
On a windy morning, at the time of the visit at his dairy farm, Mateeka together with his wife and son were handling different activities. They could all easily pass off as suburban cattle keepers.
At the vast farm; cattle, goats, milk production, ghee production, banana and eucalyptus tree plantations, as well water melon growing are the main activities; however, the dairy farm is the major project.
Solomon Mateeka is the one in-charge of the diary farm and other farming ventures.
Unlike so many family investment projects that collapse because of lack of structured management, Mateeka’s family works as team. His wife and children manage quite a number projects as he does mostly the supervisory job.
“On a daily basis, we get about 600 litres of milk. A big part of the proceeds is spent on maintenance, which includes catering for workers and buying cattle drugs and the balance is saved. We have about 25 workers who take care of the farming activities on a permanent basis,” he says, adding that: “Caring for the dairy farm is costly.”
“The process involves vaccinations, spraying and applying injections drugs. This is applies to the goat farm, which is mainly handled by my wife. The drugs are quite expensive since we use imported ones,” Mateeka says.
Like most farmers in the region, Mateeka is plagued by occasional drought. He, however, says he put in place three big tanks for harvesting water and constructed two big dams for his cattle farm.
“Drought retards the progress of animals and crops. For instance, during drought season, we don’t get enough milk from animals to sell, and also, we get dismal yields from the banana plantation,” he says.
Plant diseases such as banana bacterial wilt pose a serious problem. However, Mateeka says they devised means on how to counter the spread of the disease by treating and removing the diseased plants and burning them.
Mateeka has big plans. He says after serving in the army for long, he now intends to continue with commercial farming on a mechanised scale.
“I believe that commercial farming is the future of our country,” he says.
Mateeka also hopes to leave a legacy in the hospitality business in his home district.
“One cannot develop without financial discipline. It is important to spend your earnings carefully. Knowing what to spend on and social activities are keys for financial prosperity,” he says.
On retirement, Mateeka says it important for one to think of the follow-back position early enough.
“The earlier you start to plan, the better for your tomorrow,” he says.
What his wife and son say
“I am proud to note that all our children were educated on money from cattle and all attended good schools. Indeed, farming is close to my heart. I remember, out my volition, I decided to quit a good job in the US and returned to take care of our family enterprises after the death of my sister in-law who was taking care of the farming projects. When I returned I began by looking for health cows for milk and beef. During that time, we would milk about 1,000 litres on a daily basis,” Stella Mateeka says.
Solomon Mateeka says besides dairy farming, he is involved in mixed farming and owns a big plantations of watermelon and buys bulls and stocks them for about six months and resales them at a profit. “I believe that farming is the only way to go although it requires lot patience. I have also been able to build my house through farming.”