European football?! Just give us hope, Mr President
Posted Tuesday, March 12 2013 at 02:00
You, Mr President, were once an undisputed hero in this land. But lately that undisputed status has been questioned.
You lamented, Mr President, at the funeral of your buddy, Uncle Eriya Kategaya, about Ugandans who spend too much time watching European football.
You are right, Your Excellency, because many people spend an inordinate amount of emotional energy and productivity time in front of satellite television and in gaming houses placing bets. It is truly lamentable.
But what is the social economy of European football in Uganda before passing outright condemnation? It’s athletic joy, hero-worship, aspiration, and escapism.
Football tends to be a youthful venture, enjoyed in the watching and in the enactment by those with strong bones and boiling blood. Survey all boys anywhere from age 10 to 27, and you will be surprised at how few do not enjoy a game of soccer. You yourself may have missed out – after all as early as secondary school you were already focussed on matters national, and you took your university stay rather seriously, much more seriously than the average 19-23 year-old. Your type is rare.
Your mid-20s youth was spent in the jungles of Portuguese-ruled Mozambique, cutting your ideological teeth with Frelimo, at the time when the Portuguese football league boasted the explosive talent of Mozambican-born Portuguese star Eusebio.
Had Eusebio visited the bush, would you have noticed him? Maybe, just maybe, the greatest of them all, Pele, another Portuguese speaker, would have inevitably caught your attention.
And now, Mr President, your country is full of youth. As of mid-2012, we were an estimated 34.1 million Ugandans, of whom 25.1 million were born in 1986 and after. That is a whopping 73 per cent of the people you rule – they are under the age of 27, and therefore all potential football fanatics.
You see humans, naturally, look up to achievers. That is why a non-athletics fan will identify Usain Bolt and all Ugandans, including Your Excellency, went gaga over Kiprotich; that’s why the least politically-minded will know about Mandela.
People need heroes and, I am afraid, there are hardly any in Ugandan public life. The likes of Andres Iniesta and Yaya Toure offer them heroes that are in short supply here. It’s also as aspirational as it is delusional: Wayne Rooney’s monthly pay of $1.6million (Shs5 billion) is the annual turnover of a medium-sized Ugandan company – which won’t give them jobs!
You, Mr President, were once an undisputed hero in this land. But lately that undisputed status has been questioned. When the people talk of bakoowu/twakoowa, please take it seriously. The literal meaning is ‘fatigue’ or ‘tiredness’.
But the loaded meaning is what you should be wary of – they are weary of promises to improve their lot, when they see just a few improving and a vast majority stagnating or even deteriorating.
They are fed up of two-faced approaches to tackling corruption. They hear lip service, see a crusading bishop arrested, and known embezzlers staying free. They see selective prosecution, and they sigh. They see the same band of merry thieves steal everything. They are tired.
That tiredness breeds apathy. Apathy makes them recourse to escapism. TV football offers a great route. If you have been let down by country, why not look up to those who will thrill you: Messi will not fail to score majestically; Ronaldo will not fail to bamboozle.
That 73 per cent! How many employable ones are in work? The job statistics in the country you govern are rather alarming. A 2008 report talked of a youth unemployment rate of 83 per cent. When the Finance minister read the 2011/2012 budget, she told us that the economy can only gainfully absorb 20 per cent of those who enter the job market every year.
The people at the gaming houses – do not close them Mr President; that could create bigger social or even security problems – to most intents and purposes are not gainfully employed. They, therefore, spend their income….er, they do not have incomes. They spend the little they have placing sports bets, in the hope that they will hit the jackpot. They call it kulembeka, though not the type that you once advocated.
As way of personal testimony I, as a youthful Ugandan, once supported, concentrically, these clubs: Express FC in Uganda, Gor Mahia in Kenya, AC Milan in Italy, Hamburg SV in Germany, FC Barcelona in Spain, Arsenal in England, and Flamengo in Brazil (most wear red).