When the sad and sickening story of Zainab Mbabazi - the young woman who was gang-raped by Pakistan nationals – first broke, there was a national outcry.
Women activists and all manner of feminist groups got up in arms to ensure that the matter was not swept under the carpet and that the culprits were brought to book, justice served and victim properly rehabilitated.
Such has been the serious reaction to that heartrending incident that Platform Forever Uganda, a civil society organisation that brings house maids together, is even pushing for reform of Uganda’s Labour Laws, and is bound to get support from our legislators and the legal fraternity.
Only a few months on from that vulgar violation of Mbabazi, a story has broken of this national athletics trainer who is doing more poaching than coaching, the perverted predator preying on several vulnerable and helpless girls a lot younger than the aforementioned 23-year-old.
That this saga hasn’t quite captured the imagination in the same way as the Mbabazi one is largely because of the inherent attitude towards sports in this country. That trivilisation is a subject about which I feel passionately, but I prefer to make the more urgent call for the matter of this disgraceful coach being plucked off the back pages of a single newspaper where it is current stuck, and pasted onto the forefront of the national agenda.
The sordid tales that emanated from the training camp in Kapchorwa where Ugandan athletes spent a month preparing for the recently ended Africa Cross-country Championships have left me gutted.
Here is a group of young girls huddled together without a senior female overseer, being picked out in ones and twos in the dark of the night by a man who is supposed to tutor, mentor and protect them, told the most stupid lies about the importance of sex and child birth to their running careers and thus manipulated, or just outright threatened, man-handled and forced into submission by one with evidently insatiable sexual appetites.
From the newspaper reports filed by my colleague Sande Bashaija in the Daily Monitor, it is clear that the girls have cried out for help to several people in vain, with the distinguished and commendable exception of elite male athlete Moses Kipsiro and the athletics-loving LC5 chairman of Kapchorwa, Sam Cheptoris.
UAF’s deafening silence
Needless to say my biggest disappointment has been the reaction and quotes attributed to Beatrice Ayikoru, the general secretary of the Uganda Athletics Federation, who I am sure more than anyone else understands the vulnerability of a female athlete in the situation and circumstances that have led to the gross abuse of these girls, but has publicly feigned ignorance of their predicament.
Cursory inquiries have led me discover that politics has got in the way, the people in charge at the federation reluctant to reprimand a man who it is said championed the mobilisation which helped put them in power in the face of some fierce opposition.
To Ayikoru I say, here is an opportunity to make a mark bigger than the world 5,000m bronze you won as an athlete or any work you have since put in as an administrator.
Be a woman first, stand up and fight for your own, even if it is at the expense of your position of power and office. This is what holding that office is about in the first place, and if you don’t sort this mess out and along with it the future of women’s athletics in the country, that office will not mean a thing and your legacy will be forever tainted.
And even if the police are known to drag their feet on these issues for several reasons, as indeed they did with Mbabazi until one of their superiors reacted in earnest to a story on the radio, in the case of these athletics girls there is apparently more than meets the eye.
As a result of the slow progress in investigations and therefore the need to keep this predatory coach’s identity under wraps, the innocent coaches are suffering. Fingers are being pointed in wrong directions, and these coaches are facing humiliation in the eyes of a public that doesn’t know any better.
But it is not just the Uganda Police, Ayikoru and the athletics federation on trial here. The entire sports fraternity, women in the legal sorority, in positions of power, in civil rights organisations etc, the government and an entire nation are all in the dock.
We can’t let this monster get away with this.
To Ayikoru I say, here is an opportunity to make a mark bigger than the world 5,000m bronze you won as an athlete or any work you have since put in as an administrator. Be a woman first, stand up and fight for your own, even if it is at the expense of your position of power and office. This is what holding that office is about in the first place, and if you don’t sort this mess out and along with it the future of women’s athletics in the country, that office will not mean a thing and your legacy will be forever tainted.