When I dispatched this piece to Sunday Monitor, the Uganda Cranes were still more than 24 hours away from their knockout clash with Senegal at the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals in Egypt. If they did it, fantastic! If they did not, well, there is the next time. After all, last time, in 2017, they flamed out in the group stage.
On the look of things, the national team could go very far at the next tournament. Before 2017, the Cranes had been away from Afcon for nearly four decades. So much seems possible now. The spell has been lifted, and the national men’s football team is going after the possibilities before it.
Is Uganda generally going for the possibilities before it? My educated guess is that it is a mixed picture: a shiny new power station here, a lousy primary education there.
Let’s stick with sport though. With all the patriotic fervour a winning performance inspires, the government is not anywhere close to decently supporting the sub-sector. Exhibit A is the Cranes strike over allowances that saw the team fail to show up for training on Tuesday.
This is not about throwing money at stuff. It is about being deliberate to fund football, athletics, boxing, rugby, netball, plus those other disciplines such as swimming.
It has long been known that Ugandan long-distance athletes could do with a high-altitude training facility, preferably built somewhere up Mt Elgon. No one who matters cared.
It took Moses Kipsiro’s Commonwealth Games golden exploits in the 5,000 metres and 10,000 metres races in 2010 for President Museveni & Co to wake up. But the lip service continued, even after Stephen Kiprotich delivered Olympic gold in the marathon in London in 2012.
Finally, though, construction of the centre at Teryet, 12km outside Kapchorwa Town, is underway. It is at 68 per cent, according to Finance minister Matia Kasaija’s national Budget speech last month. A Ministry of Education and Sports official says it will be completed in January 2020.
It may be completed at some point, but I am not putting my money on a precise date such as January 2020 — in any case a whole decade since The Boss seriously talked about it.
Some athletes are pissed off by the slow pace, by their government’s lack of a sense of purpose in pursuing gold glory and make all Ugandans happy.
Tired of the nonsense, Joshua Cheptegei acted last year. He bought six acres of land, 10km outside Kapchorwa Town, and started building his own centre. Granted, it will be a modest facility costing Shs60 million — nothing like the Teryet one of Shs25 billion because it will handle disciplines other than athletics — but what a statement.
Just to add that Cheptegei ended last year better known as a Commonwealth Games double gold medallist. By the end of quarter one 2019, he was known for becoming the first Ugandan to win the senior men’s title at the World Cross Country Championships. Imagine how many Kips, Chelimos, and Cheptegeis have fallen through the cracks because of a lumbering government.
A December 31, 2018, Daily Monitor story on the Cheptegei centre quoted the athlete thus: “My main objective is to tap the vast talent in Sebei [sub-region] and elsewhere, promote sporting skills among youth, promote tourism and attract investors to Sebei.” How about that for clarity of thought and purpose. The story also said that Cheptegei would ‘build a house near the facility for hostel purposes, a gym and procure a van for transporting athletes to various training areas’.
Ladies and gentlemen, as of a week ago, the hostel, call it a dormitory, with separate wings for men and women, was about to be roofed.
The hunger and speed that the young of Uganda have — such as Cheptegei, members of the Cranes team, the thousands involved in the creative economy, ICT, agriculture, and commerce — could be harnessed better.
While steady progress was good during the Bush War days in the 1980s, we are now decades removed. We need revolutionary progress or, as Idi Amin would say, we need to move at supersonic speed. The population is growing fast, the economy not so fast and so we can’t just bide our time.
Stories like the recent one from the national roads agency that the Kampala flyover project may turn out to be a costly delay because of land ownership and compensation problems just won’t do. We pay the government to readily solve problems, not whine.
Bernard Tabaire is a media trainer and commentator on public affairs based in Kampala.