Now that the Uganda Cranes have made it a habit to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), it means every time the tournament is being played, we have to do that analysis of what their story says about Ugandans and Uganda.
The oldest member of the team is keeper and captain Denis Onyango. He is 34. The next oldest are Hassan Wasswa and Michael Azira, both 31. It means that only Onyango was born before the NRM and President Yoweri Museveni came to power in 1986.
In fact, for some of them like 21-year-old Lumala Abdu, their parents might have been teenagers and hadn’t even met in 1986.
The athleticism of the Uganda Cranes against Egypt was inescapable. They were the better team which is why they lost, although they qualified to advance to the quarterfinals. We all know the one thing about good guys finishing last.
Lumala is easily younger than the grandchildren of some of the people who have been ruling this country in various positions over the last 33 years. Which is probably why their energy and zest was in sharp contrast with the sclerotic government of the day. Still, they represent some very important elements of our national evolution, and where Uganda seeks to be. Some of them from the north, east, and indeed the south, are able to do something that their parents couldn’t do just 16-35 years ago – go back to their ancestral homes. That is because Luweero, the north, and northeast (mainly Teso Sub-region) were in the throes of war.
For us older folks, they therefore represent what once looked impossible or, at best, a peaceful existence and a semblance of normalcy that was going to take ages to come. But in how much they contrast with the ancient regime in Kampala, they also remind us of the complexity in the progress the country has made.
The years of discord, conflict, repression, and severe penury scattered Ugandans (and continue to). So you have Kizito Mugabi, born in Harrow, England in 1995. He plays for Kazakhistan club Shakhter Karagandy, but he is on loan from Romanian club Politehnica Iași. In other words, he plays in clubs the average Ugandan has never heard of, in a part of the world they would need a long look to find on the map.
Ah, there is Ronald Brian Ddungu Mukiibi, born in Gothenburg, Sweden, who plays for Östersunds FK. A dual citizen like Mugabi, he has both a Ugandan and Swedish passport. Because the influx of Ugandans fleeing abroad started in 1966 after the Milton Obote government sent troops to storm the Buganda King Freddie Mutesa’s palace in Lubiri, and continued until the “Kasese Troubles” in 2016, Uganda has had nearly a full two generations of its displaced people outside the country.
The Citizenship and Immigration Control (Amendment) Act 2009, reversed several elements of that injustice, and was a more significant reform than many thought it would be at the time. All Ugandans who lost their Ugandan citizenship by obtaining citizenship of another country were now able to reacquire their former Ugandan citizenship. Additionally, Ugandans who wanted to acquire citizenship of another country without losing their Ugandan citizenship could also do so. If you reflect on the team make up of the Afcon 2019 Cranes, you see how that has played out. More importantly, it tells you that the Uganda nation, so to speak, is much bigger than this small land we call home.
To many, the bigger world is what is home. A full 18 of the 23 Cranes squad 78 per cent play their football outside Uganda. Several of them play for clubs around Africa, and that is not surprising. Then there is Khalid Aucho, who plays in the I-League – in India! I had even forgotten that cricket-mad India has a football league. Micheal Azira plays for Montreal Impact in Canada. And Isaac Muleme plays for FK Viktoria Žižkov in the Czech Republic.
It is amazing how far boys born in Jinja, the lower side of Kampala, and other Ugandan towns have travelled far in the world to make a living. Indeed the same has happened to people from all over Africa. To keep the lights on and put food on the table, they have tackled unusual frontiers.
We shall return home and close this. In the Cranes squad, is midfielder Taddeo Lwanga of Vipers FC. Though founded in 1969 as Bunamwaya FC, modern Vipers are a creature of the 2000s. There is an interesting Wikipedia entry on Vipers. “Vipers finished runners up in the 2015–16 season, but saw their first ever success in the Uganda Cup, beating Onduparaka FC 3–1”. Arua-based Onduparaka was only formed in late October 2011.
This is a country of very new things and young people. It is just that they have not yet inherited it.
Mr Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africa data.visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site. Roguechiefs.com.