For winning silver medals at the 2019 African Games, boxers David Ssemuju and Isaac Masembe were Uganda’s best performers in Rabat, Morocco. Five others got bronze.
Middleweight Ssemuju won four fights before marginally losing the final 3-2 to Moroccan Tarik Allali, while featherweight Masembe, won three fights and lost the final, also to a Moroccan opponent, with a cut above his eye.
Ssemuju and Masembe got Shs1m each, as had been pledged by the Uganda Boxing Federation. Both are preparing for the qualifiers to the 2020 Olympics next month. But Ssemuju feels they deserve a huge reward for their hard-earned medals.
“I’m eager to qualify for the Olympics and winning the medal but we also need the President’s reward like the one he gave to our fellow boxers and other athletes,” Ssemuju told Daily Monitor in an exclusive interview at the weekend.
“Do you know what it means fighting into the medal bracket at the African Games? It was real war but that Shs5m per month can be a huge motivation for us.”
Salim Uhuru, the president of the Uganda Professional Boxing Commission, confirmed that last month, on the invitation by the First Lady Janet Museveni, who is also the Minister of Education and Sports, he took professional boxers Shafik Kiwanuka and Frank Kiwalabye to meet President Museveni.
“The President rewarded them for winning African titles last year by ordering that they are added onto the State House payroll of excelling athletes, earning Shs5m per month,” Uhuru told us.
“But when he [Museveni] asked for the African medallists, Ssemuju and Masembe were absent. And they missed the golden opportunity.”
Other factors constant, by March 2020, Kiwalabye and Kiwanuka are each going to reap millions of shillings in addition to their purses, for winning one crucial fight each [in Uganda], as Ssemuju and Masembe earn nothing for their four and three victories on the continent.
But should that be the end of the story?
“I know we missed but when the President reads our concerns in the media he can give us a second chance. We badly need that money,” Ssemuju said.
But Moses Muhangi, the Uganda Boxing Federation president, said the federation did not receive the invitation in time but he wrote to the National Council of Sports the following day to ensure that Ssemuju, Masembe, Hellen Baleke, who got bronze in Rabat, and Juma Miiro, who got Commonwealth bronze in 2018, get their [monthly] stipends.
According to the Presidential offer, gold medallists are entitled to Shs5m, silver medallists Shs3m and bronze medallists Shs1m per month.
Some like visually impaired sprinter Christine Akullo, is reaping for her gold medals from the 2011 and 2015 All-Africa Games, though the payments do not come consistently, while many other medallists haven’t earned a penny. That seriously bothers Ssemuju more than his next opponents.