Hours after Uganda’s Isaac Masembe lost the featherweight final 4-1 to Moroccan Mohamed Hamout Thursday, his colleague David Ssemuju lost the men’s middleweight final 3-2 to Moroccan Tarik Allali at the 2019 African Games in Rabat, Morocco.
This came a day after Hellen Baleke ‘Nnaalongo’ lost the women’s middleweight semifinal to another Moroccan, Khadija Mardi.
Simply: Morocco is the reason why the Bombers picked just two silver medals and one bronze. Still, Morocco is the reason why Uganda will wait longer than 20 years to win boxing gold at the continental Games, after Masembe and Ssemuju came within sniffing distance of that feat since 1999.
Yet it is in Morocco where the Bombers have had the best performance since Johannesburg 1999. In Uganda’s best edition, ever, Abdul Tebazaalwa and Muhammad Kizito picked gold; Adam Kassim got silver and Jackson Asiku bronze. In the subsequent four editions, the Bombers got a miserly four bronze medals.
Still, it is in Morocco, where Masembe and Ssemuju broke the bronze jinx to become the first Ugandan boxers to reach the Games final since 1999.
In the final, the two surrendered gold to Moroccans. Did they fail the test against Maghreb opponents? Yes and no. Because in the semis, Masembe, on his first international assignment, had knocked out an Algerian, who was even slightly more experienced.
Likewise Ssemuju, also on his continental debut, outclassed an Egyptian in the semis. So the Maghreb invincibility was once more shaken harder than the when Geoffrey Kakeeto knocked out Tunisia’s Bilel Mhamdi en route to winning silver at the African Boxing Championships 2017.
And though Baleke’s bronze was more a gift of luck than work—she got a straight bye into the semis—it is worth celebrating as Uganda’s first Games medal from a female boxer.
Achievements are gauged against expectations. Should captain Musa Shadir Bwogi, on his third international duty, and the other four, have done better? Perhaps. But for a country that last kissed gold 20 years ago, won nothing in 2007, and just a bronze in 2015, gold was not a must. Likewise, two silver and a bronze is no failure.
PAST AFRICAN GAMES RECORD
Brazzaville 1965: no medal*
Lagos 1973: 2 gold
Algiers 1978: 1 gold
Nairobi 1987: 2 gold
Cairo 1991: 1 gold
Harare 1995: no medal
Joburg 1999: 2 gold 1 silver
Abuja 2003: 2 bronze
Algiers 2007: no medal
Maputo 2011: 1 bronze
Brazzaville 2015: 1 bronze
Rabat 2019: 2 silver