For over a month now, sexual harassment talk has dominated Uganda’s athletics. At the centre of the sex scandal exclusively exposed by Daily Monitor, is coach Peter Wemali.
Hitherto unknown to many Ugandans, Wemali has gained notoriety following allegations that he sexually and physically abused junior female athletes during a training camp in Bukwo in preparation for the March 16 Africa Cross-country Championships. Before then, little was known about him at national level. In Kapchorwa where he lives, Wemali is widely known for his acts off the running track.
“That man came here from Kenya as a sorcerer. He claimed he possessed super natural powers and people believed in him. People started consulting him whenever they had troubles,” Rotich Simba, the Sebei Region Athletics Association boss, said. It is through his work as a traditional healer that he started getting in contact with athletes, some of them visiting him with troublesome injuries, according to accounts from Kapchorwa residents. “We don’t know how he got into coaching,” Simba, credited for sponsoring several athletes in Sebei, added. Due to the absence of trained coaches in the region, Wemali slowly started training athletes albeit without papers.
In early 2000s, Wemali ‘married’ Grace Chesang, one of the top national female athletes at the time. He had two kids with the athlete before they parted ways.
“I was seriously sick and had failed to get treatment at several hospitals. Someone recommended that I visit Wemali and he prays for me because he had healing powers. I went to him and he prayed for me,” Chesang told NTV in a recent interview. “After getting better he recommended that we go to Kenya and he continues to monitor my recovery. He said I would stay with his relatives while in Kenya. But when we reached there, he rented a room and told me I would stay with him as a wife. That’s how I ended up with him. But he later left me after we had two kids.”
Wemali later raised eyebrows when he started an affair with a budding female athlete he had been hired to coach by Sam Cheptoris, then the headmaster of Sebei College. “After introducing him to the girl, he actually told me they were related. I sponsored everything involved in the training and even met all his demands. But after several months, I realised the girl was pregnant. I was so bitter because I had very high hopes in the girl but my efforts and resources went to waste. Somehow he ended up marrying her,” Cheptoris, now the Kapchorwa District LC5 chairman, said.
We can’t reveal the identity of the female athlete for fear of stigmatising her among her peers. But she has since returned to the track after giving birth and represented Uganda at the World University Cross-country Championships in Entebbe on March 22. Besides the university student, Wemali also reportedly has another athlete at home for a wife.
About two years ago, Wemali was recruited by Uganda Police as coach. He heads their athletics training camp based in Kapchorwa. With massive recruitment of top national runners, Police became a force, dominating national competitions.
Accusations against Wemali, however, started increasing after he embarked on full-time coaching with police. Besides sexual harassment claims, runners alleged that Wemali sold off food meant to feed them in camp. On January 21, the athletes wrote a petition, asking police and athletics authorities to reprimand the coach.
“He has been persuading our ladies to get pregnant and abort at three months so they can run better,” the letter, typed in broken English, reads in part. “He is the reason Uganda is not performing better on the side of ladies,” added the letter. In the missive, the athletes also claimed that Wemali is not Ugandan.
Several people that Daily Monitor talked to in Kapchorwa said Wemali is Kenyan and was born in Kakamega. Despite the athletes’ pleas, nothing was done. Instead, Wemali, who only got his Level 1 coaching badges last year, was appointed to handle the national cross-country team alongside Gordon Ahimbisimbwe and Rafael Kasajja.
Get pregnant to run better
It’s during the team’s training camp in Kapchorwa that Wemali’s questionable behavior finally got exposed. He reportedly advised female junior runners to engage in sexual activity and get pregnant in order to run better. “He threatened to chase us from camp if we ever said anything or turned down his sexual advances. We didn’t have any female coach to run to.
It was horrible,” a female runner told us but requested not to be named for fear of being reprimanded. The female runners confided in team captain Moses Kipsiro who later confronted the coach. Kipsiro asked that the coach be fired from the camp and questioned Uganda Athletics Federation’s failure to appoint a female trainer to handle the girls.
Kipsiro would later be dropped from the team that represented Uganda at the World Half Marathon Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark for speaking to the media about the sex scandal.
After failing to get help from several authorities, the aggrieved athletes, most of whom represent Police Athletics Club, away from the national team, deserted the Force’s camp in protest.
Their male counterparts also followed and opted to train from their homes, leaving the Police Club almost depleted. The runners insist they will not return to the camp unless Wemali is punished.
The athletics federation on Monday announced they had suspended the coach and named a committee to carry out investigations. The Education and Sports Ministry is also in the final stages of their investigations while police sent detectives to Kapchorwa about a week ago.
Athletes, however, fear that little might come out of the police and athletics federation’s probes because there are top officials in the two bodies covering up for the coach.
Wemali insists he is innocent. “I have nothing to say now. But those are just allegations. I am innocent. People have come here from the ministry, CID and I have talked to them. I am waiting for the findings of their investigations. But I am innocent,” he told us on phone yesterday.