What you need to know:
- Star fades. Stuart Mutebi Kiwanuka wandered into journalism, an uncharted territory that would shape his legacy, and endear him to many through his authentic sports reporting and commentary, writes Abdul-Nasser Ssemugabi.
Stuart Mutebi Kiwanuka, Muzzukulu wa Gabunga is how the fallen legend signed in and out of his sports presentations, rich in detail and in an infectious voice that wowed millions of Ugandans over decades.
The stardom he missed on the pitch, he got it in the studio, changing sports commentary with zeal, creativity, humility and love for others.
Mark Ssali—a legend—said Stuart, as his fans called him, “was true to the profession, to his ethics and values, throughout his very long career. An icon and legend, always.”
First goal commentary
Yet journalism was never Mutebi’s dream. Until 1993, when FM radio stations started, Radio Uganda was the only local channel, with only three 30-minute sports programmes a week: one in Luganda, one in English and one in Swahili. District Sports Officers gather results from their districts and journalists pick them from there. Some shrewd officers could pay “something” for their stuff to be read on the radio or appear in the papers: Ngabo, Weekly Topic (later The Monitor), and Uganda Times (New Vision).
Mutebi, who then played for the City Cubs—KCCA FC’s feeder club, was puzzled how rural teams like Ssezibwa, Bujuuko, got the media coverage unlike Cubs, which was based in the capital. “So after the matches, I started gathering results of football, got the boxing results at the MTN Arena, then rugby ones from Kyadondo and took them to Radio Uganda,” Mutebi told me in an exclusive interview in 2017. “I instantly impressed Mzee Fred Musisi, the head of the sports programme.”
Imagination and aiming for the best set him apart. He admired BBC, DW, and Voice of America commentators; how they relayed a goal moment live. He wanted to try it. His bosses bought the idea and gave him the equipment, showed him how to use it on the pitch but he had to cater for his transport bills and buy battery cells.
With the gadget, the following weekend at Nakivubo, Mutebi explored. He got the players and coaches and to that he added the “gooaaal” moment. “When we Mzee Musisi played it on radio, everyone was amazed. Charles Byekwaso, the head of sports, told him, "this was a show like no other.”
It was the first time Radio Uganda had relayed a goal moment to its audience. A gem had been unearthed, from almost nowhere.
But it wasn’t easy. Mutebi fetched the results with the excitement of a teenage couple ahead of its first date. But to his shock, just a few were used. A senior staff, who was seen dumping Mutebi’s results sheets in the trash bin, was relegated to let the new boy roam.
When Siraj Kalyango, another rookie, did the ‘Stuart thing’ in Swahili, the old guard envied the new boys and some were fired for lacking creativity.
“Amid that tension we started hiding, fearing the worst,” Mutebi recalled.
Venancio Ssenoga admired Mutebi’s unique voice and zeal. He took him to help him in his programme Agafa Mu Bwengula, which specialised in space science.
Mutebi read the listeners’ questions and Ssenoga answered.
Playing for the Cubs, gathering results and voices from different venues and helping at his brother’s shop downtown, would have been too much. “But I loved it all.”
Defecting to CBS
While Byekwaso and David Matovu did the commentary, Mutebi did the halftime analysis. Soon, he stood out among Luganda football commentators.
While undergoing hands-on training, Mutebi soon became Sports Presenter of the Year, beating his boss Musisi, while their show was the best sports programme of the year in the awards organised by the Ministry of Information.
But all this he did for free. And just when Radio Uganda thought of giving him the first contract, Peter Ssematimba poached him to 88.8 FM Central Broadcasting Services in 1996.
It took him three months to decide, as he completed a Commonwealth Broadcasting Association training.
“I didn’t tell my bosses, otherwise they wouldn’t have let me go.”
By then drama actors Abby Mukiibi and Kato Lubwama, had launched Kaliisoliiso W’emizannyo, a morning show that fused sports and humour. But they needed someone like Mutebi with legit sports content.
Like any new player, CBS set a furious pace. As Radio Uganda stuck to their weekly sports programme, Mutebi traversed pitches and made updates in Mulindwa Muwonge’s Amata Agatafa midmorning and thrice in Nina Phylis Wamala’s Township Tunes. Easily, the Mengo-based station emerged as sports radio of the year.
First phone commentary
Boasting an Outside Broadcasting Van, Radio Uganda was ready for the 1997 Bika Football Championship. But CBS, Buganda’s official broadcaster, was still fidgeting.
“Can’t we broadcast using a cell phone,” Mutebi suggested, though he did not own a phone. “It didn’t make sense until we tested it.”
Mutebi used programmes director Daudi Ochieng’s phone while in Bulange backyard, to call Toplex Makanga from the 89.2FM studios. “It was very clear.”
The following day Mutebi relayed the opening ceremony, commissioned by Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi and the opening match live from Nakivubo on the phone, which surprised the Radio Uganda crew.
But he used up his Shs20,000 airtime. Panic followed. Back in the studios, Makanga went into a music break. “But his impatient calls to find out what we could do delayed me even more,” Mutebi recalled. Buying and scratching the airtime card and loading it took more minutes. But they eventually found a way out.
Next time, to avoid that drama, Makanga called Mutebi from the studio. And at the end of the tournament, everyone commended CBS for the ingenuity and good coverage of the event.
Mutebi’s token was an Ericsson, his first cell phone. And since then, live phone commentary became a norm, even in matches abroad.
“While interviewing rally drivers Karim Hirji, Gerald Kidhu, Chipper Adams, I put the phone at the exhaust pipe to catch that noise,” Mutebi said.
“That gave the listener the real feel of the moment,” said former rally fan and journalist JB Ssenkubuge, who died two years ago.
Radio Simba launched with the 1998 World Cup and their unorthodox comical commentary tested CBS resolve. Still, Mutebi won the sports presenter of the year award, and CBS stayed on top.
Saving a stunted project
In 1997, 89.2 FM, CBS’s second channel had failed to capture the Lusoga, Iteso audiences it was created for.
Ssematimba rejected Mutebi’s idea of a Luganda show on the channel. He thought it required new staff which wasn’t in the company’s plan.
But Mutebi, who was doing Eriiso ly’Emizannyo on 88.8 FM, every evening, volunteered to start Akaati k’Emizannyo at no extra pay. He hosted sports personalities on Monday and Wednesday nights, and trained Mukiibi to help him on Tuesdays and Thursday. On Friday they hosted senior journalists Hassan Badru Zziwa, (formerly Weekly Topic, now Observer) and Fred Musisi Kiyingi (The Monitor).
Soon, Muwonge brought Kkiriza Oba Gaana, a 7-9pm political show, while Owen Kibenge and Sophia Nangobi, brought Mulengera Express, early morning. Such programmes propelled 89.2 from a nonstarter to a hit station, to date.
Forced out of CBS
Mutebi said that no job ever paid him as good as CBS. Shs500,000 per month was quite handsome when the dollar cost Shs1000. “But I earned even more from advertising for Ever Fresh, Bulemeezi Farm Enterprises, Nile Breweries, Delident, etc.”
But things changed in early 2002 when Ssematimba launched Super FM, a rival station one hill away from CBS.
Mutebi debunked the popular belief that he quit CBS to join his friend Ssematimba. “I never quit CBS, my bosses forced me out, fearing that if I stayed at CBS I could leak the company secrets to Super FM.”
Still contracted, Mutebi endured frustrations until his bosses hired people to take over his roles. “I left with a heavy heart and I was determined to show CBS that firing me was a big mistake.”
But it was just a matter of when, not if big names would cross to Super. Muwonge, the biggest political brand, had already gone with Ssematimba. Mutebi followed. And so did others.
Enter the Premier League
The 2002 World Cup was a perfect test for the Super Sports Team that became the first Ugandan radio crew to relay the English Premier League. And it’s safe to add that this played a big role in recruiting the non-English speaking Ugandans, who are the majority, into following the Englishman’s game.
Mutebi and Francis Kyeyune, poached from Radio Simba, specialised in commentary, with humour, with sound effects that imitated a live stadium ambience, while Ruben Luyombo, who joined in 2003 from CBS, provided near-perfect match analysis.
Upon joining, Luyombo was asked for his opinion on the sports team. At first he was scared Mutebi assured him. “Don’t fear seniors. We are all equal. Forget titles, we win as a team and credit goes to all of us,” Luyombo said in a tribute on Facebook.
He told them that they mispronounce names like [Jamie] Carragher and I gave other examples of names like [Thomas] Hitzlsperger. “They all agreed with me and Stuart said from now on when we say a name wrong write the proper pronunciation on paper and show it to me and Kyeyune, totya.”
It worked immediately, never mind Luyombo himself still pronounces some names wrongly.
Adding the Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A, German Bundesliga and French Ligue 1, the Uefa Champions League and the Uefa Cup (Europa League) was a no-brainer. And it made Super FM the first choice for football fans in taxis, boda-boda stages, markets, shops, salons, video halls, everywhere, even when rivals tried to copy.
Abdul-Karim Kabiswa, the man who made me a barber, always wondered how Mutebi and colleagues commentated over four matches simultaneously.
“We had only two tv sets but we were always on the remote control, switching channels. Luckily, we caught most key moments: free-kicks, penalties, red cards, attacks, goals, misses, in different matches in real time,” Mutebi explained. That kept the listeners glued and gave Super an edge.
Around 2008, Mutebi, Paul Kimbugwe and Allan Ssewanyana (now Makindye West MP) launched Ekijjulo Ky’emizannyo, (sports dish), on NBS TV, the first Luganda sports tv show, where they hosted sports personalities and reviewed and previewed events Monday and Friday nights.
An instant hit, it matched WBS TV’s Sport On by Mark Ssali, Allan Ssekamatte and Joseph Kabuleta but later died, due to what Mutebi called “unnecessary interference from management.”
Mutebi was among the pioneers of City Cubs—KCCA FC’s feeder club in the early 80s coached by George Mukasa.
Moses Lumala—later a rally driver—was nicknamed Burruchaga, after Argentina’s 1986 World Cup winner, for his big hair.
Most boys came from Mengo Secondary School, Kibuli SS, Old Kampala SS. Mutebi came from Namirembe Secondary School.
They dreamt of lifting The Cubs from the third tier to the top flight and playing for the senior team. It almost happened when the Cubs were promoted to the First Division but manager Jaberi Bidandi Ssali told them they couldn’t play in the same league as KCC, which they were supposed to feed.
Earlier on the boys had been summoned to the national junior team, ahead of an U17 tournament but the start of the 1981 NRA bush war ruined the plans.
He also represented Namirembe SS in the schools boxing championship and, he told me, Kampala Boxing Club nearly signed him, though he chose football.
But when fellow cubs like Yusuf Ssonko and lions like Jimmy Kirunda, Coach Mukasa and joined rivals SC Villa in 1982; then John Tebusweke and Jimmy Ssekandi joined Express FC, Mutebi got discouraged.
He stayed, later wandering into journalism, an uncharted territory that would shape his legacy, and endear him to many through his passionate, authentic reporting and commentary, in that lovely voice.
To Mutebi, Super FM felt like home. He and Ssematimba dreamt of leveraging the brand: establishing Super Towers, Super Transport Company, etc. But all failed.
“If I wasn’t at the station I would be upcountry checking on the radio’s masts, engaging fans clubs, etc. I’m so disappointed.”
But in early 2017, after 15 years of dedicated service Mutebi, Kyeyune, Luyombo and others quit, citing nonpayment and unfulfilled promises.
They found refuge at Star FM, an offshoot of UBC, where Mutebi had started, reuniting with their colleagues Muwonge and Charles Bwanika Ssensuwa, who had quit in 2012.
They replicated their stuff; Mutebi even hosted the health talk show every Saturday, until illness paused him in 2021, eventually switching him off on May 20. They’ve raised Star to some height. But broken hearts love cautiously. Meanwhile, Super survives.
Can’t stop learning
Mutebi said know-who in the job market and poor pay have killed media talent, despite countless media stations.
Mutebi hated today’s journalists who never want to improve. Even when he was at Super, Andrew Patrick Luwandagga (RIP), could send him feedback on where to improve: names, intonation, etc. “Today’s journalist would be offended. The humble one will tell you: ‘Noted Senior’ but repeat the mistake.”
Some even imitate his voice. “But they irritate me when they send greetings when the ball is in play and miss goal moments.”
Mutebi struggled to pick his all-time great athletes but mentioned Usain Bolt, Lionel Messi, Michael Phelps, Floyd Mayweather and Phillip Omondi.
Among journalists, he chose Charles Onyango Obbo (Monitor) and Luwandagga, Danny Kyazze, Ssenoga—his Radio Uganda mentors he has now joined at 61. Mutebi died of a stroke and was buried May 23 in Kasokoso, Kireka, a Kampala neighbourhood he proudly advertised on air. He is survived by children and Jeniffer, his wife of 27 years.
WHAT OTHERS SAY
Ruben Luyombo (Super FM, Star FM)
He was a boss but never bossy. He was humble to seniors and juniors. He believed in learning and helping others improve, always. He insisted on the small details that others ignored.
We have had a good time since 2003, and almost every day came with new moments.
Obviously, we could sometimes disagree but we worked around it easily.
Stuart, there were times we felt like we should give up amidst many challenges but you have always been the force behind us. You have pushed us to the limits, along the way we have times lost focus and somehow disappointed you but you have not lost faith in us and have had the same passion and desire you had 20 years ago.
There at times you came to work with a cannula (on your hand) and we felt like not working. But your response would be: radio eringa poliisi teggalawo gwe mulimu gwetwalonda tukolera bantu (radio is like police, it works 24/7. We chose this job to serve people. We set a standard that we always have to keep my little brother.”
Hassan Badru Zziwa (the Observer)
I briefly saw him play with the City Cubs in the 80s under George Mukasa. That experience and familiarity in football circles helped him blend into a good sports reporter.
Plus, the fact that Lugogo was a place for football, rugby, cricket, basketball, boxing, handball, hockey, etc, made it even easier for him.
At Radio Uganda he used to work with my elder brother Siraj Zziwa, who was also a reporter at Weekly Topic.
In 1997 he started Akaati K’emizannyo with Abby Mukiibi, where I and Frederick Musisi Kiyingi used to be weekly guests.
Stuart Kimera (Super FM)
Stuart made me the journalist I am. I was only into music and never dreamt of journalism but when I met Stuart in 2004, he told me my voice could be good for radio.
In 2006, the rest fell sick and I did a match with Ruben. I can’t say I did well but I never looked back. Sometimes I could do commentary, sometimes analysis, like Ruben.
Stuart gave me all the tricks and the day he left Super FM was one of my hardest moments. It was a big loss. Who gives you everything at no cost? That’s why I call him father.
Born: April 18, 1962
In: Kireka, Kasokoso
Died: May 20, 2023
Mother: Maggie Nannyondo
Father: Erifaz Kiwanuka Lwampona
Wife: Jeniffer Mutebi
Played for: City Cabs, Savannah FC
Won: several journalism awards
Sports: football, boxing
Schools: Kireka SDA, Namirembe SS