Local sport risks flirting with a false Don as Rukare concentrates power

Author: Robert Madoi is a sports journalist and analyst. PHOTO/FILE/NMG.

When William Blick was asked this past week whether he has created a dynasty at Uganda Olympic Committee (UOC), the outgoing president chose to cling to a sanitised interpretation of events. He duly reached out for a resonant phrase to claim victory by saying there’s beauty in continuity. But that cliche, though true for a tiny few, disguises the reality of life for the vast majority. And the reality is that when Donald Rukare is elected unopposed as UOC chief later this month, beauty will be in the eye of the beholder.

A Freudian slip by Blick further revealed that his trusted lieutenant might as well be in the saddle for eight years (two terms). The reason Ugandan sport has been presented with such possibility is because the UOC assembly is replete with like-minded people. Or at least that is what Blick wants us to believe. By his assessment, dissenters with outside-in perspectives protest less in hope than from a sense that they have little other option.

But there are striking parallels with a [dark?] past to be highlighted here. It wasn’t so far back that singing from the same hymn book was written off as a stupendously shortsighted act of collective self-harm. UOC’s elective assembly was preparing to take part in yet another ritualistic coronation of its incumbent. The odds against Maj Gen Francis Nyangweso failing to extend his 32-year reign at the helm of UOC were high. Like-minded people had a more relaxed attitude toward his removal. Or so we thought! Unknown to us was the fact that a group of Young Turks were teeing up a revolution from behind the scenes.

Led by Blick, the Young Turks managed to get a substantial number of delegates to throw their weight behind Rogers Ddungu during the February 2009 elective assembly. Besides the Young Turks being the power behind his throne, there was always a feeling that Ddungu was not cut out for the job. His work – much like his English – was unpolished and sometimes incoherent. 

The last straw was when a bunch of downtown businessmen tagged along with him as special guests to the 2011 Worlds in Daegu, South Korea. Ddungu’s cohorts caused quite a bit of a stir, with one apparently insisting on having a flat screen he purchased – presumably on the cheap – as part of their hand luggage.

After watching with growing consternation Ddungu personalise the UOC presidency (he reportedly withheld a national kit from Puma), the Young Turks made their move in 2012. But not before Ddungu had gotten his Rio Construction Company to refurbish UOC offices to a tune of Shs283 million. Still, the Young Turks struck a note of optimism, promising the sea change that eluded Ddungu. We were told meritocracy would see the light of day. Competing interests would live side by side. The pluralism that was absent under Nyangweso and Ddungu would be nurtured.

Nearly a decade later, it is patently clear that divergent views have not been allowed to flourish. What we instead have is a single, uncontested narrative. What’s more, the incoming UOC boss is concentrating power just as Nyangweso did all those years ago. 

Rukare has been quick to say that his role as chair of National Council of Sports (NCS) sees him do no more than superintend over quarterly meetings. There are those, however, who see this as a gross simplification of a powerful position. And indeed, at face value, one cannot help but come to the conclusion that holding down both roles goes against the spirit of having checks and balances.

Sometimes, you need friction to sharpen up two immovable objects (in this case UOC and NCS). What all of this means is that Blick’s self-congratulatory tone about homogeneity boding well for Uganda belies many concerns. The legacy of the Young Turks’ revolution shouldn’t be the creation of a culture where there is a willingness to follow rules without question.
A note of caution should be sounded when a move tailored to lead to the erasure of counterbalancing influences holds sway. The monolithic that the now greying Young Turks have put together will turn out to be a serious and insidious problem.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @robertmadoi

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