Mansoor Bwanika: Former street child sitting on top of the pool tables

Spreading wings. Bwanika believes he has nothing left to prove locally and would like to try his hands in Europe against more competitive opponents. PHOTO/GEORGE KATONGOLE

What you need to know:

  • Did you know? Mansoor Bwanika is the first and only player to break and finish 11 games in one league season.

Mansoor Bwanika, commonly known as Muto, is a pool player taking the country by storm. No one dares cross his cue path and when fate brings you his way, you have to fight for your life.

A victory against the baby-faced assassin can be celebrated until the next outing.

Having dropped out of school early, eagle-eyed Bwanika started playing pool as early as 10 years in his birthplace Masaka before he came to Kampala where his professional career began.

Bwanika was born in a strict Muslim family in Kyabakuuza, Masaka. He is the only son to his parents and knows none of his siblings.

Jumping to the table

With his father, a TV repair technician, and mother, a self-employed businesswoman, Bwanika was introduced to pool by trying circumstances.

Although he could play football with other young boys in the village, when he moved to Nyendo in Masaka, he got his introduction to pool in a nearby bar.

Sadly, his beginning was not a happy one. Around 2008, he met players in Kabuusu in Rubaga Division near the residence of politician Ken Lukyamuzi. A man he only identifies as Arafat trained him the basics such as cue handling and soon he had mastered the art.

But when his father got wind of what his son was doing, he became mad at him and the then young boy ran away from home to live with friends and was homeless most of the time as he roamed the streets during the day.

“My father did not like pool at all. When I ran away from home I stayed on the streets for so long, he came for me but I ran away again. I never returned to his home,” Bwanika said.

He had become so popular in the area that he won many pool battles but when he accumulated some money, he returned to Masaka to make a living.

“Living in Kampala by myself was a desperate attempt. It was dangerous,” he said.

Riding the luck

Training independently in Masaka, his skills improved and became the top player in the district.

Finally, his moment came during a visit by former topflight side CKI for a friendly in 2009 against KV Pool Club. He would turn pro in 2014 after he signed for CKI to play in the national league.

He was probably not ready for that stage and it was a rude welcome. He recalls losing most games for about two years until his career got a huge boost during the esteemed Indigo Open which he won in 2016.

Although his skills had grown significantly, Bwanika did not have a good run and his debut in the Nile Special National Open ended in tears, losing in the first round.

The left-handed star would return to stun established stars in 2018, winning the National Open by defeating the highly-rated Simon ‘Computer’ Lubuulwa 9-3 at Lugogo. His name was propelled further into stardom with an iconic exhibition of grit and flare.

This was probably the most successful year in his career as he won the Indigo Open again, the Kampala Open and MVP accolade from the pool association. Uspa journalists would only stamp his dominance with an award as the best pool player in 2019. 

Without doubt, he is the man to beat in this year’s awards as well.
“The National Open gave me momentum and I started believing in my potential. Since then I target the money brackets in every tournament I take part in. As luck would have it, that victory reunited me with my father,” Bwanika said.

Setback

The 2020 coronavirus pandemic greatly hampered Bwanika’s career. When the lockdown was announced, there was no action and for such people as Bwanika that did not have a formal source of income, they were struck to the marrow.

“I almost quit playing pool. It was a desperate time to be a pool player. My father advised me to quit as he wanted to take me to the Middle East for Kyeyo. I did not regard his advice but I am happy we are playing again,” he said.

As a result of his reputation, he has swept all local tournaments he has been involved in. Most top players have tasted his arrogant clearance of the table while there are those that detest his gamesmanship. Yet he remains the player to beat.

Although he is fast and furious, he has been at the receiving end during timed competitions that require less than 30 seconds for a shot.

For instance, he lost 5-4 to Zambia’s Steven Banda in the second round of the AAPA Men’s singles.

“This was a timed tournament and it was my first time. I lost on time but I am catching up because such tournaments don’t allow a lot of planning. You are always under pressure when the clock runs down,” Bwanika, who has played for the national team since 2018, said.

He went on to lose twice; in the Gulu Open this April and the PAU Grand Open at the end of last month.

But playing international tournaments has opened his eyes.
“You need to arrive early and acclimatise with their tables and their style. Unfortunately, when we travel, it is always late,” he said.

Despite being number one, Bwanika’s success on the table and fame has not translated into money. He now wants to play pool to the top leagues in Europe although his management is not keen on that ambition.

So far, his management has been paying out of pocket, something he says isn’t sustainable.

“I need to beef up my management to be able to get a sponsor that can take me to the European championships. I need to start playing against the top players. I have nothing more to prove here,” Bwanika, whose only nemesis is Zambian-based Ibrahim Sejjemba, said.

Individual achievements

Indigo Open champion 2016, 2018 Temuseewo Open Champion, Kampala Open Champion 2018 & 2019, 2018 National Open champion, Nile Special Uspa player of the year 2019, PAU MVP 2018, 2019, and 2021, PAU Grand Open 2021, King of the Table champion 2019 and Jinja Open champion 2022.

At a Glance: Mansoor Bwanika

Nickname:     Muto
Date of birth:     July 24, 1998
Parents:     Barbara Nambatya 
    and Yasin Bwanika
Place of birth:     Kyabakuuza,             Masaka
Club:    Unattached
Rating:     Seed One
Former clubs:     U&I Masaka, 
    KV Pool Club, 
    Takers – Katwe,
    CKI & Upper Volta

[email protected] nationmedia.com

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