Mbarara Rally bickering leaves drivers in the dust

Ponsiano Lwakataka

What you need to know:

  • Costly. Barely 24 hours to the rally last weekend, FMU order cancellation of the event only to returning with a green light the following morning. It is not the flip-flopping alone that leaves the drivers frustrated by the implications thereof too.
  • If they keep doing this, we are soon going to see the same mapping like that of motocross where we now have MAU as another faction. I speak from experience because I’m a driver and an organiser. You can’t just stop an event hours to the start.
  • The season opener went on for three days and recorded no major incidents. That is the first positive for both FMU and the host club. Not even the bickering could stop the rally loving fans and both the super special stage and the routes were filled with fans understandably thirsty for the first piece of action.

Ponsiano Lwakataka was uncompromisingly vocal as Federation of Motorsport Clubs of Uganda (FMU) and Mbarara Motor Club locked horns just hours to the start of the Rukaari Lake Mburo Mbarara Rally last weekend.

The event was in the balance after FMU released a letter cancelling it Thursday night with crews already in Mbarara waiting for Friday’s scrutineering.
The event was on, then off and on again as FMU accused host club, Mbarara Motor Club, of failure to submit event documents in conformity with the recommendations of the federation and Ministry of Works and Transport (MoWT) .

“The speed-lift Instrument from MoWT, which is required for issuance of an event permit has not yet been received yet; the event starts tomorrow,” a statement from FMU read in part.
With most crews already in Mbarara and awaiting Friday’s scrutineering and action Saturday morning, the federation called off the rally.
There was, however, pressure from various stakeholders, including drivers and a meeting was organised Friday morning and communication confirmed the event had received a green light.

“In regard the compliance of Mbarara Motor Club in its preparations for the Rukaari-Lake Mburo Mbarara Rally 2022, and the new developments from the Ministry of Works and Transport that has granted a speed lift instrument, FMU is allowing the event to proceed,” read a statement from FMU Friday morning.

Ernest Zziwa, the event manager, said the dates of the event were the bone of contention as FMU demanded that Mbarara Club run the rally for just two days and not three as usually is the case.

“FMU wanted the event to run for two days and it was hard to adjust at the final hour,” Zziwa told Score.
“There were also recommendations that had to be acted upon by the host club for the smooth run of the event and there were delays,” he added.

The two parties are said to have held a meeting on January 13 from which it was agreed that the event would run for three days with scrutineering scheduled for Friday 21 and the competitive sections from Saturday 22 to Sunday 23.
FMU General Secretary Leilah Mayanja, however, puts the blame entirely on the host club that failed to follow up on the recommendations by MoWT.
“There were recommendations by the ministry and the club seemed to have refused to adhere,” Mayanja told Score.

Having applied for the speed-lift in December 2021, FMU say they waited in vain for Mbarara Motor Club to work on the few issues raised by the ministry.
“We had no reason to maintain the cancellation of the event once the speed-lift instrument was acquired,” she added.
The event had initially been scheduled to run for two days but the President’s speech opening up the economy pushed the host club to change to three days.

Damage made
The few hours of uncertainty came with costs especially for the host club and drivers. Some partners, according to Zziwa, pulled out of the event after seeing the FMU letter, while some crews that had not reached Mbarara opted out.
“The damage was big because some sponsors pulled out, the drivers were also affected psychologically because of the uncertainty. People lost money because bookings had to be cancelled,” Zziwa said.

Drivers unhappy
It is understandable that every driver who went to Mbarara for the event was advocating for it to take place. Audios of eventual winner Lwakataka calling upon the host club and FMU to find a common ground and ensure the event takes place were all over WhatsApp groups.
“FMU should involve us the drivers because we are stakeholders in the sport,” Lwakataka told Score after the event.

“If they keep doing this, we are soon going to see the same mapping like that of motocross where we now have MAU as another faction. I speak from experience because I’m a driver and an organiser. You can’t just stop an event hours to the start.”

The Mafu Mafu driver says he spent 30m on the event. Having blown his Subaru Impreza N12B engine in the Kasanda Rally last year, repairs to get it back in good shape took Shs26m.
Ibrahim Lubega was also ready to take a break from the sport had the federation insisted on cancelling the event.

“I was ready to go into a sabbatical if the event had not been held,” he told this paper.
“We put in a lot and the guys at the top should accord us some respect,” he added.
Lwakataka and Lubega, alongside their crews of 12 and seven people respectively, had spent days in Mbarara ahead of the season opener and couldn’t imagine the losses they would have incurred had the event been cancelled.