Mandela Cup: Muhangi prefers women

Light-welterweight Erina Namutebi is part of the team. PHOTO/JOHN BATANUDDE 

What you need to know:

Of the seven Bombers set for the seven-day tournament, four are women, a rare first in Ugandan history because not long ago, boxing was a reserve for men.

For the first time in history, Uganda will field a boxing team with more women than men, for the inaugural Mandela African Boxing Cup due April 15-21 in Durban, South Africa.

Of the seven Bombers set for the seven-day tournament, four are women, a rare first in Ugandan history because not long ago, boxing was a reserve for men.

The ladies will be led by Emily Nakalema, fresh from the 1st World Olympic Qualifier in Busto Arsizio, Italy in March. The welterweight will hope for better fortunes after losing in the Round of 32 to familiar opponent Ivanusa Moreira of Cape Verde.

The same opponent is the reason why Nakalema settled for bronze at the 2023 African Boxing Confederation Championship in Yaounde, Cameroon, having beaten her in the semis. And Nakalema could hope they do not meet in Durban, for the fourth time, because since defeating Moreira in Dakar in 2020, the Cape Verdean has won the two subsequent encounters.

Light-welterweight Erina Namutebi, who won silver in Yaounde, will also pray for a better show than her quarterfinal elimination at the African Games in Accra, Ghana last month. 

Sharua Musa Ndagire, the featherweight and sports broadcaster nicknamed the Pretty Devil, must do better on her third international outing in eight months after losing instantly in Yaounde 2023 and to Nigeria's eventual gold medallist Joy Ojo Nene in Accra recently.

The only debutant is 19-year-old Fatuma Nabikolo, who recently regained her mojo after years of stagnation since her promising entry.

Nabikolo, a Kololo High School Boxing Club student, was a hot prospect in 2019 when she emerged best boxer at the National Schools Boxing Championships. But her progress stalled somewhere and the emergence of a certain Nadia Najjemba, a proud tomboy who calls herself “The Man,” brought a nightmare. Najjemba won every time they met, until last December, when Nabikolo turned the tables with a split decision victory in the Uganda Boxing Champions League.

That triumph, against Najjemba, who had just made a promising international debut in Yaounde, was a huge confidence booster. No wonder, Nabikolo went on to win the Champions League crown on Boxing Day.  

Uganda Boxing Federation (UBF) President Moses Muhangi heaped praises on Nabikolo. "She’s the future of Uganda female boxing," Muhangi told AFBC, predicting that she could even surpass fellow debutant Innocent Tumusiime, who got bronze in Accra.

Muhangi also justified the preference for women, albeit not from a technical prism.

“We wanted to give more women chances,” he told Daily Monitor.  “The girl child in boxing needs deliberate attention and measures. Plus, we have always given more to men.”

Meanwhile, the men are lightweight Wasswa Ssali and Ukasha Matovu, who got silver and bronze respectively at the 2023 African Championships and African Games bronze medalist Kasim Murungi.