Mulangira: Govt should develop love for boxing

Maureen Mulangira's heart beats for boxing. PHOTO/ISMAIL KEZAALA 

What you need to know:

Maureen Mulangira is a registered midwife. But when she tried boxing gloves, she never looked back. She fought, did promotions, managed Moses Golola, among others. Now she sits on the World Boxing Councilwomen rating committee and is the African Boxing Union secretary general.

How did you become a member of the WBC rating committee and ABU secretary general?

It’s been a long journey. But first let me thank whoever has travelled with me; I thank God, my family and journalists, who have covered me since I started boxing. They covered my trainings, my fights. I thank Uganda Professional Boxing Commission [UPBC], the boxing family, Kampala Boxing Club [KBC] and Kololo High Boxing Club.

I thank My Papa, Celestine Mindra [former ABU secretary general], who spotted me when I was still young and nurtured me into a leader. He still guides me. He’s my role model; a man of integrity, a man of his word. And Mama [Mr Mindra] I love you so much.

When Uganda hosted the ABU convention in 2005, I was co-opted to work with the ABU lightly. Meanwhile, I was the women’s representative on UPBC.

At the 2018 ABU convention in Kampala, Mr Houcine Houchi [ABU president] and his team made me an ABU executive member and head of Africa Female Professional Boxers.

Those positions prepared me to work as the WBC Cares-African Chapter—the organisation that helps professional boxers active and retired who are in need. [In 2020 six boxers received Shs2.7m each as part of the relief fund during the pandemic].

So I have been working with Madam Jill Diamond, the chairperson of WBC Cares International.

In July, I joined the WBC women’s rating committee—a team of seven and I’m the only one from Africa. We rate boxers according to performance and other aspects.

Then at this year’s convention in Zimbabwe, we elected the president, who then proposed names of people he intends for his executive and the assembly endorses them. That’s how I emerged secretary general.

Quite easier than the Raila-Ruto process.

Sounds so. But even then I believe I would have made it because I have some work to show.

So, why should Ugandans be excited?

Well, I can’t say I’ll push amateurs up the ABU or WBC rankings. You must be an active pro fighter and really good. Remember we start with the national ratings.

We’re going to do this with the UPBC technical team, alongside the promoters and managers who have a strong tie with the fighters to ensure that our fighters get up there.

If a fighter wins against a good opponent, they are assured a good ranking. But when someone loses or wins against a mediocre, I can’t do anything about it.

So are you likely to engage promoters on how they make matches?

Of course yes. And I’ve been advising them. I sit on the UPBC technical committee that approves matchmaking. We advise them but someone will tell you ‘this is my business you don’t dictate the way I do it.’

We usually have issues regarding fighters’ records, experience, etc. But promoters insist ‘I am grooming my fighter’. But you don’t groom a child by keeping them in kindergarten for 12 years.

For instance, if you have an Olympian he/she’s not mediocre. You must give him/her befitting opponents. If you can’t find them locally, look outside Uganda.

You can even forego the national title and start with the regional title.

So what difference should we expect?

I am representing Uganda, not myself. My role is to advise fighters, managers, promoters. Professional boxing is business. You don’t come to the ring unprepared; you’re wasting someone’s money and time.

So if all parties meet the standard of a reputable fight, I must ensure the fighter earns the best possible rating.

We need more world champions from Uganda. We last had one many years back.

Your mentor Mzee Mindra was ABU secretary general. Is that a challenge or an opportunity?

It’ a plus. I saw him push Ugandan fighters up for WBC world titles.

Sharif Bogere joined pro boxing during Mr Mindra’s tenure. Kassim Ouma became world champion during Mr Mindra’s tenure.

Did Mindra really contribute? He was at ABU/WBC while Ouma was an IBF champion.

Of course he did. Remember these professional sanctioning bodies are corporate.

Or do they compete?

They compete and also corporate; they compare rankings. A boxer can’t be ranked by WBC and isn’t ranked by IBF and other bodies.

So, Sulaiman Segawa [based in the USA] is ranked among the African Top 40 and I’m going to engage his managers to prepare for the WBC-Africa, a new belt contested by African fighters. Winners go directly for the WBC-silver and get some good money.

So we expect Sula to come and contest for that title?

He doesn’t need to come here, as long as he’s still ranked under Africa.

Some are excited about your new positions but were frustrated by your mentor. How different are you?

You can’t please everyone. What pleases one annoys the other. But I’m going to do what I think is right. Those ready for change will benefit. Those who expect favours will stay in their slumber. To win, we’ve got to be a team, each playing their role.

I don’t want to benefit alone. Because I didn’t make it on my own. I agree I stepped on people’s toes on my way.

Do you also intend to be UPBC president?

I haven’t thought about it?

How did you join boxing?

I’m a registered midwife [hence the nickname Musawo]. My dad Charles Mulangira was a police officer and a boxer. We lived in Naguru Quarters.

In primary school—Blessed Sacrament, Kimaanya and St Mary’s Immaculate—I used to play javelin and shotput. In secondary school—Christ the King SS and St. Thereza SS Bwanda, Masaka—I did some javelin and more volleyball.

In 1998 I joined Mulago School of Nursing and Midwifery. I played volleyball and we used to warm up together with the netball team, coached by the late Benon Baguma. He was friends with Abbey Mugayi, [now renowned promoter] who suggested that we needed some gym work, lifting weights, and power training. When we started training at KBC, I got hooked on boxing and never played volleyball again.

Were you the only girl who joined boxing?

Fiona Tugume and Mercy Mukankuusi, [Zebra Ssenyange’s widow] quit netball for boxing and the media was excited seeing ladies in a sport that was known for men.

But how come you missed the inaugural African Championships in Cairo in 2001?

By then I had stopped boxing. We did too much training, sparring with mostly men, almost every week in Kawempe, Mulago, KBC but we lacked opponents. Basically, there weren’t amateur opportunities for women. So most of us did not do much. That Cairo tournament found Irene [Ssemakula] and Mariam [Nalukwago] active as professionals.

Who were some of your opponents?

I was a middleweight and I remember fighting the late Mariam [Nalukwago], Nassejje—almost the same people we trained with.

What’s your most memorable boxing moment?

The first time I appeared in papers. I think it was in Bukedde, then the paper which Mzee James Mayanja worked for [Ngabo].

So after boxing you concentrated on midwifery? 

No. I loved my profession and boxing but ethics could not allow me to do both. So I chose boxing and never looked back.

What did you do then?

I joined boxing administration, then started a promotion company.

You mean Intersport, which died?

It didn’t die. It’s just hard to juggle administration and promotion. Many want to use the company on my behalf but they’re not trustworthy. There’s one who organised an event under Intersport, but I ended up paying the boxers who had fought on the event, just to protect the company’s reputation.

However, I’m proud that under my management, we gave Uganda some of the best events. Zebra-Batantu; Batantu-Kenny Egan [2008 Olympic silver medallist for Ireland]; Kakembo-Sentongo; and I have managed some reputable fighters like Sula Segawa, Moses Golola, etc.

How was it like being the first female boxing promoter in Uganda?

I didn’t have any problems. I have never been humiliated by a fighter. I treat them as my sons and most of them call me Mummy.

The major challenge is general, that’s digging from your pocket to stage a fight. You can’t count on gate collection yet sponsorship is also minimal. So, financially, it’s a little hectic but socially I liked it.

But I love boxing with all my heart. That’s why I can even bail out a fellow promoter.

So where’s the reward?

Where I am now.

Should every promoter end up where you are?

It depends on one’s goals and strategy. As a WBC fight supervisor I make some good money but before that it used to be sheer passion.

But sometimes you were threatening to quit. What were your frustrations and what has changed now?

Nothing much has changed. There’s politics everywhere. But there are things you feel you can’t stomach anymore. So, I wanted to quit administration and stay around to help others at will.

What can be done so that professional boxing means business?

We need the government's deliberate involvement. We have told them time and again that boxing puts bread on people’s tables but they don’t take it serious.

How is it done in say, Ghana?

Governments allocate professional boxing budgets. But here the government left boxers and promoters on their own, yet in the ring, a boxer is watched by millions while hoisting the national flag.

But how shall the government fund you when the national sports structures only recognise amateur boxing?

But does the government even fund amateur boxing?

They gave it Shs3b

Is that enough? Does it even go directly to the UBF account?

So what do you suggest?

The government should develop a love for boxing. For example, we engaged the former sports minister [Hamson Obua] about our disagreements with amateur boxing but did he even get back to us for a solution?

Did he even understand?

He seemed to but never gave us his verdict. Basically, we sorted ourselves. But generally, it shows the government doesn’t love boxing.

So how should that love show?

Athletes should be helped financially. The presidential stipend has failed. And nobody seems to care.

Boxing has been marred by chronic wrangles. What’s the cause?

Some of the leaders don’t listen. But the biggest problem is that most of them are opportunists; some come into boxing administration to raise their political capital; some to enhance their businesses, some want fame; some want to cut deals.

Why do they always use boxing?

Boxers lack vision, are gullible, and there are no strict guidelines. It gets back to the government's disinterest. Otherwise, if the government was investing in boxing they would have obviously been interested in how it’s managed. But they don’t care.

More so, people back candidates to share spoils. And when they disagree on sharing, some are banned for years.

So how have you helped?

The last time I was directly involved [I’m sorry] we ousted Rogers Ddungu. He didn’t understand the sport but he couldn’t listen. We brought in someone we thought would help but it turned out worse.

How do you rate women’s boxing in Africa?

There’s a great improvement, even on the world stage. Some women earn bigger purses than men. So you can’t go wrong with women’s boxing. But you must work hard, be determined. While preparing for events you must forego some things.


Drugs. Avoiding sex for at least two months to prepare your body and mind for the fight.

What are the chances Ugandan ladies will tap into those big-money opportunities?

There’s big money after getting a continental title. For example, I’ll advise my little sister Catherine Nanziri [Tokyo Olympian], to go for a regional title—because there are no opponents for the national title. If she wins the regional title, defends it, then we shall push for the ABU title. And with the continental title only the sky can be her limit. This is her time and she must use it well.

Salima [Tibesigwa] has just joined but is also promising.

Comment on Teddy Nakimuli’s [bronze] medal at the Commonwealth Games?

It’s a good one. A medal is something anyone treasures, though she got it before fighting. But it’s good and I congratulate her.

There’s an exodus of amateurs into professional ranks? Do you think the promoters will give them the chances they need to grow?

We have enough promoters and opportunities are there but I don’t know how ready the promoters are because this involves money and I don’t know the individual promoters’ goals.

Apart from Mindra, who are your other mentors?

I have learnt a lot from the politicians I work with. Even my mother Josephine Mulangira taught me a lot. First, she was a secretary at East Mengo Growers. Then she served as LC 5 councillor for Masaka District for three terms, unopposed. But above all God has been with me.

So what legacy do you want to leave behind?

Many people’s legacies are talked about after their death but I thank God that there are some who can attest to my contribution while I’m still living.

I didn’t want to shine alone and when I reached the continental level I looked for the girls we started the game with. Irene [Ssemakula] was no longer attending boxing events. I brought her back and guided her through the opportunities. Today, she is one of the best referees/judges.

I started the professional careers of Sula Segawa, Edward Kakembo and many others.

I also want to bring Hellen Baleke [the 2019 African bronze medallist] back into the game, though not as a boxer.

What else do you do?

I am a business lady. I’m also into managing people on contract: politicians, etc. I am a wife and mother of a beautiful daughter. I help needy families.

What would you tell that young girl who wants to join boxing?

I would encourage her to join, but knowing that boxing requires discipline in and outside the ring. She should be focused, train hard and love what she’s doing. The rest will come.