‘Mr Woodball’: Kayongo dreams on

Paul Mark Kayongo played football as a striker at the amateur level before he resolved to engage in sports administration

What you need to know:

Many Hats. Paul Mark Kayongo played football as a striker at the amateur level before he resolved to engage in sports administration. The son of an affluent father in Mpigi District, his long CV includes being a founding member of the Fufa Big League, the chairman of Ndejje University Football Club but prominently known as Mr Woodball for his work towards the game’s promotion in Uganda. Kayongo, who many describe as diligent workhorse, generous and uncompromising, is the unsung hero for Ndejje University’s sports dominance. He serves as the president of the Uganda Woodball Federation (UWbF), and as vice president of the International Woodball Federation (IWbF).

Who is Paul Mark Kayongo?

I hold many positions but I am actually employed by Ndejje University as the Finance Manager and also the Risk Management Officer. I reside in Mutungo, Nakawa Division. Besides that responsibility, I am also the president of the Uganda woodball Federation (UWbF) and the treasurer of the Association of Uganda University Sport (AUUS). I am a finance expert and also a chartered accountant, a holder of ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and I am a member of the consortium of chartered accountants. I am also a certified public accountant.
I was born in a small village called Katuulo in Mawokota, Mpigi District. There is something about Katuulo. To access the village, there are five access roads but every road you take, you have to cross a stream of water.  My father is Yozefu Nzaalambi Kayizzi and my mother is Namakula Nakayima, both deceased. I come from a big family. My mother had 16 children and I am the 13th among them.

How did your childhood shape the man you are?

The major thing that shaped me is the way we were actually brought up. My parents were ‘hardliners’. The mother, from a peasant life, who did not actually go to school for many reasons but mainly because she got into marriage life when she was young, taught me about life. I treasure her because of her great character and passion that helped to bring me up as a very upright, hardworking and a faithful person. She was able to nurture me through hard work and she did a lot of personal encouragement to see that I study. She was close to me as a friend. I remember that she was a very serious person in life and result-oriented. I have got profound memories because without her and my father who was equally a hardworking person, I would not be the person I am. My father was a farmer keeping cattle and growing cash crops. In our sub-county, my father was one of the prominent farmers, who employed so many people and also supported families and relatives. His name is an icon in Mpigi District. 

Fast Rising. Minister Hamson Obua (R) receives an award from Kayongo on behalf of President Museveni. PHOTOS/GEORGE KATONGOLE

When you talk about my father, you are talking about a very generous person, a no-nonsense man who always handled his children with an iron hand. When I was young, I used to work on the coffee and cotton ‘shambas’ with my siblings. We also worked in the banana plantations, looking after cattle together with the big support team. That experience taught me to take responsibilities and be hardworking. I know a lot about crop and animal husbandry and forestry. I am lucky to have been nurtured in a variety of things while I was young. Through his hard work, my father felt all his children must become successful people in life. So, the combination of the mother and the father gave me the qualities I have.

 What is your working experience?

I tried my hand on so many things. During my secondary school time in Senior Three, I was teaching Mathematics in a neighbouring primary school. Later on in my Senior Six vocation, I started a school, Masajja Modern Primary School, and served as the first director. When I went to university and studied a Bachelor in Commerce, I started a carpentry workshop. Later on I started a drug shop and a nursing home where I used to employ a number of doctors and nurses. Prior to that I also operated a restaurant and a bar. I also started a school, Motherwell Junior School in Mutungo. You can see my experience is drawn from a number of areas.
The fact is that when I moved to another enterprise, I kept assigning the previous activity to either a relative or a friend. The school projects still exist, the furniture workshop developed into something else. The drug shops exist and nursing home leadership changed. My projects are living testimonies of my hard work.

I was also grateful that I kept serving in various capacities as a sports personality in this country. Sports have been my passion since I was young. In all schools I went to, I was the team captain. I used to be a striker but when I was about 20 years old, I broke my right leg and it became difficult for me to remain as a striker after two years of nursing the injury. So I decided to use my left leg and switched into midfield before settling into central defence. I played through my university time and after the injury, my ambition to become a prominent player went down. That is when I put emphasis on education. 

But I continued to play a lot of football as an amateur. I played for Kalungu and Kasanje in Luweero and Masajja. I played with such players as Richard Makumbi and Derrick Muyanja at Kitebi Primary School. Today, I continue to play for physical fitness.
In terms of management, I am one of the longest serving football delegates. I served under the late Dennis Obua for six years representing universities. I also served under Lawrence Mulindwa and Moses Magogo. I am the president of Ndejje University FC which I have led for more than 15 years. I have been the vice chairman of the Uganda Handball Federation, I have served on various committees of the Uganda Olympic Committee, the Uganda Athletics Federation, to mention but a few. I have been the head of delegation of the national university team for 12 editions since 2001 in Beijing.

You have so many things on your hand, do you ever get time to rest? What is your typical day like?

Resting is difficult for me. The time other people get for leave is very challenging for me. I love it but it has not been simple. Knowing that a human being needs some points of recovery, what I have done is to try twice a week to find some time for myself to do some jogging, stretching or playing soccer. In my village, I started a youth team, Motherwell Soccer Academy, I use that opportunity to play with the young people. Each morning and evening, I also do stretches.

As a boy, what did you dream of becoming?

I had two ambitions in life. One was to become a prominent football player. When I broke my leg, I changed my ambition to become a pilot. But I ended up becoming a professional chartered accountant. Nevertheless I am happy because whatever I would have chosen to do in life I wanted to do it at my best. I am happy because being a professional accountant, this is something I have achieved at the highest level. There isn’t much I could have wished to become greater than what I am within my profession.

What does being a leader in sports teach you about life?

Being in sports has taught me a number of things. It has taught me good leadership skills which can inspire others. You find that there are corporate objectives which can be achieved with teamwork. You need to inspire the team around you to look in the same direction. 
Through inspiration I have been able to achieve a lot of things in life. I am one person who has never believed in losing. I believe that any group of players you give me, I should be able to create a winning team. It has not been easy from the time I was a player and manager to win with my teams. As the sports tutor of Ndejje, the university used to win anything you can think of. We won national games, the East African games six times and the African games and we are still the reigning champions. One of the biggest challenges the university now has is that it cannot locate a single place where it can put all their accolades. 

Kayongo gets a feel of the fairways 

Through my engagement in sports, I have been able to inspire so many youths. Some have made it in their careers, some earning scholarships. I have helped educate many children. The legacy is quite wide. In 2007, when I was in Abu Dhabi, I went to represent Uganda at the Fisu (International University Sports Federation) forum and I was introduced to woodball. 
Being a very keen sportsman, I bought the idea and ended up introducing woodball with Peninah Kabenge to Uganda. That is how I became the custodian of the sport in Africa. Through sports leadership, I know it is possible to inspire many youths. It is possible to improve the character of youths and teach them to work hard and have ambition in life. Of course sports gives you the leverage to work with others and brand yourself and portray a good image in the community.

Managers in Uganda’s sport make great sacrifices, what sacrifices have you made for the sake of sports?

When you look at my career and my profession, I think the greatest sacrifice I have made is to compromise my identity to appear like I have no identity at all. You find that when we used to compete in these village games, the kind of vehicles we moved in together, the food we used to eat, the sports attires we put on, probably that was not my standard. You imagine a chartered accountant relating with people who never went to school. I think that is a great sacrifice to the profession. It impacted a lot on my character formation. It gives me confidence that if I could prevail in those circumstances, then I can thrive in every situation.

Someone would call you Mr Woodball. What is a woodball to you?

Beyond what people know that woodball is a sport, to say you have a wooden, ball, mallet, and wooden gate, to me woodball is everything to teach you about passion in life. You can look at a sport that began in a humbling situation and is thriving through a tricky sporting environment in Uganda where people are very sceptical. Many people know that to be a prominent sportsman you must belong to a decorated sport like football. 

To fight that mentality has never been easy. And when you have well supported and facilitated sports like golf on the market, you find that woodball is marginalised as a sport. But to make a leverage with all those perceptions, it is something to show you that there is nothing we should take for granted in life. 
It depends on the passion and how much emphasis and love you dedicate to anything. The amount of value you attach to something is key to achieving anything in life.

Was negative perceptions the biggest challenge you faced while introducing woodball in Uganda?

Yes it was but also the fact that we needed a lot of resources to establish ourselves. The task I was given was to explore whether we could manufacture the equipment from Uganda. To locate the land, raw materials and acceptance for regulators were issues that required a dedicated and focused mind. All this affected this young sport. But I think that perception was a big issue. At some point some people thought we were mad and knowing my profession, they were disappointed when I got associated with a very low-income sport like woodball moreover with rudimentary equipment.
On many occasions, I have to keep explaining to people why woodball is not golf or football. I keep repeating it to erase the fear because I could see a bright future. But because of my character, I was supported very much.
Prior to introducing woodball, Ndejje were a powerhouse in basketball, in particular. Do you think the introduction of woodball affected basketball?

I would say there must have been an effect but probably in terms of percentage, it is insignificant. Where you see the effect is the fact that I could not have enough time for other sports like before. I used to enjoy the basketball league games mostly when my university team was playing. I used to go and talk to players. I was compromised because events could happen simultaneously and I could not divide time because woodball was in its infancy and it needed me most. I had to instill confidence in people and the other sports had to suffer. When I introduced woodball I was the vice president of handball and I had to resign because I had been elected the president of woodball.

What is the future of woodball?
First of all, it has made a permanent footprint because Uganda is a pioneer country in Africa. It is now upon us as a country to look at this great historical moment and build on this to take woodball to higher heights. Besides, woodball has spread through the East African region to a number of African countries. Each year there is a deliberate effort to see that more countries come on board. This year, we had a clinic in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Before the year elapses we want to do similar clinics in about six other countries to make it more vibrant on the African continent.
Woodball looks to have a multi-purpose huge project for their home in Garuga. How do you hope to deliver that?
Our main contribution has been to be the first mover. In business, while all strategies are important, being a first mover is very crucial. We were the first to set up a woodball manufacturing plant. There is no other sport in Uganda that manufactures its equipment. 
In the same spirit, we want to accomplish the first multi-purpose project where we shall put our standard woodball course, a manufacturing plant, and a heritage centre on top of the administration offices. We want to take this lead because of the visionary leadership. We think that we can work to deliver this project. 

Kayongo hands over some equipment to Kenyan representatives.

It does not matter what rank we are in terms of the maturity of the game but this is a strategy we can emulate and we are very proud of that. We want to encourage and inspire the youth in this country to know how to create value even out things people see as nothing. The greatness of people should not be about big things but being transformed by even small things with the support of the Lord.

In this journey I want to really appreciate the many people with whom we share the vision. You find equally very young people with limited resources and education but they just see and get inspired that something good can come out and they give you support. We receive this kind of support from the press, players, communities where people believe even when they are not sure how they will ever benefit. You have to be grateful to such people. Of course when you look at Ndejje University, you are amazed. In a university set up, talking about developing a sport from the grassroots, is looked at as resource wastage and time consuming. 

When you look at someone at the level of finance manager committing time to a new sport, you really understand how important Ndejje has been to woodball. 
Also, a lot of appreciation to the government because in some countries, It is very difficult to start something. Some may look at it as a plot to steal or as a political agenda. We really have to thank our leaders here for believing before seeing. Without that kind of vision we could not be where we are now.

Finally, how do you want to be remembered?
From my birth, I don’t believe in doing things and failing. I know that for everything you do in life, have passion. 
Once you have passion, use it as a stepping stone to make everything possible. I don’t like people who do things from a downtrodden environment. 
I want to see people, especially leaders, who are strong-hearted with total independence in decision making. I don’t want weaklings. 
The legacy you set as a leader impacts miles on those who are led. 
In a nutshell, my interest is that those who follow can look at me as an icon. 


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