African fitness pros want parity with Europe

Fit Uganda country director Byron Okuba has high hopes in the transformation of the fitness and wellness industry in Africa. PHOTOS/ABDUL-NASSER SSEMUGABI

What you need to know:

Fit Africa co-founder and treasurer Tony Uche Ukeame, tackled a subject that must shake many Uganda-based fitness trainers off their comfort zone.

Think of boxing, football, basketball, athletics, or any sport at an international level, where you haven’t seen legit stars with an African origin. Probably none. But why is Africa and Africans still viewed as inferior to their Western counterparts in the fitness world? Why does a fitness professional trained in Africa have to retrain to work in Europe or America?

Such is the spirit that drives Fit Africa, the governing body for the vocational fitness training industry in Africa, The Caribbean and The Diaspora.

Fit Africa chief executive officer Patricia Maja, said European counterparts are charging extortionate amounts of money for the accreditation for the same paperwork “but they do not recognize us as their equals.” 

That is why Fit Africa wants to create change in the 36 countries where they have members, so far, with a target of covering the whole continent soon.

The goal is to empower the Africa-trained trainers to stand toe-to-toe with their counterparts across the world. “We want to ensure that trainers trained in Africa can work anywhere in the world,” Patricia said on the sidelines of Fit Uganda’s first conference at Kati Kati Restaurant in Lugogo on Sunday.

Recently, in Saudi Arabia, Patricia and her husband Akinola Maja challenged the top brass in the global fitness industry that Africa can no longer sit back when it’s being denied.

“Africans have to work 10 times harder. Hence, we are 10 times better. But why do I have to retrain to be able to work in the West? Maybe there are some things we need to look at, but ultimately my paperwork should stand.”

Patricia cited her Kenyan friends who left Kenya with strong fitness brands but cannot work in Europe because they don’t have the paperwork. “But then the paperwork is very expensive, literally out of reach. So that’s what we are trying to solve: to get your paperwork in your country, in your continent and to hold it in high esteem.”

Byron Okuba, Fit Uganda country director could not praise the organisation’s progress more.

“Fit Uganda, under the guidance of Fit Africa, has seriously embarked on the journey to open the space for as many professional trainers as possible in fitness, wellness, dance instruction, sports, and give them the certification that will enable them work across Africa and in the world.”

We do the African way

“Our slogan is ‘Get fit the African way,’” Patricia said. And her husband and Fit Africa founding chairman Akinola Maja was even more dismissive of the West. “What we are basically trying to do is to get our own accreditation. When I was in Kenya I faced a question about who gave us permission to do that. The answer is nobody gave us permission. To the whole world, we gave ourselves permission just like you gave yourself permission.”

Maja said that the foundation of transforming the fitness profession in Africa is education. “But if you are certified and don’t see a change in your career, you may think this piece of paper (certificate) is meaningless,” he said.

“We are not coming here to discuss things from a higher point as if we don’t know what it is like to fail. We know what it is to fall apart. But we know how to rise again.”

Boxing coach Abu Kimpi (L) has tuned up Musisi at Mulago Guest House. PHOTO/ABDUL-NASSER SSEMUGABI

Unity our strength

Founded in the United Kingdom, as a response to the mental, physical and overall health challenges of the African population, which were worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic, FIT Africa opened its first branch in Uganda last month to further its goals of: Focus, Innovate and Transform.

“It’s not by accident that Uganda became the first to open a branch; it’s also not by accident that Rwanda will be the second and Kenya will be the third,” Maja said.

The essence is unity. “If we were about selfish gains, we should have started with our West African neighbours.

“But let’s face the elephant in the room. Some people don’t like me in this industry. Some say Aki is a businessman. Aki likes money. Aki this. Aki that. Some people don’t like success.”

“But we are still playing. And unless we unite and become a formidable force, we shall continue being used. If someone comes to build a chain of gyms in Africa, it’s okay. As long as they don’t reap all the benefits for themselves.”

“Because at the end of the day we need the power of numbers. We need a strong, uniform voice.”

Maja continued: “You can’t be a rich man, bragging amidst hungry men. I am sick and tired of it. That’s why we built our own system in Africa and we are open to like-minded people in Australia, etc.”

Maja believes in 20 years the fitness industry in Africa will be bigger than the one in Europe. “Because in sports we (Africans) are more talented and gifted than Europeans.”  He cited the dominance of blacks in athletics, basketball, boxing, etc. “We must reprogramme our minds because in terms of fitness we are the best. We are not saying the Europeans are not good but Africa is the greatest,” Maja said to a loud round of applause.

Be data-driven

Fit Africa co-founder and treasurer Tony Uche Ukeame, tackled a subject that must shake many Uganda-based fitness trainers off their comfort zone.

“Data is everything in the fitness world these days. Keeping data helps you organize, plan and innovate.”

He said a fitness trainer must record the client’s health profile, fitness levels, allergies, everything. That will guide the trainer on which training programme fits the client best.

Keeping records, he added, helps the trainer to track a client’s progress. “If, for instance, the client does 20 minutes on the treadmill today, then 30 minutes tomorrow, you are able to know their progress. Likewise, if there’s a decline and you have been taking notice, you quickly ask: what could have gone wrong? You can’t rely on your head to keep all this info.”

Sometimes a client who wants to lose weight might get frustrated without a tangible change. “But on the scale you may notice the client has lost 0.5kg.”