How France-Uganda partnership gave skaters, break dancers a smooth floor

Skaters have renewed hope. PHOTO/GEORGE KATONGOLE 

What you need to know:

Few years ago, Munyagwa and Nansubuga were nobodies. Nowadays, they are internationally experienced skaters, with big ambitions.

Do you know what I means starting out in the filthy ghettos of Kitintale, a Kampala suburb, and before long you are skating in southern France at the FISE 2023 Montpellier?

Such are moments Siraje Munyagwa can never find appropriate words to explain, memories he will never forget about the multi-sport event in May 2023 which brought urban culture, sport, parties and good vibes in one place, with about 54 nationalities.

Five months later, it was his colleague Jackie Nansubuga’s turn to showcase her gifts in Montpellier at the Euro-Africa Biennial in October 2023, an experience she called marvelous, “the best of my life.”

Few years ago, Munyagwa and Nansubuga were nobodies. Nowadays, they are internationally experienced skaters, with big ambitions.

Their thrust to the global scene is one of the many fruits of FSPI—the Solidarity Fund for Innovative Projects, a bilateral project between France and Uganda.

“Those events showed me how talented our athletes are,” said Cynthia Kemigisha, the Uganda Skateboarding Union general secretary, who also undertook a coaching and administrator course in Montpellier.

Mugwanya finished third in Africa and 20th overall, on his international debut, without even a chance to train on such sophisticated parks.

“That means if he had trained from those facilities for about a month because those skateparks are quite big, and super standard, he could have performed far much better.”

Edrin Serwakulya, the technical director Uganda Dance Sport Federation, has been traversing the globe to help his trainees like Farouk Luleti, Ronald Ndawula, among others, qualify for the Olympics. Recently, they were at the African Olympic qualifier in Rabat, Morocco, where Luleti impressed. 

Now the final qulaifier is in Shanghai, China in May and Serwakulya hopes Luleti, born and bred in Kitintale,  will be among the lucky 16 who will book their tickets to Paris 2024. 

The two-year sponsorship project with the Uganda Skateboarding Union and Break Dancers ended, but Xavier Sticker, the French Ambassador in Uganda assured that the embassy’s partnership with Ugandan skaters and break dancers will continue.

"Through the French Development Agency in partnership with the Skateboarding Union we want to replicate this in Gulu so that other cities in Uganda can enjoy the same sporting practice  and the interconnection between sport and  the city and the youth, who are very important in our programmes," Sticker said.  

Skating in refuge camps

Yet the project has not been just about nurturing sports talent. Rather a strategy to use skating as a tool for social change.

Beyond wowing crowds and aspiring athletes in shanty townships like Kitintale, in Nakawa Division, in Kampala, the project spread into several  refugee camps including Muhokya in Kasese, Kiryandongo, Kyangwali, Pagirinya, Agoji and Mireyi refugee settlements spread across Western and  Northern Uganda. 

The project also appealed to the deaf community, and reached several schools of vulnerable children. Many were also taught vocational courses like making crafts, the evidence of which was showcased in the mini-tourism market—an eye-catching car-like structure made of cement with crafts sold inside. Upon its unveiling at Kitintale Skatepark last weekend, Sticker, the ambassador, was the first client.

Boost. Ambassador Sticker launching the mini-tourism market, an offshoot of the project at Kitintale Skatepark. PHOTO/ABDUL-NASSER SSEMUGABI

The project, Kemigisha said, has also  fostered gender parity. “Initially skateboarding was dominated by boys. But thanks to this project, we can now stage a competition for only girls.” 

That means that if elite skaters like Nansubuga get local competitors, steady improvement becomes mandatory. 

Even new clubs like Kiteezi Climate Skaters are coming on board, and the sport has greatly benefited from the exchange programme with trainers coming in from France, Spain, to elevate the technical standards of the sport.

Hope in the future

Kemigisha said that with more funding and exposure in international competitions, Mugwanya, Nansubuga, Ricky Tibashoboka, among many rising stars,  can go very far.

“They are quite an asset for this country. They just need good funding and training from these international skateparks and they are good to go,” said Kemigisha.

She reserved special plaudits for Lea Tracol, the cooperation attachee at the French Embassy, for her hands-on involvement in the project, not only in Kampala but also across Uganda. 

It would have been such a sweet love story that due to French sponsorship Uganda qualified a skater or a break dancer at the sports' first Olympic appearance at Paris 2024. 

But even if that does not happen the fruits of the PSPI project cannot be exaggerated. In fact, Kemigisha strongly believes the seeds for the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics could be already sprouting.