Huge crowds grace Kabaka Birthday Run

The Katikkiro (2nd L) is joined by NMG-Uganda managing director Susan Nsibirwa (next to him) during the annual run. 

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The 20km half marathon, a yearly test of grit that tackles the steep incline of Mengo Hill, was just one challenge these enthusiastic participants conquered.

A sea of red surged through Mengo Hill and its environs on Sunday, defying the damp morning chill, as over 110,000 runners turned out for the 11th annual Airtel-sponsored Kabaka Birthday Run. Last year, more than 100,000 running kits were sold.

The 20km half marathon, a yearly test of grit that tackles the steep incline of Mengo Hill, was just one challenge these enthusiastic participants conquered.

Runners being flagged by the Nalinnya. PHOTOS/MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI 

Though rain slicked the ground, it couldn't dampen the pulsating spirit of the day. The theme, "Men against HIV/AIDS to save the girl child," resonated deeply, aligning perfectly with UNAIDS' mission of ending AIDS by 2030.

A royal absence

Noticeably missing was the Kabaka himself. However, his absence did not diminish the importance of the event.  Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga confirmed the King was undergoing medical treatment in Europe.

In his stead, Nnaalinya Lubuga Agnes Nabaloga, the Kabaka's sister, made a grand entrance, her arrival electrifying the already buzzing crowd.  Flanked by royals like Katrina Mirembe Ssangalyambogo and Ssemakookiro (the Kabaka's second son), she delivered a powerful message urging men to step up and get tested for HIV/AIDS.

The royal mile was packed. 

The run served as a powerful rallying cry, urging men to take responsibility for their health and protect women against HIV/AIDS.  With around 1,000 new infections reported weekly among young people aged 15-25, the need for action is clear.  Funds raised from the event will directly contribute to Uganda's ongoing fight against the pandemic.

Airtel Uganda has sponsored the event since 2014. Airtel Uganda's Managing Director, Manoj Murali, applauded Ugandans for their turnout in support of this vital health initiative.

"We're proud to partner with the Buganda Kingdom on this important initiative.  Through Airtel Cares, our sustainability program, we're dedicated to supporting projects that improve the well-being of Ugandans in health, education, and agriculture," said Murali.

Party mood

The energy was infectious as participants, from seasoned runners to enthusiastic novices, took their positions at the starting line.  The 21km race roared to life at 7:21 am, Prince David Wasajja among the hundreds charging off. Soon after, the 10km and 5km races followed suit.

Even for those who arrived later, the party wasn't over. Leader of the Opposition Joel Ssenyonyi and Chairman Kunga Uganda Fred Nyanzi Ssentamu kicked off a later wave half an hour later.

These runners weaved through Lubiri's historic grounds, passing the King's Mengo Palace, Bulange, Mengo Hospital (a pioneer of modern medicine in the region), Kabaka's Lake, and Lubaga Cathedral. The focus wasn't on individual winners, but on a collective sense of achievement and celebration for all who participated.

Runners pose for the camera. 


Uganda has made significant strides in the fight against HIV/AIDS, with a remarkable 77% decline in HIV infections among newborns, according to the UN World Health Organisation. This translates to a drop from 20,000 cases in 2010 to 5,900 in 2022.  Overall HIV/AIDS new infections and deaths have also shown a promising decrease.

But the fight isn't over.  Events like the Kabaka Birthday Run play a crucial role in raising awareness and promoting good sexual and reproductive health.

As Susan Nsibirwa, Managing Director of the Nation Media Group, highlighted, "such events elevate people's awareness and general health knowledge." 

Nation Media Group actively supports the run, promoting it across their various media platforms.

Sam Ntulume, the Executive Director of I&M Bank Uganda (who contributed Shs200m to the event), echoed this sentiment.

"This run isn't just about crossing the finish line.  It's about fostering connections, promoting well-being, and leaving footprints of positivity on the path to contribute to a healthier, happier future," he said.

Free HIV testing was available at the venue, co-organised by the Uganda Aids Commission, Makerere University-John Hopkins University (MUJHU) Research Collaboration, and Lubaga Hospital. 

The day culminated in a vibrant music festival, the perfect reward for those who stayed on to celebrate this momentous occasion. 

Airtel Kabaka Birthday Run

Categories: 5km, 10km & 21km

Participants: 110,000

Theme: Men against AIDS to save the girl child