MP Nsibambi on investing in sports, allowing his 11-year old leave home

Support. MP Nsibambu enrolled his daughter at the at the best  swimming school in Plymouth, UK, for her to become the champion she is today. Photo/Abubaker luboowa 

What you need to know:

  • Part Two: Last Sunday, we ran an interview of two-time Ugandan Olympic swimmer Jamila Lunkuse who was elected to the Fina athletes committee which features representatives from all six aquatic disciplines and the six regions under the global swimming body.
  • In doing so, Lunkuse, 25, a daughter to Yusuf Nsibambi, a lawyer and Mawokota South Member of Parliament (MP), became the first Uganda to serve on the 20-man committee that will represent swimmers across the world.
  • In the second of a two-part series this week, Sunday Monitor’s Ismail Dhakaba Kigongo speaks to her dad, a member of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), about pushing Lunkuse to the levels she reached, government’s attention to sports and what should be done to get to next level. 

Where did the idea of Jamila becoming a swimmer start?
First of all, Aga Khan Primary School started a swimming program under coach Muzafaru Muwanguzi, then a teacher, and Tony Kasujja.
The first person drafted was Jamila and she had never swam at the age of nine. The head teacher asked, ‘why.’
Later on, I realized that the mother of Muwanguzi was called Lunkuse and died. So, he saw Jamila as a means to get the mother back. But, within a few years, she was already a swimming champion and at 12, she represented Uganda at the 2009 World Swimming Championships in Rome, Italy.
So, I realized that she had the potential. We started on that journey. It’s a very expensive sport. Personally, as a parent, I got her involved from day one because I knew that sports shapes a wholesome person.

There is character, discipline. It’s not about medals. There is a parent called Sserunjongi who became the Godfather of Jamila. His sons were all good swimmers. When we went to championships. Jamila wouldn’t talk to me. She would talk to him, together with Muzafaru
I had no idea, I cannot even swim in a pond.

Is support to swimmers entirely coming from parents?
Here, everything is parental. We didn’t have all the facilities except a few pools at ISU (International School of Uganda), Munyonyo (Commonwealth Resort), Kampala Parents School and Aga Khan. Aga Khan gave us free training. Only thing that helped was that Sudhir (Ruperelia) gave it us the Kampala Parents pool at a nominal fee.
However, when it comes to equipment, we had to import and buy from buy from swimming shops in the UK. Most of this we had to come in as parents.
Further training and competition we had to take them to Kenya. Kenya, then, was a very big swimming powerhouse but with time, Uganda is beating all those Kenyans.

By the time we started, clubs had between 10 and 15 swimmers. Now, clubs have 100 to 150 members. At least, all the galas here, you can compete.
But when it comes to timing, the pools are small and don’t meet international standards. Some shapes are leisure pools so we still have to go to Kenya – to Kasarani (Sports Complex) and Mombasa – in East Africa – to get good timers. Further, for Cana Zone IV, we go to Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana.

How then does Jamila end up in the UK?
I had to apply to the best swimming school in the UK, it’s in Plymouth. In a town called Devon. It has produced some of the best swimmers in the world.
Unfortunately, most people thought she was on a scholarship but no, I paid. The only scholarship given to her was just 2000 pounds per semester on tuition as a waiver. That’s not even 2% of the tuition.   She moved there at the age of 11. It was a nightmare. The mother tells me that when she dropped her at Devon. Devon to London is like Kampala to Kabale. When she was coming back on the train, she kept whispering to herself ‘Subhanallah’ [Arabic phrase to mean ‘‘(all) praise be to God’].  

She couldn’t believe that you can take your own 11-year old that far. First, to the UK, then to Devon. No even a relative in the UK could visit her. She was the only black in the Captain’s house which was for sportsmen and women. Only swimmers.
She has told me there was no segregation. She only found that at university. That school was very cold, at the sea. Everything was strange. But I have no regrets. She was shaped into a very responsible person. When you meet her, and what she does, you cannot believe she is just 25.

Jamila says there is a religious conflict with how she wants to dress as a Muslim and swimming outfits. How do you fit into that as a parent?
It’s a very big challenge. You cannot say you strike a balance to be liberal and then conservative. It’s not even about being conservative. Those are virtues of religion. In a few years from now, she will be a Haafiz [a trustee of Islamic values, an example to others]
She can as well serve as an administrator in sports. She only has to strike a balance. It’s not easy. At home, the mother is a very conservative lady.  She prays on time, fasts all days including the (monthly) white days.

What needs to change about the way government supports sports?
I think it’s a deliberate policy of the NRM government to kill sports. Why? Sports would bring people together to bond and talk about national issues. They want people to sit in Bibanda (video halls) and watch Arsenal and not ask about what is going on.
It’s deliberate, it’s not that they are not aware that sports as an industry can be a revenue stream and that its helps build society and create a dynamic youthful group you can mobilize in development. When you look at this government’s policies, they are centered on dividing people who aren’t happy. They want people to look at leaders as saviours. It’s about patronage. With that kind of government policy, you cannot talk about sports.
What I would encourage leaders especially in parliament is to realize that sports is not just games where people go to play. They should see it as an industry – a centre for mobilising people and galvanizing them.  

What is Parliament doing about this since you are an MP?
What you see in the House is people with a background where sports had died and maybe buried. They are not even aware that this area can be an area to mobilize people.
Now, they sent us on leave to mobilize for the Parish Development Model. They are talking of patriotism. Where do you find those people? All sports facilities are gone. Even village playgrounds are sold out by local government. They are not protected. They are not titled. There is no assistance.
If you look at the district budgets for sports, they are minimal. I think it’s a big issue and you cannot leave it to parents because again, parents have their own selfish interests.
If my kid was playing football and wasn’t a good footballer, I cannot buy another ball for a place. If my daughter is out of swimming, I may never step at a swimming competition at all.
I think the minister of sports should write a very good paper for us to look at the budget framework.
You sound like there is no hope but sports recently got a budget increase.

Even what happened recently is not right. It was selfish. (Fufa president and Budiope East MP Moses) Magogo had to get an additional Shs7b for football and they are saying it’s ring-fenced.
It should have been NCS (National Council of Sports) to bring its needs, assess each federation and bring it to the House. Instead, parliament, at a plenary, decided on its own.
I rose to say whatever was going on is wrong but I was not given the opportunity to really to ensure that my point was driven home.
Otherwise, I believe that we have enough resources within the budget allocation to promote sports, specifically the facilities. I had gotten land in Kapchorwa close to the High Altitude Center, particularly to build a hostel. The plan was to start looking out for good runners to use it but up to now, it’s not finished. So, you cannot put up a hostel when the major facility is not done. In the budget this year, it’s not anywhere.  

 How best should sports be funded?
Government has no goodwill. We were suggesting tax waivers and incentives like seen in Rwanda. There is no way you can run away from government.
There has to be tax cuts for the private sector that invest in the community. You also have a big problem of people in sports who have no passion or professional background.
People like you (yours truly) should be somewhere involved but you are at the periphery. For example; (former Uganda Boxing Federation and Uganda Olympic Committee president Rogers) Ddungu had all these federations in his time just to keep his UOC position. He was just a businessman. The situation has changed a bit. It is changing. When you find people like (current UOC president) Don (Rukare), the performance of different sports is changing.

How does your shade of politics fit in?
I once met a lady who was in charge of netball (Suan Anek) for lunch in Lugogo. I wanted to discuss how best we can help the sport get money but she responded with ‘the movement, the movement. For you, you are opposition. I did a bit of background check and there is no way we can cooperate.’  Luckily, the team performed well.
I spoke to (Lt Col) Juma Seiko to do the fast-tracking of the high performance centre in Kapchorwa. We discussed and then he pulled out. What we should look out is professionals not the politics.

Starman. Tendo Mukalazi is one for the future, with Nsibambi hopeful that he and others can win a World Championship.
al soccer again. PHOTO/ISMAIL KEZAALA

We have the talent like you know with boxing. Uganda was competing with Cuba and Russia during (President Idi) Amin’s regime.
There has always been good young boys in Naguru. Boxers are the most disciplined people, surprisingly. I normally take a walk to meet the boxers and these boys cannot afford cassava.
In Kapchorwa, the runners are there. No coaches. They have no spikes. These are basics we can get.
But, you are in parliament and we see you move motions to appreciate excellent performers like Joshua Cheptegei.
For me, I don’t even participate in that. One day, my daughter refused to attend dinner with the President after the London Olympics because the participants were not treated well.
When we got gold (referring Stephen Kiprotich’s marathon victory at the 2012 London Olympics), (then-Prime Minister Rt. Hon.) Ruhakana (Rugunda) went to visit their camp. Then they came here, they were told to meet the president so she asked; ‘why?’

She was seated with (runner Dorcus) Inzikuru who didn’t have the best spikes. She had ordinary spikes which caused her an injury when she was running. ‘What’s really going on?’ she asked.

When you say the face is changing? How can we use people like Cheptegei to promote sports and this country?
As a country, the NRM government is not happy. I am very sure they are not happy to see some like Cheptegei appearing as number one.
They are so much interested in the military and confrontation so when you see the Cheptegeis there. They think that maybe other Ugandans are galvanized to talk about other issues of democracy.
I was not happy when the president gave the Cheptegeis cars and house. He and others are supposed to be nurtured and managed like a national assets.
When you give those benefits to a person who had nothing, most of them, after getting gold, will come here and become managers of factories. You excite them.
We should be looking at developing sports, creating 100 more Cheptegeis and managing fame. We need administrators to manage fame as an industry, as a sector. This is the only way it can be sustainable to ensure continuity.
After a few years, Cheptegei will be gone. While he has Europeans handling him but locally, do we have anyone or people who can manage our athletes, Cheptegei aside?  
When our stars get here, they are nothing. We should use them as brands. There are places you go and all you hear and know who (Ethiopian long distance running legend Haile) Gebreselassie is.

We have had Kiprotich,  Inzikuru and (former Olympic sprinter Davis) Kamoga. We need preserve them and encourage others.
Kiprotich got here and they gave him cars. He became an investor yet his real investment is talent. You may find him looking after a maize mill yet business is not his expertise.
We should be looking at bigger than that. Such names are not personal to the holder. They are national assets like we preserve the equator, gorillas and national parks.
These people should be getting Special Forces Command (SFC) protection. They should be having doctors for personal health and monitoring their social lives. With success, they seize to be just themselves but national assets and treasures. 

As a leader, where is the leadership to offer this?
This is the problem in Uganda. We have a leadership crisis. Even in parliament, MPs see themselves as people who should attend some functions and wear gomesis. We should be thinking. If I am in charge of sports or Kampala city, it would be different.
There is a lot of hopeless exercises. You go and build a church or mosque but God is not supposed to be under a structure. You can even pray under a tree.
People want to get votes so they do those exercises. I am not part of such things.
Some have argued that detaching sports from the education ministry would help. Is it the magic bullet?
It can be a standalone. Maybe sports and youth like in other countries but it can be standalone. Youth is 65% of Uganda’s population and has many issues. Sports maybe swallowed.
If you want to promote it and it can be a big industry that can make money, it should be alone.
I believe it should be managed by former sportsmen and women or people associated with sports because it involves passion and understanding the athletes and them reciprocating that.
When you are not involved, there is no way you can relate with it. In other areas, they put it with youth because they think most of the active sportspersons are youth.

One day, I spoke to (Proline director) Mujib Kasule. I feel that if his program had been supported by government, it would have changed the face of sports
When I was chairman of Kampala Land Board, I gave 20 acres of land next to Luzira prison and (former UOC president William) Blick failed to raise Shs80m for surveyor. Now the Uganda Land Commission has given the same land to an Arab, a tea grower based in Fort Portal.

We were supposed to build a multipurpose Olympic recreation centre like we have in Zambia but there is no land now available in the whole Kampala. You see, even Namboole has issues.

Way forward
I think what should be done is for government to let NCS operate without any influence and direction apart from policy. When you look at NCS, it’s basically a political institution of the government in charge. They do that because they know it has contact with the population. Also, allow NCS to be led by professionals or people connected to sport.   Secondly, the sector should be different from education. We should also adopt the Rwanda model to encourage many corporate companies to invest in sports. These companies see something that is not clear and hence cannot invest in it. There is need to invest in talent identification at the grassroots. We need a policy. I don’t know how that can be done. We had people here like Philip Omondi (RIP). 

The only person you can compare him to is (Brazil’s) Ronaldinho in terms of talent. But, he is a star cos of the system. There is Jackson Mayanja. There was Joachim Matovu (RIP) and others. No talent identification. No support. I am not in politics to look for a job. (President Yoweri) Museveni once wanted to appoint me as a minister and I refused but if I was appointed minister of sports without getting involved in his other funny things of politics. I can show you something different. However, they just pick from nowhere putting on ties and they do nothing. At times you want to cry because what you see is different from what it should be. We started swimming when we were at zero. I am sure in 10 years’ time, we will have a finalist at the World Championships. It’s doable. See what the Kirabos, Tendos and others are doing (referring to Kirabo Namutebi and Tendo Mukalazi). Just look at the strokes, they are refined. Before, we were gambling. Even the coaching levels have improved. 

When Muzafar got scholarship to Germany (in 2010) we had to raise money for upkeep and family as parents. He is now a good coach.  If only government supports people like him. You find a young army officer given billions of money for operations yet we are not under any threat. We need to build confidence within government and the population. We don’t need to fight. Look at some of those small Asian tigers like Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and others, the population is happy. Why do we buy helicopters to kill people? When we talk about this to the president, he says we are wrong. I told him ‘I cannot work with you because I will oppose you.’
Why should we have a classified budget when you can invest it sectors for people to be happy like sports then we collect taxes to build hospitals? These are doable.

 Nsibambi factfile

 Birth: Nsibambi was born on April 4, 1965 to Hajji Ausi and Hajjat Jalia Kalega in a village called Kalagala, Nkozi, Mawokota, Mpigi district.

Education: Went to Nkozi primary school, Kibuli secondary school for O and A-level and then Makerere University for a bachelor’s degree in Law which he completed in 1989.

Work: He joined Sebalu and Lule advocates for one year before joining Greenland bank. In 1995, he did a master’s in International Financial Crime at the University of Florida.

After Greenland: After the closure of Greenland Bank, he joined Nyanzi, Kiboneka and Mbabazi advocates as a partner. He worked there for seven years, but was forced to quit because of politics.

“The firm got a lot of pressure [because some people associated it with Kizza Besigye]. Clients were withdrawing instructions. Other partners were not politicians like me. We sat and agreed that I should leave. When I left, I formed a firm called Nsibambi and Nsibambi advocates,” he said.

Teacher: Alongside his legal practice and political activism, Nsibambi found time to teach Law at Makerere University. It is something he has been doing since 1991. Some of the prominent personalities, he says, he has taught are: DP President Norbert Mao, former speaker Jacob Oulanyah (RIP), Lt Gen James Mugira and the late Brig Noble Mayombo.


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