Wrong friends, right path: Okolimo uses past mistakes to empower young players

Seeing young players repeating the mistakes he and his peers made – financial mismanagement, lack of mentorship – spurred Okolimo to co-found ASWAM Foundation. PHOTO/JOHN BATANUDDE 

What you need to know:

Okolimo is the chief executive of ASKA Nansana, a team playing in the betPawa Futsal Super League.

"There are things I never learned from home such as financial literacy, I never got proper parental guidance and I never got good mentorship," Isaac Okolimo, a former Express FC footballer, confessed. His story is a cautionary tale for young athletes with raw talent and dreams of riches, a reminder that the beautiful game doesn't always come with a happily-ever-after ending.

Okolimo's journey from the slums of Nsambya to professional football seemed like a classic rags-to-riches story. Football offered him a chance to escape poverty, but without the guidance he craved, his newfound wealth became a curse. He squandered money, misused opportunities for education, and ended up with nothing to show for his athletic career.

"Back in the day, most footballers saw school as a sideline to football. It was a missed opportunity. Now, many of us retired players share the same struggles. We blew our money, lacked proper guidance, and even after going through good schools, some can't even write a proper letter. We wasted those educational chances," he said.

Okolimo is the chief executive of ASKA Nansana, a team playing in the betPawa Futsal Super League.

His turning point came during a training session of Entebbe Young at Old Kampala. A conversation with coach Frank ‘Video’ Anyau, who acted as a "career father" to another player (Umar Ngoobi), sparked a realisation. Okolimo saw how his teammate, under strict financial guidance, had managed to build a stable life. Shame and a burning desire to do better propelled him forward.

"We signed for roughly the same amount at Entebbe Young, just like Umar did with CRO and me at Hoima. But here I was still renting, while Umar already owned a house in Ndejje-Namasuba. That hit me hard. I asked coach Anyau how Umar managed it. He explained, 'I'm Umar's career mentor, and he can't spend a dime without my approval.' I realised I never had that kind of guidance. I had blown all my money thinking I was smart, but I was clueless. Umar had someone keeping him in check, which made all the difference. That conversation was a wake-up call. When my next paycheck came, I knew I had to get my act together," Okolimo recalls.

Okolimo's story is not unique. Many retired footballers share similar struggles. This is why he co-founded ASKA, an organisation dedicated to equipping young athletes with the tools they need to succeed beyond the field. Through financial literacy workshops and mentorship programs, ASKA aims to prevent future generations from repeating the mistakes of the past.

"Back then, in our communities, loyalty to friends was everything. If a friend needed help, you gave. While I wasn't into partying or women, I'd still hang out with friends at bars. Looking back, I realize I invested poorly – by giving away money or trusting friends with loans they never repaid. But those experiences are valuable lessons. They helped shape who I am today. That's why we started ASKA. We acknowledged the mistakes we made during our peak playing years, and with this new chapter, we're building something new, starting from scratch," he said.

Okolimo's message is clear: football is a gift, but true success comes from a well-rounded skillset. By learning financial responsibility and leveraging educational opportunities, young athletes can ensure their victories extend far beyond the final whistle.

ASKA nest

Okolimo is a name familiar to fans of Nsambya SC, Hoima FC, City Lads, Entebbe Young and Express FC. After a career cut short by injury in 2010, Okolimo has emerged as a social entrepreneur, tackling the challenges faced by retired footballers and empowering young athletes through his organisations, ASWAM Foundation and All Stars Kampala Association (ASKA).

Despite a promising career path that included professional trials with Kenyan club Thika United, a right knee ligament tear forced him into early retirement. However, this setback ignited a passion for helping others navigate the transition from the pitch to the "real world."

Seeing young players repeating the mistakes he and his peers made – financial mismanagement, lack of mentorship – spurred Okolimo to co-found ASWAM Foundation. This organisation uses drama and sports to promote education, empower women, and identify and develop young talent.

But Okolimo's vision extended beyond ASWAM. In 2019, he teamed up with former players like George Kagugube and Adam Kasibante to establish ASKA. This association aims to create a support system for former, current, and aspiring players, using football as a springboard for economic empowerment.

The association started with mobilising former players such as Sula Kato, Fred Tamale, Abubaker Tabula, Steven Bengo, Musa Kafeero, among others to hit the ground running.

ASKA offers a multi-pronged approach by providing playing opportunities for veterans, while Nansana ASKA Futsal Club offers a platform for young talent. ASKA Academy focuses on nurturing future stars both on and off the field with emphasis on parental guidance and financial literacy.

Financial sustainability is a priority for ASKA. PHOTO/JOHN BATANUDDE 

ASKA recognises the crucial role women play in family success. The ASKA Women's Wing empowers wives and sisters with knowledge on child-rearing, financial management, and business skills. This holistic approach ensures a strong foundation for the entire community attached to the team.


Financial sustainability is a priority for ASKA. Members contribute through subscription fees and a development fee that includes an emergency fund. ASKA has also established a SACCO (Savings and Credit Cooperative) to encourage saving among members. Their long-term goal is to acquire land for shared development.

ASKA distinguishes itself from other ex-player associations by focusing on self-reliance through football, not past glories.

ASKA boasts a growing membership with over 470 individuals. This includes 85 core members, 52 of whom are women, who have made a significant investment by paying the Shs100,000 subscription fee. These core members enjoy additional benefits like an annual emergency fund within their Shs35,000 monthly development fee (on top of the Shs50,000 annual subscription).

Competing in the Futsal Super League, the team strives for a top-three finish under Coach Muhammad Ssenfuma. Players like Emmanuel Mawa, Patrick Ssekandi, Ali Mitti Kayongo, Zakaria Hussein, Henry Mwebe (U20 goalkeeper), showcase the team's potential.

Okolimo emphasises the importance of futsal in developing well-rounded players.

"Futsal's focus on technique and tactics helps refine a player's overall skillset. It promotes better coordination and prepares them for the transition to the 11-a-side game," he said.

ASKA prioritises optimal training environments. Their home ground is the artificial turf pitch at Nansana Kibulooka, offering a familiar playing surface. However, for league preparation, they utilise the specialised PVC turf at the Okla Futsal Arena. This allows the players to adapt to the specific demands of the futsal game.

Looking ahead, ASKA plans to bridge the gap between futsal and traditional football. "Next season," Okolimo reveals, "we aim to connect some of our most promising players with professional football clubs, showcasing their talent and offering them a chance to compete at the next level."

Beyond membership fees and donations, ASKA is fostering self-sufficiency through a tomato farming project in Luguzi-Namayiba.

ASKA adopts a multi-faceted approach to player development. Weekdays are dedicated to honing futsal skills, with training sessions held at the Okla Futsal Arena every Tuesday and Wednesday. Weekends, however, take a different focus. Instead of drills and tactics, players participate in workshops on mentorship and financial literacy, equipping them with valuable life skills beyond the pitch. Additionally, the "elders" of the organisation gather every last Sunday of the month for empowerment.