Byaruhanga fulfils Mileke’s dream to take rugby to Tororo

Rugby boss Godwin Kayangwe (L) hands the presidential award to Timothy Byaruhanga. PHOTO/JOHN BATANUDDE

What you need to know:

The former Jinja Hippos forward was part of the core members who formed the team in 2014 and played two seasons when the eastern giant earned promotion in 2018.

Timothy Byaruhanga is not a household name in Ugandan rugby, but his contribution towards the development of the sport in Eastern Uganda over the last decade cannot be underscored.

He was awarded the Individual Presidential Award by the Uganda Rugby Union president Godwin Kayangwe in the 2022 body's awards and then co-opted as a honorary member of Kyadondo Rugby Club in June because of his tireless efforts.

The former Jinja Hippos forward was part of the core members who formed the team in 2014 and played two seasons when the eastern giant earned promotion in 2018. While the Covid-19 pandemic halted business in most parts of the world, it was only a signal for Byaruhanga to turn on a new leaf as he started his journey to introduce rugby in Tororo from scratch.

Last weekend , the rugby community in the country converged at the Elgon View grounds in Tororo to witness the penultimate leg of the Nile Special National Sevens circuit.

World cup inspiration

Byaruhanga found his love for rugby in 1995 while in senior one at St. Peter’s College in Tororo.

The burly forward drew inspiration from South Africa, who went all the way to win their first-ever Rugby World Cup in 1995 on home soil. The Springboks, led by legendary flanker Francois Pienaar beat New Zealand 15-12 in front of Nelson Mandela for their first title.

“That was the first time I got interested in rugby,” Byaruhanga told Sunday Monitor.

“I didn’t understand the game very well but I enjoyed watching South Africa especially the fact that they were just coming from apartheid and had one black player (Chester ‘Black pearl’ Williams) in their ranks,” he says.


Byaruhanga found rugby at St. Peters College but the sport was overshadowed by basketball and football. He took an interest in playing basketball but finally got a chance to play the sport he had started to fall in love with while studying his undergraduate course in Social Work and Administration at Makerere University.

“I decided to drop basketball and was inducted properly into rugby while at Makerere, mostly with Impis, but I preferred learning the game and doing my books before taking the next step to start competitive rugby.

Jinja SSS project

Byaruhanga played for Impis in 2008 after the university and then Toyota Buffaloes in Kyadondo before crossing over to the-now defunct Nile RFC in 2011.

He played as a number three for two years until 2013 when the club was dissolved after suffering relegation. Byaruhanga, together with a number of senior players like Derrick Mugwanya, Meddy Mapesa and Said Torin. The latter is the current head coach of Jinja Hippos.

Around that time, Byaruhanga had been employed as a hostel warden for Jinja Senior Secondary School during Madam Diana Nyago’s era.

The tight-head-prop convinced Nyago to invest in rugby besides the booming football project and offer bursaries to talented students. Among the first beneficiaries include Uganda Rugby Sevens players Aziz Bagalana, Timothy Mugisha and Denis Etwau, who play for Hippos. The others are their teammates Meddie Mapesa, Jacob Ocen, John Echeru and Maxwell Ebonga. The latter three play for the national rugby 15s.

The highlight of the Jinja SSS project was in 2015 when the school broke the tradition to qualify for the Nationals and the East African games.

Later, the players formed the cog of the triumphant Jinja Hippos team that won their first national sevens title last year.

Covid-19 blessing

The covid-19 break came as a blessing in disguise for Tororo as it ushered in the beginning of the rugby journey in the town.

“Everything had frozen and then after evaluating myself, I realised that I had done everything for rugby to grow in Jinja and needed a fresh challenge,” Byaruhanga narrates his journey.

“So,” he adds, “I chose to go back to Tororo, where I was born, to go and do something because there was nothing on the ground.

“I started by mobilising a few school-going children and then moved to secondary schools. The reception was good and gave me hope but every time I felt like giving up, I always remembered the journey of the two role models who have inspired me – coach Tolbert Onyango and Springboks captain Siyamthanda Kolisi.”

Byaruhanga is motivated by Onyango’s Cinderella story of guiding Uganda to the Rugby World Cup 7s in 2018 and 2022 and Siya’s rise from a humble beginning to become the first black man to captain the South African 15s team.

“Timothy has created scholarships for rugby players which have benefitted even clubs from Kampala and that is why he is an honorary member of Kyadondo Rugby club,” URU president Godwin Kayangwe chips in.

In Tororo, Byaruhanga has partnered with Rubonge Army SS under the leadership of Maj. Zainah Nalukenge who has provided several scholarships that have benefitted Kyadondo players and the local community.

He has spread the wings to Teso with Ng’ora SS and Busia OlympAfrica Youth Centre and Busia SS in the neighbouring border of Busia.

Presidential award

Byaruhanga’s efforts have not gone unnoticed! In November last year, the president of the Union Godwin Kayangwe shocked the rugby fraternity when he awarded Byaruhanga with the Individual Presidential accolade at the glamourous awards held at the Serena Hotel in Kampala.

Kayangwe recognised ‘Big Timo’ for tirelessly spreading rugby to Tororo and other parts of the south-east.

“Timothy [Byaruhanga] has been very pivotal in the development of Rugby in the East,” Kayangwe told this paper adding that, “he has a hand in the founding of almost all teams there; Jinja Hippos, Walukuba Barbarians, Tororo among many.

“He has secured a rugby ground in Tororo, started a team there and introduced Rugby in many schools in the town. Surely, one can go on and on talking about his achievements,” Kayangwe, who was re-elected for a second term at the helm of the union, pours his heart out.

Mileke’s dream

Tororo is not famous for rugby beyond school rugby in the yesteryears. Previously, most of the rugby played was at the school level in the early 2000s when there was an influx of students from Western Kenya.

But that aside, the sleeping town has produced some big names in the rugby scenes. Andrew Owor ruled the Uganda Rugby Union as president from 2013 to 2019 before being elected the vice president of African Rugby (Rugby Afrique). Owor stood for the continental presidency in March this year but lost to Herbert Mensah from Ghana.

The other is the legendary Aredo family, whose history in sports is rich. Their grandfather Erasmus played golf and tennis at the national level.

The three brothers, -Erasmus’ grandsons – Erasmus, Gabriel and Joseph Aredo, have dominated the scenes in the last ten years but it is their late father, Patrick Mileke Aredo, commonly referred to as ‘Papa’ in the rugby circles that left a bigger mark.

Mileke tried to play rugby but stopped at the university; however, his love and passion for the game endeared him and his wife Deborah Sifuna to many in local rugby earning him the moniker “Papa”.

In 2019, Warriors decided to name their National Sevens circuit the Mileke 7s to honour Mileke Aredo’s contribution to the game of rugby. Mileke passed on later in September that year and was buried in Tororo. Since then, the Mileke Sevens have been a fixture in the national sevens series.

This year, the Aredo family together with Warriors decided to award it to the Tororo Rugby Community headed by Byaruhanga.

Erasmus Aredo, the chairperson national sevens committee and the elder son of the late, welcomes the circuit that has been branded the Mileke Border Sevens to Tororo.

“It was a dream of Mileke (the late dad) that rugby will one day grow in Tororo and this marks a very important occasion for the Aredo family,” Erasmus Aredo said with a sigh.

Aredo joined the wagon to underline Byaruhanga’s tremendous job to start and grow rugby.

“Timothy has done remarkably well in pushing for grassroots rugby in Tororo from scratch; he has done it here and even in Jinja where he was with the Hippos. 

“This is the beginning of an important journey for Tororo and we may not assure that this [Mileke 7s] will be a constant fixture but we’ll definitely have several tournaments here.”

Jumpstarting Tororo

The Tororo community has welcomed rugby and hopes the Nile Special Mileke Border Sevens will ignite the revival of sports in the town once again.

“We have a challenge that very many sports personalities from Tororo and the Tieng Adhola cultural Institution (Adhola Kingdom) have done tremendously well to build different sports in the country but away from home, so we’re happy that the action is returning here,” Felix Okuye, the sports minister in the Adhola Kingdom says.

“We have the facilities for football, rugby, basketball, golf and many others but we’ve not utilised them but I hope this [Mileke 7s] will jumpstart the region and push us into tapping the talents and resources available,” Okuye believes.

Okuye played basketball for Warriors and rugby for Kobs feeder side Boks. He is the current president of the Uganda Baseball and Softball Association and the vice president of the respective world body (WBSA) as well.

He is famed for coaching David Matoma, who became the third Ugandan to sign for the Pittsburgh Pirates in Major League Baseball.

The border town known famously for mining limestone and the Tororo Rock has been deprived of topflight sporting activities. The town once hosted Uganda Premier League side Game Boys and Tororo Rock Stars in the early 2000s and Myda recently. However, no other activity exists apart from the National Cross-Country championships held in 2021 and 2022.

The town boasts of King George Stadium, a Golf course, Elgon View playgrounds and several basketball courts that have been abandoned and in sorry state.


Name - Timothy Byaruhanga

Date of birth - March 4, 1982

Place of birth - Tororo

Rugby career

Positions played - tight head-prop

Teams - Makerere Impis (2008), Toyota Buffaloes (2010), Nile (2011-2013), Jinja Hippos (2014 – 2020) and Tororo Crests RFC 2020 to-date

Professional qualifications - social worker

Roles in sports - rugby qualifications level one Coach, referee and team manager

Role models - Tolbert Onyango and Siya Kolisi

Achievements - 2022 presidential Awards, best performer of spreading the game of rugby in the country.