Wakabi: 25 years of ingenuity with the odd-shaped ball

Players from Plascon Mongers (in red) and KCB Kobs (in blue) lined up to give Simon Wakabi a guard of honour for his farewell game. PHOTOS/EDDIE CHICCO 

What you need to know:

A career spanning more than two decades had seen the sport become an integral part of his life but it was bound to come to an end at some stage. 

A day to the final game of his dazzling career, Simon Wakabi sat all alone in his living room racing down the memory lane. 

It was sinking in that his 25-year affair with rugby as a player was hours away from its curtain call. 

A career spanning more than two decades had seen the sport become an integral part of his life but it was bound to come to an end at some stage. 

There was no better occasion to call it quits than when Plascon Mongers was hosting KCB Kobs in the Nile Special Rugby Championship, two clubs that Wakabi blessed with his ingenuity and built a legacy both on and off the turf. 

“This year I felt I should live my life. I had had enough of the game and needed to create space for the younger players, I also felt tired,” says the retiring fullback.

The last couple of years have also seen him dive into the art of honing his skills as a 7s strength and conditioning coach up to level two. It’s where in his next chapter in the game he refuses to stay away from lies.

Wakabi’s love affair with the game has kept him in the fray for so long that he has seen it all.

The ups and downs, the demands and sacrifices he has tabled to survive four generations of players.

Gamma stays

When he looks back, only Platinum Credit Heathens halfback Faisal Gamma, is still going from the faces he came across earlier on in his career as the rest have called it a day. “I was hoping Gamma would drop off before me but I was wrong,” he jokes.

The pair can testify that lasting that long on the turf takes more than what a fan’s eye meets. To Wakabi, it’s a way of life that comes with limited room for error but keeping in line to give your best on Saturday afternoons.

Wakabi races past the Pirates defence during his time with Kobs. 

“It’s mainly discipline and passion that keeps your body conditioned for the physical and mental demands of the game. This comes with eating healthy, drinking loads of water, having ample rest and many other sacrifices,” he explains before having a dig at the current generation.

“The commitment levels today are horrible and even the few players that try will attach conditions or monetary requirements. Creativity and application of game skills has also fallen off I think because of the gym.

“Lads today prefer using more of their bodies. But also, physical conditioning is a big part of the game in this era, you can't skip it and expect results,” he describes.

Looking at the current crop of players, Pirates’ Timothy Kisiga is that player Wakabi would pay to watch on any day because of his unique style of play.

He also has plaudits Adrian Kasito’s big heart and performances at the big stage but his time with William Lukwago at Mongers makes Wakabi think the back is very promising and ready to shine.

Not many players especially in an amateur setting like Uganda’s have the mettle in them to tick the longevity boxes. For him, it has everything to do with his roots.

Big family

Coming from a family of eight where almost everyone embraced sport, it was inevitable that he would survive the bug. The eldest pair, Justine and Rose Wakabi were into athletics.

For the boys, their talents were all over the place. Patrick Wakabi played football and athletics, Charles Wakabi played football at the top level in the local top flight with stints at Simba and Police, Joseph Wakabi was a popular high school athlete who was also good at football just like Dennis Wakabi.

The last born, Lawrence Wakabi was a decent footballer but it was rugby that turned him into a household from his days at Namilyago College where he won four consecutive schools rugby titles.

His flashy and quick feet won him a multitude of fans, earning him caps with both the test and 7s Rugby Cranes sides. He remains active at KCB Kobs.  With everyone in the household excelling in different sports disciplines, it awakened the hunger to outperform each other and lay a platform for sibling rivalry.

“Indirectly, there was silent competition amongst us. We all wanted to achieve at different levels which motivated me. A good example is we were all sports prefects at the particular schools we attended,” he recalls.

Wakabi first came face to face with rugby in 1996 as a senior one student at Namilyango College but did not play until three years later in 1999.

“We were hosting one of the 7s circuits but unfortunately one of the invited schools did not show up and we were requested to form a third team,” he says.

Timothy Mudoola, his desk mate, and Kiwanuka housemate, asked him to play on the wing and clear instructions of “Just run and score tries,” he was aware of his quickness from brain to toe as it was all about speed.

After the tournament, he never looked back despite football being his first love. The complicated football dynamics and lifestyle made it hard for him to survive there while the majority of his peers played rugby.

Meeting Phillip Karugaba and the late Edward Kitaka also accelerated his decision to choose rugby, the two pillars’ support and encouragement influenced Wakabai to make a choice but it was watching Martin Kasasira, who was Kobs captain in 1998 that caught his eye and pushed him to make a name for himself.  

“He was a gentle beast who handed off whoever got in his way, he always made my day and I wanted to emulate him. Martin also played with a rare aura of confidence that was contagious and often smiled as well,” says Wakabi.

Fred Mudoola was another lad Wakabi looked up to because of the value and importance he attached to the game.

Joining Kobs

It was from there that he joined Kobs in 2001, two years after playing his first game. For more than a decade, he donned Kobs’ blue before heading to his Entebbe hometown to join Plascon Mongers for another 10 years.

Wakabi tries to fend off a challenge from a Namibian player. 

A quick look at his resume brings up seven league titles, five Uganda Cups, four Mak 10s and four national 7s titles. The year 2006 stood out for him as it defined his career.

“I think 2006 was my best year. I had the Commonwealth Games, I won the Elgon Cup in Nairobi and we beat Namibia. In the same year, I was voted (Uganda Sports Press Association) sports personality of June at the expense of track and field athlete Borniface Kiprop, Uganda Cranes duo of Dennis Onyango and Geoffrey Massa. I also picked up a couple of MVP awards and emerged top points scorer,” he says. That same season had Kobs manage a clean sweep of the league, Uganda Cup, National 7s title and the Mak 10s.

By that time, Wakabi had hit his peak, a Kobs and Rugby Cranes squad was incomplete without his name. Apart from replicating his ability to be lethal and clutch in every game, Wakabi made the game look so easy and played with a placid smile.

“I wanted to enjoy every moment on the pitch,” he says. The smile takes away some pressure while being a reminder that it’s just a game and not a matter of life and death.

“The smile sometimes works against the opponents as it calms them down for me to pounce,” he jokes. Wakabi credits his consciousness for making everything he did come off like a walk in the park. For him, vision and awareness were pivotal, attributes he picked from 1995 Rugby World Cup winner the late Chester Williams.

Wakabi (3rd L) lines up with Rugby Cranes teammates for the game against Namibia. 

When the latter had three months as Rugby Cranes coach in 2006, he emphasized to Wakabi that for one to become a top player, they had to be aware of surroundings and available spaces. It enabled him figure out what his teammates were up to while studying opponents’ weaknesses at the same time.

Good camaraderie

Playing with the likes of Mudoola and Dr. Stone Luggya, current Kobs Chairman made life so easy as they made him shine.

“They understood me so well and often set me up for tries as I was your typical finisher. They mastered the art of committing opponents and releasing me right on time, they also did most of the dirty work for me,” narrates Wakabi.

The constant encouragement and belief from Allan Musoke and Samuel Rubanga helped him light up games.

On national duty, it was Gamma and Alex Mubiru that fueled his hunger and desire to decide games. As some players helped bring out Wakabi’s best version, there was a bunch that set out to muffle his efforts.

“I hated playing against Brian Tabaruka. Although he looked soft, he dished out crunching tackles and was difficult to evade. Marvin Odongo was another tough opponent I hated facing. Across the border, I loathed facing Victor Sudi and Humphrey Kayange,” he says.

Wakabi won it all and can pass as a generational talent but away from the business end of the game, the experience has been priceless. The amassed social capital, the brotherhood, and sense of belonging to a big rugby family are things he is proud of.


Being a fishmonger makes him a businessman and it gives him joy that a big part of his clientele is from the rugby circles, right from the Uganda Rugby Union (URU) chairman Godwin Kayangwe.

The fellowship spreads across the country and beyond borders “When I travel to the North, East or West, I'm certain I won’t get stuck because I know there's a rugby player that will happily bail me out. Same for Kenya and Rwanda,” he says. 

Even with all that glamour, there were sprinkles of discontent in the mix of Wakabi’s rugby expedition. He feels he had what it took to be even a better player than he turned out.

“I should have immersed myself more into the game and played every single game at my disposal. I missed games for different reasons. Looking back, I should have given rugby more time,” he regrets.

Wakabi believes being self-employed is one of the reasons he has played this long as it enables him manage his schedule to balance work and rugby. He has had several peers drop the game because of work commitments.

Talk of what could have gone better evokes memories of when Uganda hosted Morocco in 2006 for a Rugby World Cup Qualifier at then Kampala Rugby Club. Uganda lost 5-3 and Wakabi partly blamed himself.

Wakabi is tackled in game between Kobs and Heathens. 

“I had an overlap against us and tried to intercept a pass as the fullback but I wasn't successful. Morocco scored the game's only try. That's how we bowed out of the race and Namibia qualified.

Uganda who had convincingly beaten Namibia before had to win against Morocco too but it was never the case. Namibia went on to comfortably beat Morocco and book a spot at the France 2007 Rugby World.

For a young man who had no vision on spinning the odd shaped ball for the first time, Wakabi has relished every bit of the journey and achieved more than he ever dreamt of.

The rugby family, the traveling, awards, wins, and lessons picked have turned into goals over time.

His hard work, love for challenge, honesty and empathy have defined his path. For him, “It's time to lay a foundation for another young man out there to dream as I have for the last 25 years,” he says.

Special mentions

Andrew Owiny (former URU chairman): “He believed in me so much, something that stirred my performance”

Victoria Wakabi (wife): “She’s the best support I could ever asked for. She supported me all through and often encouraged me when things went south”

Lilian and Henry Kaliisa: “They are a big part of my journey. Henry started sending me brand new Canterbury boots and a Sports Watch as early as 2004. He's been consistently buying me playing gear till I hang up my boots.”

Name: Simon Wakabi

Date of birth: February 21, 1982

Nickname: Badas

Position: Fullback, Flyhalf

Clubs: Kobs, Mongers

National teams: 7s, 15s

Titles: Seven league titles, five Uganda Cups, four Mak 10s, four national 7s titles, One Elgon Cup

Rugby Cranes debut: 2003

Kobs debut: 2001