What do Uganda’s potholed roads and the Cranes share in common? Turns out a lot

ROBERT MADOI 

What you need to know:

The unapologetically ambitious Cranes fans can, however, be forgiven for concluding that the ready excuse bears a striking resemblance to what those responsible for the country’s roads always proffer. 

Last weekend, a seemingly simple question that the missus directed at me presented a formidable challenge. We had just cruised past the billboard advertising campaign Nile Special is staging in conjunction with the Cranes.

The advertisement has for some months now persisted in its urging that football lovers in the country go for a pint to put something—Shs50 to be precise—in the Cranes kabbo (basket).

The face of the classic cause-related marketing campaign is someone who met crises in a Cranes strip with tact.
“Is he still a Cranes player?” the missus asked as the display of Denis Onyango on the billboard greeted us with a smile. 

Your columnist—in a terse response—resisted the urge to provide more information, but the missus was relentless. Post Onyango, aren’t there any Cranes players whose status as an ascendant figure is beyond dispute? Did Onyango's successors inherit challenges? The questions in their torrents were coming in thick and fast; yet the steady stream of potholes in the road demanded that I be extremely observant. 

The writing, though, is clearly etched on the wall: Ugandan football is devoid of star dust. Why, one—as the missus did—would invariably ask? As far as metaphors go, the potholed road that kept your columnist keen-eyed could not be more apt. Much like her roads, Uganda's football has a knack for collapsing from its own contradictions. 

Hours after the missus’ flurry of questions placed an unwelcome spotlight on the current crop of Cranes players, Uganda bowed out of the 2022 African Nations Championship (Chan) with a whimper. Before kickoff, a cautious optimism ran among long-suffering Cranes fans that have never seen Uganda reach the Chan business end. 

Even with the Cranes topping their group, and needing a single point to advance, there was always the fear of a botched job opening up deep and damaging fissures. And so it turned out after Côte d'Ivoire showed a maturity that continually eludes Uganda en route to pulling off a 3-1 win. Whether the final score flattered the west Africans is besides the point. What is disturbing for your average Cranes fan is the fact that their team has shown no sign of changing course.

Here is where the metaphor around Uganda's weather-beaten roads comes to life. My friend Ahmed Marsha, the Fufa mouthpiece, sent journalists a WhatsApp message to cascade to Cranes fans. Mindful that scars from a familiar so-close-yet-so-far episode had not yet fully healed, Marsha wrote thus: “The price of transition is accepting Big Time Changes, emotions, welcoming ideas, losing stars who retire from the game, allowing emerging stars to play and gain confidence. This is exactly what is being built. It’s a painful process but will pay off in the near future.” 

The unapologetically ambitious Cranes fans can, however, be forgiven for concluding that the ready excuse bears a striking resemblance to what those responsible for the country’s roads always proffer. If the installation of fibre optics necessitates wielding of the shovel, we are told the painful process will yield dividends in the future. This, however, is anything but a deft surgical knife for it brings both short term and long term pain.
It's a big ask for durability to show no cracks on Ugandan roads.

In fact, when potholes pop up, cleaning up the mess translates to smoothing over cracks. The promise of future dividends is really only the mask of corruption. Sounds like the Cranes, right? How many times has a rebuilding project been dangled? Countless. 
Like the dodgy contractors that land deals to repair our battered roads, Milutin 'Micho' Sredojević's reputation has been unquestionably tarnished. His repair job has been found wanting.

The thought of him grooming Cranes players and bending them to his will is a discomforting one for many. The Serb didn’t endear himself to many Cranes fans when he had bright sparks like Travis Mutyaba and Bright Anukani warm the bench at Chan 2022. 

Little wonder, Onyango remains the poster boy of the Cranes' 2026 Fifa World Cup campaign. Never mind that the Mamelodi Sundowns netminder—who will be 41 in 2026—retired from international football a couple or so of years ago. Oh Uganda!

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