The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: Good First Step but UCI Should Tread Carefully

opinion

The recently formed Uganda Cranes Initiative (UCI) is no doubt the year's best innovation in Ugandan football but to achieve tangible success, it needs to draw a line with Fufa on its operations.

UCI's major task is to instill a high level of professionalism in the national team through several strategies intended to increase motivation, determination as well as mental strength. Coupled with Fufa's blessing, the sky is the limit. That's why UCI is a breath of fresh air after years of near misses, the most recent one being the spot-kick heartbreak loss to Zambia.

However, as good as UCI is, its success will greatly depend on sticking to the core principles of its formation. Given the politicized nature of Ugandan football administration, even the most minor of diversions - especially one that puts it at loggerheads with Fufa - could break up the initiative and put all UCI efforts to waste.

Chequered history:

Back in 1989 after Uganda won the Cecafa Cup, President Yoweri Museveni hosted the victorious team at Nile Hotel (Serena Hotel) and launched the Presidential Sports Fund to cater for the team's welfare needs. The president was surprised at the poor financial base of Fufa, which nearly failed to send the team to the 1988 tournament had the Bika Football Committee not paid for the players' air tickets.

Uganda had also just pulled out for the 1990 World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. Museveni rewarded each player and official Shs 500,000 as the startup gesture but all the talk went up in smoke as the Fund never materialized. We were back to square one in 1992 when The Cranes once again lifted the Cecafa Cup.

This time, the president received the players at Lugogo indoor stadium and seized the occasion to relaunch the fund by donating Shs 5m. Education and Sports minister Nuwe Amanya Mushega and Fufa boss John Sebaana Kizito pledged to revive the fund. Still, it failed to take off.

In July1998, Cranes team manager Kassim Buyondo mooted the idea of forming a committee to fund the team as it prepared for the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. Twaha Kakaire's Fufa embraced the idea with open arms and it was also blessed by State Minister for Education and Sports Capt Francis Babu.

Several wealthy businessmen were approached and accepted but on condition that they manage the team and funds. Fufa duly obliged but also asked the committee to give the federation 10% of the gate takings during Cranes matches.

Dubbed the 'Uganda Cranes Fundraising and Management Committee,' it had Sudhir Ruparellia (Chairman), deputies Franco Mugabe, Godfrey Kalule Kirumira and Hajji Meddie Ssebaggala.

Other members included treasurer Andrew Kasagga 'Zzimwe' (RIP), Hajji Ahmed Omar Mandela, William Nkemba with Kevin Ogen Aliro (RIP) as secretary. Others were Hajji Yusuf Musisi, Chris Rwanika (Fufa), Haruna Mawanda (Fufa) and Kasim Buyondo.

Stalemates

The committee did a tremendous work by mobilizing funds from the public and in return paid players' allowances, accommodation, air tickets (including that of Magid Musisi, who was the only professional player then). The real test of the committee came during the group phase of qualification. Uganda edged Algeria 2-1 in their opening fixture before things quickly turned ugly.

Just as The Cranes prepared for the away trip to Liberia in January 1999, Fufa changed leadership, with Denis Obua replacing Twaha Kakaire. Working on the advice of close allies, Obua discontinued the committee on grounds of usurping Fufa powers. But even before Obua intervened, reports had emerged about the friction, egotism and greed within the committee.

The Cranes never recovered and finished bottom of the group. Uganda continued to falter in the subsequent qualification campaigns for the 2002 and 2004 but still, Obua stuck to his guns. In February 2005, government dissolved the Obua's executive and Fifa put a Normalization Committee headed by Dr. James Sekajugo.

In order to help the Sekajugo's committee, the sports ministry created the Cranes Working Committee headed by Mike Sebalu to coordinate the 2006 Nations Cup qualification campaign. That committee had William Nkemba, Aggrey Kibenge, and Omara Apita among others. However, that committee lasted a few months before it disappeared in thin air.

Most recently, Fufa boss Lawrence Mulindwa formed a Cranes Fundraising Committee headed by Ajuri MP Hamson Obua to solicit funds for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. Others on the committee include Nusur Tiperu, Aggrey Kibenge, Omara Apita, Wilson Tumwine, Anthony Kimuli, Edgar Watson and Moses Magogo among others.

It started well and met occasionally but was phased out even before the end of the campaign. Some members complained of a cold relationship between the committee and the Fufa executive.

Way forward:

Going by my past experience, some of the previous committees failed to achieve their goals because of intrigue, accountability issues and in some cases self-seekers. That's not to discourage UCI but I'm reliably informed that the major reason for the disbandment of the 2012 committee is that Uganda was on its way to qualification and at the same time, the games fetched big gate takings.

Meanwhile, Sudhir's committee was dissolved because the committee was 'stealing' the show from Fufa. Going forward, UCI and Fufa need to sit down and demarcate the boundaries of operation to avoid incidents of the past when Fufa viewed such initiatives as threats.

The author is Director Marketing & Promotions of The Observer Media Ltd.

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