LIKE any boy in any part of the world, I once had dreams of representing my country in sport on the world stage; specifically playing in the World Cup where I would score fantastic goals by way of a series of volleys, bicycle kicks and flash-speed dribbling footwork conjured up by an imagination that was ignited every four years by visions of soccer players from everywhere else in the world.
I started giving up on this dream only when I joined the university, and put all hopes finally to rest when I realised during one recent World Cup tournament that I had not physically kicked a ball with any sort of skill in more than three years.
The consolation I took, though, was in the hope that I would be supporting my own team one day in the World Cup finals. When a group of enthusiasts started the Uganda Cranes Initiative I even believed 2014 would be the year of the Uganda Cranes mixing up their yellow shirts and even lingo a la Samba (which means “kick” in my languages).
I fantasised that some magic would have erupted from the Cranes gliding down gracefully into the World Cup stadiums and thereafter Ugandans of all shapes and sizes would be called up to join tournaments from Amsterdam to Zambia.
All fantasy, sadly.
But the reality, I am realising, is not too bad either.
We’re increasingly occupying a certain stage well enough to change the Ugandan narrative.
A couple of weeks ago I was invited a few thousand kilometres out of my comfort zone to join a panel at the World Village Festival alongside Finland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs to discuss human rights in Africa. Our panel of four included a Kenyan, Dommie Yambo-Odotte; a Namibian, Robin Tyson; the Finnish Cabinet Minister Erkki Tuomioja, and my besuited self.
The panel was only part of a whole week during which our group, including an Ethiopian, Meskerem Lemma, talked about our countries and mostly media and development-related issues.
Being there in general wasn’t the big news; the big news was us representing our countries in intellectual stadia and dribbling ideas and concepts around while blocking opposing teams from scoring into our national esteem. We showed off some tactful mental moves in a midfield full of swift players many of whom we hadn’t met before or whose play we had never studied.
And we did well; I did well enough to get a few more people interested in coming over to visit, invest and work with more Ugandans. Idi Amin was only mentioned once, in jest, by another of our group tickling me for a sharp witty reaction.
And that mention was in line with the movie The Last King of Scotland, which I told them I had refused to watch because too many people believed it to be a true story and defined Ugandans by one man rather than the millions who are much more sensible, passionate, intelligent, smart, eloquent, innovative, hard working, brave, victorious and so much more.
I made sure that if I were the only Ugandan any of the Finns ever met in their lives they would know Ugandans for being intelligent, well-spoken, focussed, time-conscious, neat, generous, patient, innovative, helpful…and none of it acted.
The number of Ugandans standing out and genuinely doing well at what they do is impressive; from the soldiers in Somalia and South Sudan to the Presidency of the United Nations General Assembly.
I hope The New Vision series on Ugandans in the diaspora resumes soon so we pay attention to this.
Two months ago the South African Broadcasting Corporation announced that a Ugandan, James Aguma, had been appointed Chief Financial Officer, replacing someone who left the job in less than ideal circumstances.
Aguma’s track record was cited and his proficiency exhibited over years of experience highlighted. I thought back to how many times that story used to be the reverse, and applauded the man.
After that, Betty Bigombe was called up to head a Directorate at the World Bank, where she has held a big job before and made us proud. She is brave, hard-working, peace-loving, intelligent, committed and sharp in style, delivery and focus. She certainly won’t be the last Ugandan to get called up, because she has done so well in going ahead of us.
Then last week another Ugandan, Jimmy (not sure if that’s really his first name) Mugerwa was announced as new Chief Executive Officer of Shelter Afrique – his predecessor going off to join the list of possible candidates for President of the Africa Development Bank.
And speaking of Presidents, Kutesa’s accession to the Presidency of the United Nations General Assembly is neither a private achievement nor individual privilege. It is ours nationally to use and enjoy.
Sweep all local controversies aside for this one and focus on Kutesa’s sharp intellect, astute politics, competent management, dapper turnout, regal bearing and wise counsel. All these, if identified as Ugandan, will apply to us wherever we go.
So even if we haven’t gone to the World Cup this week and we may not be known as some of the best soccer players in the World, we are going to be known as World Leaders in many other respects.