Being in Gabon to watch The Cranes play at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations was all that mattered to 25-year-old Kassim Kyazze. While he had the honour of securing an air ticket, courtesy of Ecobank, Kyazze’s pockets were not sound.
He had to largely depend on other fans, including sleeping on the floor of their rooms, to survive the few days he was in Gabon. Yet, maybe he would not have had to undergo this, if he had immediately flown back to Uganda, after Cranes were defeated by the Black Stars, as he had been scheduled to.
But as the pre-historical adage: ‘no gain without pain’ goes, Kyazze’s struggles paid off. The kindness of people like KCCA FC chairman Julius Kabugo, Makindye division chairman Ali Nganda and Cranes goalkeeper Denis Onyango, who came to his aid propelled Kyazze to an African icon at least momentarily.
During the Cranes/Pharaohs game last Saturday, Kyazze’s name was sounded out by the stadium announcer at Stade de Port-Gentil as the fan of the match. The giant screen inside the stadium focused on him, to bring out his identity, as a number of fans, Ugandans and not, all sought selfies with him.
But above all, he received a plaque with an inscription reading: Fan-of-the-match (Egypt v Uganda) last Saturday during which broadcast channels, including SuperSport, focused on him.
Kyazze is one of ten siblings raised by a single mother. Life was hard. At the age of nine, he started picking rubbish from people’s homes in Kirombe, Luzira to find school fees while at Portbell primary school.
For doing this odd job he was nicknamed Kasasiro (rubbish) boy, a name that stuck with him long into his secondary school days at Bright High School, Busega. His mother detested it, and understandably so. It was demeaning but turned out to inform a specific decision in his life.
As a young boy back in 2001, he heard over the radio, a football team called the Kasasiro boys, KCCA FC. And the connection between him and the club was struck from then on. Kyazze dreamt of becoming a top goalkeeper and one day play for his beloved KCCA FC. Indeed, his passion for football earned him a scholarship at Jakayz secondary school in Kabowa, where he did his A-levels in 2011.
Because his mother could not educate him any further, he had to find a job to support her. He delved into the taxi business as a tout but found the job too challenging as KCCA law enforcement officers apprehended him.
Although Kyazze does not entirely absolve himself of blame in incidents that have nearly seen him get thrown into prison, a host of his friends wondered why he kept supporting the football club even with such occurrences. He was candid to them: “I am intelligent enough to see the difference between KCCA and KCCA FC.”
From 2013, he started painting himself for Cranes games at Namboole stadium after realizing that the spectators in the stands needed something different. As he watched the South African Premier League, Kyazze noticed that it was common to see a fan in the stands, whose whole body was painted.
Normally, there was a lot of camera focus on that fan, fascinating the TV viewers. Besides, that clown-like figure also struck many in the stadium, as the passing of time proved.
During the 2017 Afcon qualifiers, Kyazze carried a banner reading: Gabon Afcon 2017, Uganda Cranes na mutima, the chosen one, Denis Onyango. This message was so humbling to Onyango, that through his friends, he sought to meet this fellow.
Their first meeting was overwhelming for Kyazze: “This is a guy I only earlier watched on TV or in the stadium. For him to come looking for me was life-changing.”
His peers started calling him Onyango, a name he has proudly accepted. He also has received goalkeeping gloves and replica jerseys from The Cranes custodian he had idolized for years. This relationship has brought value to what Kyazze does.
“I got into this business of painting my body to make people happy and make friends,” he says.
But now, he acknowledges it has taken him places, and hopes to become a brand marketing tool for bigger things in football. Already, Kyazze has featured in adverts. He signed a Shs 2 million contract with Ecobank to take part in their 2017 Afcon build-up and promotions campaign last year.
He then found himself getting a passport for the first time, as eventually one thing led to another. He was on RwandAir with his tins of paint headed for Gabon, to watch the Afcon. Kyazze was no longer local. He was on the grand stage.
Ironically, when he arrived at the stadium for the Egypt game, the security personnel denied him entry because the helmet he wore on his head, was deemed a security threat.
But he eventually succeeded in making a grand entry, that culminated in him being announced as the best fan in that game. As part of his reward, Kyazze received a match ticket for the Afcon final but does not have the finances to keep him in Gabon until February 5.