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Uganda netball administration walking through slippery path

Sarah Babirye Kityo

Sarah Babirye Kityo

In what may seem to be a defiant action, suspended Uganda Netball Federation (UNF) boss Sarah Babirye Kityo convened a UNF executive meeting at the body’s offices on Friday, September 8, and members unanimously agreed on her return to office unconditionally.

The meeting also passed a couple of resolutions, including one that ended Brig Flavia Byekwaso’s role as acting UNF president. On April 21, Education and Sports minister Janet Museveni held a high-level meeting at State House, Nakasero, where she ordered Babirye to step aside for three months to give the Auditor General and other relevant government bodies time to investigate allegations against her of misappropriation of government funds and failure to account for the same.

The State House meeting was attended by officials from the line ministry, National Council of Sports and UNF. In that meeting, the minister, who also heard allegations of sexual harassment perpetrated on netballers by male officials, asked UNF vice president Administration Byekwaso to act in Babirye’s position until the latter is cleared.

After the expiry of the three months on July 21, Babirye made a grand return to the federation amid stiff security resistance allegedly deployed by Byekwaso. The situation almost turned bloody until Byekwaso got a message and allowed Babirye to access her office.

From my sources, this seemed to have annoyed Mrs Museveni, who wrote a strongly-worded letter that ordered Babirye to keep off UNF promises until the completion and discussion of the report from the offices of the Attorney General, Auditor General, and police’s Criminal Investigations Directorate.

So, going by the events that happened last Friday, UNF seemed to have disregarded the minister’s directive and ushered in Babirye in her office. That UNF executive meeting also asked Byekwaso to account for all government funds she received during the time she was in office and also make a report about all issues concerning the body.

It is really hard to determine the balance of probabilities. Is Babirye showing greed before she is cleared of wrongdoing? Put differently, are the investigators so sloppy that they couldn’t complete the investigations in the stipulated time? Or could there be a deliberate plot to frustrate Babirye’s return by delaying the investigation?

There is a thin line when reaching a conclusion. Babirye sitting on a time bomb? It remains unclear whether Babirye has the full support from netball stakeholders to convince the powers that be to back off, but for the decades I have keenly followed Ugandan sports, I have come to realize that in the majority of cases where federation bosses clashed with the line ministers, they have ended up bruised and left their respective offices unceremoniously.

This has mostly happened in football, athletics and boxing. Here are some of the standoffs that culminated in the dissolution of sports bodies for perceived insubordination.

Peter Abe (Fufa)

In January 1982, Youth and Culture minister Dr James Rwanyarare dissolved Abe’s Fufa executive, faulting the latter for insubordination. The Abe-led Fufa executive had refused to halt the creation of the Super League division pending the ministry’s scrutiny.

John Semanobe (Fufa)

On April 23, 1992, NCS, after getting a green light from Education and Sports minister Amanya Mushega, disbanded Fufa’s executive, headed by Semanobe, for failing to recognize its supremacy as the regulator of all sports. Fresh Fufa polls were organized eight months later and to government’s disgust, Semanobe returned to office after trouncing Patrick Kawooya in the December, 1992 Fufa polls.

George Odeke (Athletics)

Like Fufa, Uganda Amateur Athletics Association (UAAA) boss Odeke also tasted the wrath of NCS when the supreme body accused the UAAA boss of insubordination and arrogance. The Odeke executive was disbanded on April 23, 1992.

John Semanobe (Fufa)

In 1994, Mushega had had enough and had Semanobe’s Fufa dissolved again. This time, the minister accused the Fufa boss of insubordination and for failing to account for the gate-takings received from the July, 1993 Afcon qualifier between Uganda and Nigeria.

Denis Obua (Fufa)

In February, 2005, Education and Sports minister Geraldine Namirembe Bitamazire dissolved the Fufa executive headed by Obua on ground of misappropriation of Fufa funds, insubordination and poor leadership.

Ishaq Kamoga (Boxing)

In July, 2006, NCS, with the backing of state minister for Sports Charles Bakkabulindi, dissolved the Uganda Amateur Boxing Association (UABF) headed by Kamoga. The UABF bosses allegedly failed to handle internal wrangles, which left the game weakened. The UABF was also accused of defying NCS directives.

There have been many other purges on sports federation over the years and it remains to be seen how Babirye will play her cards to remain in office.


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