Museveni should have mentioned Afcon 2017 in New Year message

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Apart from irrigation, which is becoming a priority because of the current drought ravaging our country, President Museveni’s New Year message was largely a rehash of old ideas about the road to middle income status.

It was all about a song we are so familiar with that some of us can sing it in our sleep: Jobs for the youth, security, Bujagali, “donating” millions of dollars to foreigners by importing more and exporting less, etc.

Reading from a prepared script, the President reminded us for the umpteenth time that for the first time in 500 years Uganda is enjoying total peace and nobody is going to disturb that peace. Great!

What the presidential speech writers forgot was to pencil in a line about how for the first time in 40 years, Ugandans were totally united in joy last year when the national football team – Uganda Cranes – returned to the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) tournament.

That achievement, in the minds of many of us, especially the youth, was far more momentous than anything else money could buy.

It spoke volumes about who we are, what we are capable of accomplishing and where we stand on the global arena. It encapsulated our sense of dignity and self-respect.
The crown of our achievement in 2016 was the naming of Cranes goalie Denis Onyango among the world’s best goalkeepers. What a year!

Surely, after the President said, “I wish you all a happy 2017” he should have added, “And I wish Uganda Cranes success at Afcon 2017.” Those nine words might have sent our players to “cloud nine”. They would have suggested that it is not only a cat that has nine lives, but the Crested Crane – our national symbol – is also capable of rising from the ashes like a phoenix, the mythological bird said to burn itself and be born again from the ashes.

January 17 – when Uganda clashes with Mali in Gabon – is so eagerly awaited that a sports newscaster for NBS TV recently captured the mood in this way: “Everyday is Uganda Cranes day until we leave Gabon.”

If I had the President’s ear, I would whisper a suggestion that he makes a surprise appearance in Gabon on that day to support the Cranes. Can you imagine how the morale of our players would be boosted by the announcement of the presence of the President of the Republic of Uganda?

I remember the time when Cranes used to be regulars at Afcon finals in the 1970s. The then president, Idi Amin – God bless his soul – would drop in unannounced to see how the players were doing in their training camp. He would want to find out whether they ate well. He would give them a pep talk about how they were the best.

What would Amin do now? He would probably grab coach ‘Micho’ by the shoulders and tell him: “Your name is no longer ‘Micho’ but ‘Omach’. Go fly our flag high and bring me that cup.”

Flying the national colours high is only part of the need for government to support football. Football provides a vast untapped opportunity to invest in human capital development. Today, the obsession of our young men about football is part of the three Bs that keep them in trading centres all day and half the night: Betting, booze and bimbos (attractive, unintelligent women).

We need to redirect that obsession to worthy causes. The Chinese, for example, are investing heavily in improving domestic football.

They want to become the first from South East Asia to win the World Cup. So they have a short-term plan to establish 20,000 football academies churning out thousands of footballers. They want to build a football culture in their country.

What this means is that it is not only through cheap shoes, electronics and whatnot that we’ll continue “donating” millions of dollars to China. Sooner or later, we’ll be importing footballers from China on the – well – cheap!

Alleastafrica and Daily Monitor

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