ZAMBIANS celebrated the country’s 52nd Independence Anniversary last Monday with the guest of honour being no other than Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni who jetted into Lusaka at the invitation of President Edgar Lungu.
The Ugandan leader’s presence in the country on October 24, 2016 was significant in the sense that it was yet another sign of the growing sound bilateral relations between Zambia and the East African country that is said to be enjoying one of the booming economies after many years of stagnation caused by former dictator Idi Amin’s misrule.
At a personal level – and I say at the personal level – the Ugandan leader’s decision to come and join Zambians as they toasted their 52nd anniversary – almost two months after President Lungu won his re-election to become Zambia’s sixth republican president, served to remind me of the article I had written on Uganda ahead of that nation’s last elections headlined: ‘Can Uganda survive without Museveni?’
The said article read in part: Next February, Uganda will be holding its first multi-party elections in many years and watchers of the East African political scene will be keenly waiting to see if President Yoweri Museveni will bounce back.
‘Although he is heavily criticised by his opponents, especially Ugandans in self-imposed exile, Museveni, much to his credit, has managed to keep Uganda peaceful after a decade of turmoil that ensued when dictator Idi Amin expelled Asian traders from the East African country in 1971.
A product of the University of Zambia (UNZA), President Museveni was previously in the new cabinet that comprised 11 new members and 13 members of the Godfrey Binaisa administration.
Ugandan refugees I have had an opportunity to interact with in Zambia and Botswana say they would not return to the country of their birth as long as Museveni, whom they accuse of being extremely intolerant of ‘indigenous’ Ugandans allegedly because he is himself not Ugandan, but a Tusi from eastern Rwanda, remained in power.
According to some of his accusers, most of them who fled into exile with former president Milton Obote, Museveni has not only been running a de facto one-party state but has – for political expedience – allowed his ‘fellow’ Rwandese, rich Kenyans and Somalis, to buy and occupy some of Uganda’s prime land.
‘Uganda needs prayers because it is no longer the Uganda the British colonialists left when the country won its independence in 1962. Under Museveni’s watch people from Rwanda now are everywhere in Uganda. We know them because, like most Somalis, they are lighter (in complexion) than a typical Ugandan who is very dark,’ one of the Ugandans in the diaspora, charged.
However, as pointed out earlier, President Museveni has managed to keep Uganda together, attracting new levels of local and foreign direct investments (FDIs).
Some of the Zambian expatriates working in the East African country on holiday in Lusaka or on the Copperbelt speak in glowing terms of Museveni’s leadership under which Uganda has prospered with Western and Asian donor-support.
Early last year, Museveni’s minister of transport and communications announced that Uganda would construct a new railway line that would open the COMESA-member state to further foreign and regional investment.
This development is in line with what pan-Africanists like former president Kenneth Kanda and his Tanzanian counterpart Julius ‘Kambarage’ Nyerere envisaged when they sent a combined team of Tanzanian and Zambian troops into Uganda to dislodge dictator Idi Amin ‘Dada’ from power.
Peace and economic stability in the East African nation was finally restored as Amin, who was said to be a ‘foreigner’ from South Sudan but whom Obote had deliberately kept at the top as Uganda Army commander, fled to Saudi Arabia (where he later died) while the expelled Asians returned to Kampala, Entebbe and other major cities and towns’.
Now, what is the relevance of all this? one might be inclined to ask. The point is that at the time I wrote the above quoted article I did not have the faintest idea that Museveni, who was apparently re-elected with an increased majority, would be the Head of State to grace Zambia’s 52nd Independence Anniversary celebrations. I believe no one else had a clue then,
So when I saw President Museveni and President Lungu on ZNBC Television in Lusaka before the former paid a courtesy call on Dr Kaunda on Monday this week, I wondered why the Football Association Zambia (FAZ) had not taken advantage of the event and invite the East African country’s powerful soccer team, the speedy Uganda Cranes, for an international friendly match to spice up our Independence celebrations; particularly in the capital.
Remember there had been talk, or was it a controversy, as to whether the Zambian national soccer team should camp in South Africa or elsewhere ahead of their next Russian 2018 World Cup Group B qualifier against the vaunted ‘Indomitable Lions’ of Cameroon. The covert bickering or uncertainties that surrounded pre-match preparations would have perhaps been totally unnecessary if the planning had been spot-on.
Unless people are told to the contrary, meaning our soccer chiefs tried but were turned down, one would be tempted to come to the unhappy conclusion that FAZ and the National Sports Council (ZNSC) etc missed a grand opportunity firstly to raise funds for its dwindling coffers and secondly to assess even further the Chipolopolo boys’ prospects against Algeria, Cameroon and Nigeria in their quest to reach the World Cup finals for the first time since Independence in 1964.
Having held Ghana’s Black Stars to a draw away in Accra in their opening match of the qualification series recently, the Uganda Cranes (who have improved so much during President Museveni’s reign) had proven that they are no pushovers and would have given Chipolopolo (beaten at home by Nigerian Super Eagles) invaluable match-practice ahead of the next encounter against Cameroon away in Yaounde.
Zambia’s matches against the former East and Central African Senior Challenge Cup champions, Uganda (1973, 1976 and 1977) have always been tough thrillers.
It may sound unfair to make comparisons at his juncture as so much water has passed under the bridge, but in the past independence friendly matches against visiting sides used to be the norm than the exception. In fact, they were so popular that they always attracted huge crowds.
I still remember the first three-match-series involving Zambia, Ghana and Kenya who had been invited when former Northern Rhodesia won its freedom from colonial rule in 1964. The games were arranged in such a way that they were played at venues in Lusaka and on the Copperbelt.
I was among thousands of spectators who watched the second encounter staged at Mufulira’s former All-Whites Central Sports Club, which is located along the Mufulira-Mokambo-Fort Roseberry (Mansa) Road. The arena was packed to full capacity by soccer-mad supporters from all corners of the country.
Although the Black Stars ultimately scooped the top honours the Kenyan national team, the Harambee Stars impressed most soccer fans with their skill, speed and dancing style on the field of play. They were indeed a delight to watch.
I do recall also that led by its then president Tom Mtine and Ernest Mate as secretary, FAZ in later years worked in concert with Government and Jimmy Fleming’s National Football League (NFL) to ensure there was a special tournament arranged well in advance so soccer-loving public could be kept well entertained during independence celebrations.
If they could not get a foreign team into the country, FAZ would organise a Midlands Selected XI vs Copper belt Selected XI encounter that often drew huge crowds at either the Independence Stadium, Woodlands, Railways Stadium (Kabwe), Kafubu Stadium in Luanshya, Kitwe’s Scrivener Stadium, or Dag Hammarskjoeld Stadium in Ndola.
The country’s sports journalists were not left out as they were allowed the ‘honour’ to pick players they knew from their reportorial tasks merited a berth in The Rest XI to challenge the All-Stars XI, the Zambian National Team players, who were picked by National Selectors.
I am not criticising anyone but one hopes that in future FAZ chiefs and the relevant ministries will seize every available opportunity to raise funds for the efficient running of the ‘people’s game’ which needs to be taken to the highest level if Zambia is to compete with much confidence against countries like Algeria, Cameroon and Nigeria that have been to World Cup finals several times before.
Meanwhile, I would like to take this opportunity to wish the Chipolopolo boys good luck and God’s blessing as they face the Indomitable Lions and also to congratulate South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundown for clinching the CAF Championship League title at the expense of their Egyptian opponents, Zamalek in Cairo. The lads confirmed that indeed their defeat of Zambia’s Zesco United in the semi-finals was not a fluke or flash in the pan.
The Pretoria-base side’s triumph is, in fact, not only for South Africa but also for the rest of the Southern African region, which is engaged in an undeclared battle to break the North and West African dominance of football on the continent. Well done coach Mosimane.
Hopefully, Zambians and her well-wishers will sooner than later be saying the same for ‘Hot’ Chipolopolo boys and for coach Wedson Nyirenda if he succeeds where everyone before him has failed and pilots Zambia to Russia FIFA World Cup finals in two years’ time.