In Gulu, Uganda
For long periods during the 1990s and at the turn of this millennium, the northern Ugandan district of Gulu was a no-go area for many.
A Joseph Kony-led rebel outfit, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency, brought a reign of terror that hardly had an end in sight.
Murder, abduction, mutilation and child-sex slavery were the order of the day. Buses were torched. Schools were attacked. Travelling in army convoys was the only way out.
Normalcy, once a dream, has since returned that the region gave a rousing endorsement to host the 16th edition of the East African Secondary School Games (FEASSA) starting Saturday.
For the next 10 days, Gulu will be one of the busiest towns or cities in this region as over 3,500 students compete for the honour of being regional champions.
The hosts, Uganda, as expected, have the biggest contingent with 1,080 students competing in football, athletics, netball, volleyball, handball, rugby, swimming and racquet games.
Kenya won the overall title last year when the annual games were held in Eldoret, and are fielding 50 teams, 70o students in all, accompanied by some 53 referees and 131 coaches.
This is the largest Kenyan contingent to the championship since its inception in 2002 while Rwanda have sent 400 students with 219 schools represented.
Kenya will be defending its titles in 10 disciplines namely basketball girls’, hockey boys’ and girls’, volleyball boys’ and girls’, rugby 7s and 15s, boys’ football, swimming and athletics.
“We have lost the team title only once in the last 10 years. This success story should be embraced,” Director of Co-Curricular Activities in Ministry of Education, Chacha Mwita said.
Ugandan teams were flagged off by the state minister for Primary Education Rosemary Sseninde on Tuesday in Kampala.
“Please show patriotism and put Uganda first before your schools. We have to win this as Uganda because we as the ministry are ready to support and pray for you,” she begged.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is expected in Gulu to officially open the Games on Sunday.
The locals’ will pin their hopes on football where last year’s losing finalists St Mary’s SS, Kitende will seek revenge for the 1-0 loss to Kenya’s Barding.
Kitende also hold the aces in netball. “We are sure of dominating netball again and trying to win the football tourney we lost at the final stage last year,” Kitende teams’ manager Joseph Kasana warned.
Uganda Women’s Elite League women’s champions Kawempe Muslim SS will be the team to beat in football.
They will come up against four sides from Uganda and one from Rwanda.