No death has gripped the Ugandan sports fraternity like that of Moses Nsereko on September 15, 1991. Nsereko was murdered in cold blood a few metres outside his home at Wampewo flats in Kololo.
The mystery and circumstances of his death caused ripples throughout the country and to this day, his killers have never been brought to book.
Nsereko is arguably Uganda’s greatest midfielder ever and was a mainstay in The Cranes golden generation of the late seventies.
A one-team player with KCC FC, he held several coaching portfolios and at the time of his sudden death, he had just scaled the heights to become the Fufa general secretary.
A jolly mood greets me when I introduce myself to Shamusi Nantege, one of his daughters, at the family home in Bukoto, Nsimbiziwoome.
There are two nice houses and the compound is neat, it seems the family has coped well with the situation since Nsereko’s death.
Shamusi cheerfully welcomes me and we chat about life, suddenly, the mood changes the moment I mention her dad.
Joyfulness is replaced with dejection and she becomes reluctant to talk any further. It’s quite clear that the wounds left by her father’s brutal death are still fresh in her mind after more than two decades.
I later link up with her elder brother Isaac Mabirizi Nsereko, who attributes the pursuit of education as the glue that has kept the family together.
“All my siblings have graduated in different institutions and the last born is due to finish his Law degree at Makerere University next year.”
But when it comes to memories of the fateful night, Mabirizi briefly pauses before getting the guts to talk.
“My father and Fred Mugisha [a close friend and former KCC teammate] had just returned from a football match at Nkokonjeru,” he recalls.
“At around 10 pm after supper, we heard a screeching noise and when dad went out to find what was going on, we heard gunshots.”
“Shortly afterwards, our dad cried for help. Mugisha came to the rescue and we joined him only to find he was shot in the leg.
And as they screamed out for help to take Nsereko to hospital, Mabirizi, who was a primary five pupil at the time, recalls that the assailants came back shooting sporadically as everyone rushed for cover.
In the process, Nsereko’s wife was shot in the arm but with Nsereko unable to move, they finished him off with bullets in the chest and stomach.
He died instantly. To this day, his mother Jane Nawova Muteesa remains inconsolable: “I have no words to say, Nsereko meant a lot to my life and my life has never been the same since his death.”
Nsereko’s murder paralyzed the city and many conspiracies emerged. KCC faithful pointed the accusing finger at SC Villa rivals because the two teams were battling to sign youngster Sam Mukasa. Most worryingly, Nsereko’s demise left a huge void in the Ugandan football administration.
From ball boy to legend
Nsereko joined KCC as a ball boy in the late sixties but regularly featured in the team’s second string side. He had to wait till 1970 to don the famous yellow jersey.
Club coach Bidandi Ssali initially deployed the youngster at right wing but with time, Nsereko was shifted to his favoured central midfield. By 1971, he was a starter for KCC and the national youth team.
With the youth team, he won the 1971 and 1973 CECAFA Cup tournaments and established himself as a senior Cranes player.
However, the presence of experienced Francis Kulabigwo limited his chances. Nsereko had to wait until 1974 to make the starting eleven and he never looked back.
Even when he missed the decisive spot kick as The Cranes lost the 1974 Cecafa Cup final to Tanzania, Nsereko’s combative style as well as his influence to dictate the pace of the game won him many admirers. Nsereko was instrumental in KCC’s promotion to the top flight in 1974.
With his trademark short crisp passes, he commanded the midfield in a free-flowing style that won the club many followers. Strong and speedy, Nsereko was used by Bidandi in several positions each time he faced a crisis.
In 1976, KCC depended on Nsereko’s 13 goals to win the club’s maiden league title. That same year, Nsereko scored Uganda’s opening goal in the 2-1 win over Zambia to lift the 1976 Cecafa Cup.
In 1977, Nsereko scored seven goals as KCC retained the league title, and played a vital role as Uganda won a second straight Cecafa title.
In 1978, he guided KCC to its maiden CECAFA club championship title and a few months later, he played an integral part as Uganda finished runners-up to Ghana in the Africa Cup of Nations. He, along with Phillip Omondi, were voted in the 11-man team of the tournament.
As the years progressed, Nsereko’s influence grew and when Bidandi got an appointment to the cabinet in 1979, coupled with Tom Lwanga’s departure to the paid ranks, Nsereko was named KCC coach/player.
He was part of the successful team which won three league trophies and four Uganda Cup titles. He hung up his boots in 1984 and remained KCC head coach when Bidandi quit the technical bench.
After a disappointing 1986 in which KCC finished a massive 12 points behind league champions Villa, Nsereko didn’t wait to be pushed; he resigned in early 1987. However, he remained coach of the national youth team.
In April 1989, Nsereko was voted FUFA General Secretary, he did a commendable job under the leadership of John Semanobe to create football structures.
The youth development programme was revamped and the Cranes returned to winning ways, winning back-to-back- CECAFA titles in 1989 and 1990.
All seemed well until his murder but to this day, the motive of his killers remains unknown because Nsereko was a likeable figure throughout football circles.
Nsereko fact file
Born in 1952
He played in two Africa Cup of Nations (1976 and 1978)
He won three CECAFA titles with Uganda (1976 and 1977).
He won five league titles with KCC (1976, 1977, 1981, 1983 and 1985) and three Uganda Cups (1979, 1980, 1982 and 1984) as well as the 1978 CECAFA Club Championship.
He was FUFA general secretary from 1989 until his death in 1991.
He donned Shirt No.14 throughout his career.
He is survived by two widows and eleven children.
At 29 years in 1981, he is the youngest ever coach to win the topflight league title.
This article was initially published by Observer Media Ltd in June 2013, written by Hassan Badru Zziwa. It has been reproduced under consent from the writer.