Kawempe, a Kampala suburb, has over the years built a reputation as a football factory where several talented players emerge to leave a mark on the beautiful game not only in Uganda but beyond.
Incidentally, most of the talented players from this region were groomed through the Kawempe Youth Football Association (KAYOFA).
The list is endless but probably former Uganda Cranes captain Ibrahim Sekagya has been the most successful football talent to come out of Kawempe.
Ssekagya hoisted the Ugandan flag with success in the Argentina, Austria, and United States of America leagues.
In between, however, there have been cases of what may have been, such as the one involving one Sula Ssebunza.
Born in a football family, Ssebunza, Ssekagya’s younger sibling, honed his football skills at Kawempe Mbogo Primary School and started as early as primary three.
“My siblings made me fall in love with the game at a tender age, especially Ibra,” Ssebunza recollects.
Ssebunza acquired his Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) at Nagalama Islamic before proceeding to Standard High Zaana for his Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education (UACE).
The versatile Ssebunza then chose to pursue his football career and joined army side Simba (now UPDF FC) in 2007, then under the tutelage of current Uganda Cranes goalkeeping coach Fred Kajoba.
“Coach Fred Kajoba is one of my mentors, he took me under his wings at Simba, molded me and made me believe in my abilities.”
That was until a planned move to join professional ranks, organized by Sekagya, fell through at the last minute.
“I was at Simba for two seasons, in 2009, Ibra (Sekagya) secured me a trial with his club (Red Bull Salzburg in Austria) where he was the team captain at the time.”
“So off I went to Vienna, I trained with the reserve team for almost a month. Ibra told me I impressed the technical team.”
“They contacted Simba for a possible deal, sadly, the move did not materialize,” he recalls with a tone of regret.
At face value, it appears negotiations between the Austrian club and Simba broke down. The club then told the player to return home and try and talk through the move. It did not happen.
At the time, famed Italian coach Giovanni Trappatoni was Salzburg’s head coach assisted by Lothar Matthäus.
But in between the push and shove for Ssebunza’s transfer to go through, Trappatoni was dismissed and that sealed Ssebunza’s fate as far as a possible transfer was concerned.
“I returned to Kampala and the negotiations dragged on for months. Meanwhile in Vienna Matthäus was named reserve team head coach and with only three foreigner slots available.”
“Another player was swiftly drafted in to replace me on the promise that when I return I will take back my spot but it never happened because I didn’t return to Austria, I guess Simba thought they would strike gold.”
In the aftermath of that experience, Ssebunza dumped Simba for Victors in 2010, where he won the Stanbic Uganda Cup, and got an opportunity to play continental football.
He later joined Soltilo Bright Stars in 2014 where he has played until today. Looking back, the more mature footballer emphasizes that football gave him everything.
“I have only known only one thing – football, I went to school because of football, the little knowledge I attained in school is because of football so I am grateful for the journey,” he stated.
Ssebunza is also appreciative of his brother Sekagya: “I looked up to him and learnt a lot like being disciplined. I wanted to be like him but God had other plans and I am contented with what I have achieved.”
Everyone has a driving a factor, so did Ssebunza at Soltilo Bright Stars where he spent nine seasons and what younger players should learn from his career.
“I have spent all these years at Soltilo Bright Stars because my bosses have treated me well, they made me feel at home but also the team has Kawempe roots.”
“But I would not have achieved this without discipline, a virtue young players today lack, they don’t respect the job because they never take care of themselves, social media and partying is the norm, I pray they turn the corner.”
Soltilo Bright Stars have organized a testimonial to celebrate, honour and appreciate Ssebunza for the service, with club technical director Ian Mutenda describing it as a ‘Thank You’.
“The club is honouring Sula (Ssebunza) for his loyal service as a player, captain and now coach. His loyalty and good service to Soltilo Bright Stars is unmatched,” stated Mutenda.
The testimonial will pit Soltilo Bright Stars staff against a combined Sula Ssebunza XI, on January 28, 2023, at Kavumba recreational grounds.
Proceeds will be channelled towards aiding Ssebunza’s dream to further his coaching education.
“I am grateful to the club for this gesture, it’s an honour, I take this opportunity to call upon everyone to come in large numbers and support the cause,” he noted.
He also explained his next plan after retirement: “As you are aware, I am part of the backroom staff at the club, I pursued a certificate in fitness coaching in Njeru (FUFA Technical Centre).”
“I want to upgrade, I want to explore the course more and also venture into coaching, I also plan on starting an academy to nurture talents in my hood.”
For a player like Ssebunza and service to the sport, a capacity crowd on the testimonial day can be the best reward for his career.