There was a long illness that led to pain and eventually death.
While this was followed by a spell of despair, Ivan Bukenya didn’t allow the demise of his mother on May 25, 2010, to detract him from his dream to become a top professional footballer.
On September 30, Bukenya was officially unveiled as a Kaizer Chiefs player in South Africa. This was following his signing of a two-year deal at the Soweto football club where another Ugandan footballer, David Obua, made himself a fan favourite, let alone a cult-hero of sorts.
It is a feat that Bukenya will surely be under pressure to match although at this point in time, his thoughts will be focused on becoming a seasoned professional, a top player at his new club.
Said to be 22 years old, Bukenya is son to Fred Yiga, a re-nowned civil servant at the previous Kampala City Council (KCC) and the late Justine Nantume. The last among five children, Bukenya was born the only boy.
This is something that is said to have earned him a lot of favour especially from his mother, with whom they shared a real closeness.
Her death, back in 2010 didn’t only rock Bukenya’s life, but it robbed him of his best friend and he contemplated quitting football because with her, seemed to go the will to pursue a real football career as high up as possible. It is his mother (being a lawn-tennis player in her youth) that had encouraged him to play football.
She was an idol and an inspiration; a woman that funded youth football tournaments around her home area in Bukoto, where Bukenya was raised. For youth coach Moses Kibirango aka Mu-Italy, the first technical hands and brains to handle Bukenya in the early 2000s, it was quite easy to bring the best out of him playing on the famous earth-dominated field in Kamwokya next to the Kira Road police station known as Kataka (soil).
“When a parent like Bukenya’s mother was, shows much interest in her son’s development as a footballer, it makes it easy for a coach to work with the player. Bukenya always showed potential as the kind of player who enjoyed expressing himself”, said Kibirango.
Kibirango added that while Bukenya has now honed his skills to becoming a tough and solid defender, he began as a midfielder. “He had a good passing range like he has shown us even in his early days in top-flight football.”
Because of that, and the fact that he was calm in possession with good tackling technique, we saw it fit to play him there at first. But we later decided to play him in defence because of his height and aerial ability,” he added.
So, it goes without saying that Stuart Baxter, his coach at Kaizer Chiefs, has just landed himself a player with versatility and a knack to score important goals especially with his head. Back then in his first Super League season in 2009/2010, he scored Proline’s equaliser against SC Villa to make it 2-2 after they had fallen behind 0-2 at half-time.
He scored a few more goals after that and was marked out as an aerial threat during corner-kicks and free-kicks for Proline. Not the fastest of players you will ever find, Bukenya’s game reading and ability to move the ball on the overlap was arguably one of his greatest strengths in Mujib Kasule’s team, where he broke through.
But this journey all started in July 2007 during the visit of Rio Ferdinand. Playing for a Coca-Cola select side coached by Mike Mutebi with the likes of Saddam Juma, Andrew Buteera and Dennis Guma, they played against Proline’s youngsters. Being on the Coca-Cola side was a vindication of a burgeoning star that was Bukenya.
And because he gave a good account of himself then, Proline signed him in 2008. By the end of 2010, having played for the national under-21s, Bukenya went on to make The Cranes team to the Chan tournament in 2011, held in Sudan. While there, he played some of the games and impressed. In fact, Sudan’s El-Merreikh football club invited him for trials in March 2011.
Yet, while he was at that, Iraqi football club Erbil was busy monitoring him and at the same time drafting a contract for him. A one-year loan deal was quickly worked out between Proline and Erbil FC worth $70,000 and he moved there despite the clear threat such a move would seemingly have on his life because of the security fears in Iraq.
His sister, Suzan Yiga told The Observer that Bukenya’s determination to make that move only went a long way to confirm how resolute and strong-willed he has always been as a person. “He was always determined to succeed as a footballer and if this is what it took to get to his dreams, he was ready for it,” she said.
Well, the determination must have been hinged on the fact that he was leaving a club that could only afford to pay him Shs 100,000 a month to one where he was paid $2,500 (Shs 6.2m) a month in the first season. Thereafter, $5,000 a month in the second season. It was all worth it for a player who harbours dreams of playing for his idol club, Manchester United.
That is quite a journey to make but like he has shown right from his early school days at Ariya primary school in Kamwokya, Kitante Hill School (S.1 and S.2) and then Kibuli SSS (S.3 and S.4) before completing his A-Levels at Hanna Mixed School, it is no evil to dream. Similarly, a move to Kaizer Chiefs, even as a free agent, was hardly on the radar.
Well, unless you are Proline FC secretary William Bakkabulindi: “Bukenya’s talent was always there to see and I am not surprised he has reached here. I believe he will succeed because we prepared him well at Proline and has gone through a tough mental experience playing in Iraq”, Bakkabulindi said.
That notwithstanding, Bukenya was also known for being quite intelligent at school. In O-Level he scored 14 points and in A-Level 15 points. Being a smart young man, should propel him to success. Staving off the ‘flash in the pan’ tag that has defined many Ugandan footballers, who try to go pro will be Bukenya’s major challenge.
He joins Kaizer Chiefs at a time when a number of Uganda’s professionals are being released by their clubs in DR Congo, South Africa and Vietnam lately for not living up to expectations. He said upon signing his deal that he was overly excited and couldn’t thank God enough for blessing him.
He added that he was going to work very hard to pay back the faith the club had shown in signing him, and also, to improve as a player. For Bukenya, the hard-work indeed starts now. Gone are the days when he spent a lot of time in Bibanda (local video halls) watching films or oversleeping like he was dead. Being late for training could cost him.
Keeping up with his favourite hobbies of watching movies (Scarface and Godfather) or his Rango animation, listening to his favourite gospel and Jamaica music; enjoying his Play Stations will only be accommodated in his leisure time as will enjoying his favourite dish (matooke and groundnuts), require a sense of rationing since it is unlikely he will get it as frequently as he wanted while at home in Bukoto.