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FLASH BACK: Uganda’s greatest referees

Uganda has been gifted with some of the best match officials that have scaled the heights to the top but just as their counterpart The Cranes, the majority of referees failed to fulfill the potential in one way or another. HASSAN BADRU ZZIWA highlights the few that stand out

Ali Tomusange

Tomusange is the only Ugandan referee to officiate in the World Cup. At 45, the assistant referee is retiring later this month with an unblemished record. His journey to the pinnacle of football officiation started in 1987 but had to wait until 1993 to get a FIFA badge.

After a couple of games on the continent, Tomusange was selected as one of the few impartial referees to handle explosive Egyptian derbies between Al Ahly and Zamalek. And in 2000, the assistant referee was in charge of four games in the Africa Cup of Nations.

After a stellar performance on his debut at the continental showpiece, he went ahead to officiate 4 matches in the 2000 FIFA Club World Championship in Brazil. Then officiated five games in the Sydney (Australia) hosted Olympic Games.

He was also called upon to handle five games in the Mali hosted Nations Cup in 2002. By now he was on a roll and achieved a new milestone when FIFA selected him as one of the few African match officials for the 2002 FIFA World Cup held in Japan and South Korea. Tomusange, involved in four games. He also officiated six games (including the final) in the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations.

In 2005, he officiated in the FIFA Confederations Cup not to mention the Africa Super Cup final between Enyimba and Hearts of Oak. With such a record, it can be argued that Tomusange is Uganda’s greatest match official.

Charles Masembe

He passes as Uganda best all-time centre referee as far as achievements are concerned. Masembe came to the fore in the late 80s as an impartial grade one referee and improved with every match before attaining a FIFA badge in the early 90s. His moment came in 1994 when he was selected to officiate in Africa Cup of Nations held in Tunisia.

His excellent performance with the whistle prompted Egyptian Football Association to invite him officiate several key league matches involving giants Zamalek Al-Ismaily and Al-Ahly in the same year. In 1995, he was among the FIFA referees who handled the FIFA World Youth Championship (U-20) in Qatar.

In January 1996, Masembe was in South Africa for the Nations Cup and he officiated four games including the final between the Bafana Bafana and Tunisia. His cool demeanor had him selected to officiate at the 1996 Asian Nations Cup held in United Arab Emirates.

In 1998, he travelled to Burkina Faso for the Africa Cup of Nations where he handled a couple of games before hell broke loose in the the controversial semifinal game between South Africa Cup and DR Congo.

It is said that he lost his FIFA badge and with it an appointment for World Cup finals amid bribery allegations. He has since retired.
Edward Kenneth Bukenya

He went through the hands of legendary referees instructor late Dan Nkata early 1960s. Bukenya grew into a highly respected referee due to his no-nonsense approach when dealing with stubborn players and won fans’ hearts for his super-fit style of keeping with play. Because of his personality and strictness, he was always charged with handling sticky encounters, especially those involving Express FC.

His international break came in 1967 when – as a assistant referee – CAF selected him together with Rajab Kisekka and Asaph Sendi to handle the final of Africa Club Championships involving DR. Congo’s TP Englebert (now TP Mazembe) and Ghana’s Asante Kotoko in Kinshasa.

This proved the perfect springboard and he went on to officiate at the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations held in Nigeria. A superb performance there convinced FIFA to nominate him as one of only three African referees for the 1982 World Cup in Spain as well as the 1982 Africa Cup of Nations held in Libya.

However, as fate would have it, he passed away on November 23, 1981 before the prestigious tournaments. His son Arthur Iga Bukenya tried to follow his father’s footsteps in 1990 and secured a FIFA badge later but called it a day recently.

MUhmed Ssegonga

A former footballer for Nsambya FC and Coffee FC, Ssegonga took up refereeing in 1994 and has never looked back. His graduation came in 2002 when he qualified for a FIFA badge but still he had to wait before joining the ‘big boys’ on the continent.

That came in 2007 when he given the nod at the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations hosted by Ghana. In the same year, he officiated in the semi-final of Africa Champions League between Kano Pillars (Nigeria) and Al-Ahly (Egypt) and this year he was the referee when Bayelsa United (Nigeria) played against ES Sétif (Algeria) in the semifinal of the Africa Confederations Cup. Ssegonga has also handled a couple of CAF and FIFA qualifying games and there is a possibility he might be selected for the forthcoming Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Angola.

Chris M. Yolisigira

Always jolly on the pitch – even when booking a player – the soft-spoken referee took time to be taken seriously but emerged as one of the country’s top referees in 1990 after successfully excellent handing volatile league games.

He officiated in a couple of CECAFA and CAF engagements and his chance on the big stage came in 1991 when he was appointed to officiate in the 1992 Africa Cup of Nations held in Senegal. He was the centre referee in a 1-1 draw between Algeria and Congo. Afterwards, he started receiving direct CAF and FIFA appointments. Unfortunately he passed away on February 19, 1998.

Ahmed Rajab Kisekka

He was the first Uganda referee to officiate in Africa Cup of Nations. To this day, the bald-headed Kisekka is widely viewed as the encyclopedia of football rules because of his vast experience in the field. He joined refereeing in June 1964 and secured his first outing five months later as a centre referee during the preliminary round of Africa Club Championships.

He went on to officiate at the 1967 Africa Clubs Championship final between TP Englebert (DR Congo) Asante Kotoko (Ghana) in Kinshasa. However, because he had already got a FIFA badge he passed the game to Asaph Sendi (had no FIFA badge, by then the centre referee was allowed to pick other two assistants) to officiate as centre referee.

His continental swansong came in 1968 when he officiated at the Africa Cup of Nations held in Ethiopia. He continued to officiate in many international games but one time – together with his Uganda colleagues Kizito Mubanda and Mikairi Mukasa – they were beaten up in Ethiopia when the home side got eliminated by Kenya.

After 18 years, Kisekka retired his whistle in 1982. Kisekka holds a CAF and FIFA referees’ instructor (high level) certificate and has trained several referees.

George Wamala Katumba

Friendly, open and always willing to talk, Katumba used to impress on a good day but could be embarrassingly off colour at times. One incident that comes to mind was the 1981 league match between Maroons and Wandegeya FC.

Maroons won 7-6 but the crowd was not amused, forcing Katumba to concede that his horror show was a result of some domestic problems. On the other hand, Express fans singled him out in 1975 for having bad omen after the Red Eagles lost all games he officiated.

That aside, Katumba was always in control in the centre or even at times as a linesman. He joined refereeing in March 1969 but had to wait until 1978 to secure a FIFA badge which gave him a leeway to officiate in six CECAFA tournaments.

His big breakthrough came in 1984 when he officiated at the Africa Cup of Nations held in Ivory Coast, where he was selected as the tournament’s ‘best assistant referee.’


On the other hand, it’s worth mentioning a few of Ugandan gems that for some reason or another missed the glory of a major championship. These include; Michael Bwire, Isaac Mugoya, Dick Nsubuga, C.L. Kibuuka, Charles Kabenge and Israel Kintu.That said, I cannot end without a mention of prospects like Fred Mufta and Ali Kalyango. The sky is the limit.


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