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John Akii-Bua is a forgotten sports hero

Let me draw the attention of Ugandans to this great man. John Akii-Bua’s sporting apex and pinnacle came at the Munich Olympics in 1972 when he won gold in the 400m hurdles.  He set a world record in winning the event within a time of 47.82 seconds and he remains the only Ugandan to win Olympic gold.

Akii-Bua spent his childhood in a tiny village called Abako, Lira District, Lango sub region.  At 16, after an education ended young when his father died in 1964, Akii-Bua went to Kampala, searching for adventure where he later joined the Uganda Police.

For those who grew up with him, they portray him to have had everything; enormous talent, humorous, polished leadership skills, a huge commitment, capacity for work and a very astute mind.
After the glory of 1972, John never found prosperity in his country.

Akii-Bua returned a hero, acclaimed by Idi Amin, who had seized power a year earlier.  As a police officer, Akii-Bua was promoted by Amin and given a house as a reward for his athletic prowess and expertise at Plot 182, Tufnell Drive in Kamwokya-Kampala.

A national hero by then, John clogged his mind at first to ‘Amin’s genocide’ that even led to the death of his own blood brother James Ocen-Bua, who was in the army. He later described Amin’s act of violence as ‘Africa’s most unspeakable atrocity.’

In 1979, Akii-Bua fled for his life to Kenya because his national fame could not protect him.  In the trauma, his wife gave birth prematurely, and the baby died.  The couple did not even have money to bury him.

However, while in Kenya, John Akii-Bua was put in a refugee camp.  From there, he was freed by his shoe sponsor Puma and lived in Germany working for them for 3-4 years before returning to Uganda and becoming a coach in the Uganda Police as well as national team.

John Akii-Bua was 51 years old at the time of his death and was a senior superintendent with the Uganda police force. He died a widower, survived by 11 children. He was given a state funeral in Abako.

In one of the google search, a hero is defined as ‘a person noted for special achievement in a particular field.’ Basing on that definition, Akii-Bua deserves to be on the list of Ugandan heroes forever.
However, on a sad note, Ugandans appear to be forgetting Akii-Bua’s triumph, victory and attainment for Uganda. To date, the status quo surrounding the legality and legitimacy of his house in Kamwokya is unresolved and still lies in balance.

Meanwhile Akii-Bua memorial stadium land in Lira has been taken over by Lira regional referral hospital for its expansion. The stadium has been relocated to the site of the current airfield without any infrastructure for sports and athletics.

The Germany government had earlier on expressed interest in constructing Akii-Bua Memorial Stadium but no one seems to be following it up in government. Akii-Bua Memorial Secondary School in Abako sub county has specialised in athletics and has so far produced many international athletes including Ramadhan Akulla of Nkumba University and Adero Nyakisi of Uganda Prison but with very minimal support.

Therefore I appeal to government, well-wishers and international community to support all initiatives aimed at keeping the legacy of John Aki-Bua alive. Recently, the BBC sent a team to Uganda to compile a documentary entitled “Looking for John Akii-Bua.” The film is out and will be launched soon. Akii-Bua is indeed a forgotten hero but may his legacy reign forever and his soul rest in eternal peace.

The author is Youth MP (Northern Region)

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