The Uganda Netball Federation has never had a boss, who has been such an influential public figure as Sarah Babirye Kityo.
Since being elected in 2021 after she lost her member of parliament seat earlier that year, she has been on a move to shake up netball and its administration. This has, however, not been smooth sailing, as she told Quick Talk.
Sarah, welcome to Quick Talk!
Thank you very much! It is a pleasure for me.
So, could you tell Quick Talk more about Sarah?
I am a businesswoman. Business is something I have done since I was in high school. I was born in Luweero on December 27, 1986. I grew up there and also in parts of Mukono and Masaka. I went to Luweero Seventh Day Adventist primary school, before Mulusa Academy for O and A-level. I pursued a degree in Business Administration at Uganda Christian University, Mukono and graduated in 2015 with a first class.
Woah! A first-class degree? You are really smart!
Oh, thank you! But one other thing about me, is that I am a kind person.
Oh, I guess the infectious smile you carry does not lie.
Hahahaha... I did not know I carried an infectious smile. But I like helping people wherever I can. I do not want to see people suffering if I have the means to ease their agony.
Is that because of the family you are from?
I am from a family of Christians. We grew up praying quite a lot. I am a Seventh Day Adventist. And because of that, my Saturdays are for church – the whole day. Other than that, I was born in a family where my father was polygamous. So, we were many; actually 47 children, to be precise. But my mother, Nnalongo had 11 of us.
Wow. But speaking of kindness, you have not been kind to National Council of Sports’ general secretary, Bernard Ogwel ...
That is not true. All I have been doing is fight for justice. Ogwel accused me of not accounting for money he never gave the netball federation. So, all I did was make sure that the truth is known. Why should I be branded a thief, yet I am not one?
The man equated you to a devil in an interview on NBS Sport.
Well, that is his opinion, and he was free to express it. But it does not bother me at all when I am on the path of truth. And by the way, I have no grudge against Ogwel because of what he said. I am a Christian. At the end of the day, we all want sport in this country to grow.
You sound like you are now quitting the fight, though?
No, no, no...I am not quitting anything. One thing that is holding our society behind, and in this case, sport, is poor governance and administration. I am determined to ensure that we have fairness in everything concerning netball. I promised proper accountability when I was vying for the netball president position. That is what the netball fraternity expects from me.
Being thrown in Luzira prison for two days has not shut you up, I can see...
It was simply unfortunate that I had to be taken to jail. I was worried that I would die in there. Maybe someone would poison me. But that just strengthened my spirit, to also understand that nothing comes easy in life.
If you have fear to stand for the truth, then you leave the scene. My mission is to make netball better for all the young girls competing at the top level so that they have a bright future. I do not want them to be in a sport that is not rewarding, but a professional one.
How was the experience of boarding that maroon bus to Luzira prison, by the way?
It is not fun. Being locked up and denied your liberty is depressing. It affected my family so much, especially my mother. She wanted me to quit the netball federation. But I realized that I had to be strong for her, my children and my values. I just assured her that God would get us through it, and we would win eventually.
You appeared to have won, when you were released from jail. Yet, when you returned to office, you were ordered out. Your troubles seem endless.
That was another planned plot to try and humiliate me. But the truth is, I was never suspended indefinitely like it was being said. The Attorney General guided that there was no law suspending me from office.
I was just asked to take leave for three months to allow for an investigation. My leave was from April 20 to July 20, 2023. But there was no letter suspending me. I took leave in good spirit. But it did not mean I was not netball president. And that is why you see me back in office laying strategy for netball.
But it also appears you are now at loggerheads with your deputy at the federation, Brigadier Flavia Byekwaso. What is going on?
I just felt she had not acted in a trustworthy manner during the time of my troubles with the National Council of Sports. After I returned to office, Brigadier Byekwaso called the police to send me out of office. However, I am the one who appointed her as my deputy back in 2021. But we are good now. We have to be professional for the good of the sport.
How did you come into netball, in the first place?
I had played the sport from my P5, being a leading shooter for my school. I also played for the Uganda Parliament netball team. But in 2019, I watched the Netball World Cup in Liverpool. And I felt there was lack of professionalism in the ranks. I felt it could change if I led the sport.
But your husband, Dan Ntale is in the netball federation. Isn’t that nepotism and part of the problem?
You have got this all wrong. Mr Ntale is just a volunteer, who has offered us his marketing skills. You know so well that he has been a football agent, moving players across the globe, to get them new opportunities. He has contacts. So, he offers us his expertise in that regard free of charge.
He is not paid a salary by the netball federation. He will only get a commission for whatever business he brings the netball federation. That is it. And even if you were the one who brought us business, you would get your commission, Vianney!
Your mother has two sets of twins. Wouldn’t you want to make Mr Ntale a Ssalongo, too?
[Laughs hard and long] I have two children, a girl and a boy, and I think those are enough. Mr Ntale and I share one of those children. And the rest of his children are also mine. By the way, Dan and I do not just love each other so much; we are friends.
So, would you kiss him and post on social media?
Of course not. I am a traditional woman. What purpose is in kissing in public or posting my intimate moment with my husband? Those are bedroom issues and that is where they must remain, as far as I am concerned.
And what are your thoughts on how the She Cranes performed at the just-ended World Cup?
Our girls are gallant. I admired their fight and finishing fifth at the tournament was commendable. But I also feel we let them down and did not give them a chance to win a medal because of the wrangles that have blighted the sport of late.
We beat South Africa, who had 12 friendly matches before the World Cup. But we only had two, one against Barbados and the other against Scotland, just hours before the main event. That was not enough.