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Resounding exit from arena: Stuart Mutebi bows out

RIP: Stuart Mutebi

RIP: Stuart Mutebi

STUART MUTEBI KIWANUKA, the legendary football commentator, died May 20 aged 62. For more than 30 years, Mutebi worked on the airwaves and TV, becoming one of the most recognizable figures in sports commentary.

Mutebi, known for his trade mark authoritative voice, worked with several media houses before poor health limited him last year. As Hassan Badru Zziwa writes, Mutebi will go down as one of the best-ever sports pundits.

It is quite rare to find a sports personality who has remained popular for three decades. Mutebi was one of the few exceptions.

Famed for his passion and dedication at work, Mutebi spent more than three decades as a sports commentator, becoming one of the most recognizable voices with his football commentary. He possessed a remarkable broadcasting voice. It was one of those things where you knew who he was the moment he spoke.

He had mastered his trade; he was the standard-setter and inspired many budding sports commentators. Radio aside, he was a football prospect in the late 70s and early 80s when he featured with City Cubs and Gomba Motors, two second-tier sides at the time.

FOOTBALL CAREER

I first met Mutebi in 1979 when he had just joined KCC FC’s youth side, the City Cubs. City Cubs was dominated by students who were recruited around Kampala schools, and Mutebi was at Mengo SS at the time. Even at a young age, Mutebi was full of vibrancy and the one thing that quickly stood out for him was combativeness.

He was introduced to coach George Mukasa, who wooed him to Lugogo on the advice of KCC FC’s industrious midfielder Steven Mpagi, who also happened to be Mutebi’s cousin.

He was tall and slender, and energetic and argumentative. He could befriend you once you start discussing football. At City Cubs, Mutebi had limited games due to the presence of Yusuf Ssonko, who was the first choice right back at the club. But that didn’t stop him from always being on the touchline to shout out the coach’s instructions to the players.

When Ssonko got elevated to play for KCC, it created room for Mutebi to thrive. He featured prominently for the Cubs and even scored a few goals. But just as he got into his rhythm, injuries set in and the arrival of the youthful George Serunjogi, whose versatility saw him play all defensive positions, again limited Mutebi’s playing time.

Stuart Mutebi in studio

In 1981, KCC promoted more players to the senior side and this created room for Mutebi to secure a regular spot on the team. He never captained the side but on the pitch, he was always the one giving instructions to teammates, especially during dead-ball situations.

It was always argued that it would be a matter of time before he became a coach but Mutebi’s real ambition was to play in the top-flight.

Seeing that he had little chance of achieving that dream with the Cubs, he left in 1983 to join Gomba Motors, another second-tier side, after being convinced by coach Ali Sendegeya. Sendegeya went on to deploy Mutebi in all defensive positions, but Gomba Motors failed to attain promotion.

RADIO UGANDA

A frustrated Mutebi called time on his football career in 1988 when Radio Uganda offered him a slot to present a Luganda sports show.

His knowledge about football helped him seamlessly fit in well with veteran presenters such as David Matovu, Muzungu Kanga, Mike Arerenge, Charles Byekwaso, Francis Kyeyune, Francis Ojia and Ismael Kigozi, among others. Mutebi never looked back since and made commentary his career craft. By 1990, Mutebi had grown in stature.

MOVING TO CBS

When CBS FM went on air in 1996, Peter Sematimba, the station boss, invaded Radio Uganda and snapped up Mutebi along with young Luganda reporters like Florence Luwedde and Aisha Nakalema, among others.

At CBS, Mutebi was a multi-purpose staffer; he steered the Luganda morning show `Bwakedde Mpulira alongside Sematimba and Gloria Kamba. In December 1997, a sister channel, CBS 89.2, was created, and among the programmes that were covered was `Akaati K’ebyemizannyo, a sports programme that was handed to Mutebi.

His live football coverage attracted many listeners as well as budding sports journalists who were inspired by his knowledge. He was on top of his game here, covering sports events, especially football, motorsport, boxing, athletics and netball, among others.

JOINING SUPER FM

When Sematimba quit CBS in 2000 to start his own Super FM in 2001, Mutebi was one of the first people he took along. At Super FM, Mutebi was handed the morning show programme, sports, and the evening show Kasenda Bazaana.

It was around this time that Ugandans took keener interest in the foreign football leagues, especially the English Premier League. With Super FM’s huge focus on football, Mutebi pioneered weekend football commentary of the Premier League and this skyrocketed his fame. He was a star in his own right. He later ventured into TV punditry with WBS TV and later NBS TV.

As more FM stations opened, the pool of options also expanded for listeners and in some way, Mutebi’s powers kept waning with time. Interestingly, many young sports journalists imitated him, and you could think it’s Mutebi on those shows.

BACK TO UBC

Matters were not helped when in 2016 he and other staff fell out with Sematimba and in the ensuing mass exodus; Mutebi settled at Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC), specifically on Star FM.

At Star FM, Mutebi continued with his live commentary but it was clear his career was on the wane. In truth, though, he did not have the same popularity he used to enjoy while at CBS and Super FM.

FINAL JOURNEY

In early 2021, Mutebi was diagnosed with a heart disease and got treatment in South Africa but in July, 2021, he suffered a stroke that got him bedridden from there on. I spoke to him late last year and what startled me most was his reflection
of his career.

“For more than three decades, I was at the centre of talking about other people’s achievements, interviewed them about their reactions and when I see them checking on me to wish me well, I feel I did a great job,” he said.

Nonetheless, he couldn’t hide a sense of disappointment in some individuals who discarded him at his point of need. So, his death came as a huge blow because he was hopeful of a full recovery to resume his favourite trade.

Good bye, Stuart. I celebrate your life!

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