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Justine Ligyalingi: An Ode to the man, the Cricketer and CEO
Adonia Waibale
Posted: 1 month 2 days
Justine Ligyalingi: An Ode to the man, the Cricketer and CEO

It was 7 pm on yet another wet and cold evening in Kampala. After several attempts at getting a sit down with outgoing CEO Uganda Cricket Justine Ligyalingi, tonight was finally the night.  The debate had mostly been about when to have the interview.

 

But when that was sorted, it had benignly shifted to where to have the interview. Admittedly, Kampala’s hangouts are as multiple as they are shanty. So, the question was, where do CEOs go when they’re not signing cheques or conducting board meetings? Where do they go to intentionally bump into CEOs of banks, Telecoms or Law firms without coming off as stalkers? Where do they go to simply escape the relentless grip of their jobs?

 

The answer was, nowhere! So, we agreed anywhere would be as good as everywhere.Whereas I didn’t have the jitters of a groom to be, I was still nervous.

Damn near petrified in fact. If indeed the man’s reputation proceeded him, the angst in my step was totally justified. The last time I was this nervous, Charles Waiswa had just hit my cage at roughly 120 km/h, and he was trotting towards me again for another delivery. The clouds in my pants were fast changing with high chances of rain (if you know what I mean).As usual, that evening, traffic was a thick event only promising to get thicker. Cars were bumper to bumper and boda-bodas were tyre to tyre.

 

The Gridlock that is the staple on these Kampala streets, was a certain eventuality. My appointment was scheduled for 7:30 so the fact that I was early provided with some comfort but knowing Justine and his Knack for discipline that Old Boys of Mwiri speak of with twinkles of fear in their eyes, I was worried he might be early too.

So, when I engaged the reverse gear to leave office I was immediately accosted by one question, “how does a CEO beat you to your own interview?” I turned my hazard indicators on and veered off into the lane of oncoming traffic. And if you’re wondering, yes, in that moment trying to beat a CEO to an interview was a life or death emergency.

 

When I got to Kabira Country club, I felt like a young man in an old country. I began to feel old and lost. Everything looked ancient. The shine on the marble floor on which my hairy stumps stood looked like a 55-year-old woman wearing too much makeup. The walls could have given any old man a run for his wrinkles.

But it was the air I was more concerned about. It was not ordinary air. It was not bad air, it was old air. I could tell from the way it gently brushed against the flowers. I could tell it was senile air from the way its vast wrinkled arms took their sweet time to tickle my big nostrils. From the way it roamed cautiously, it seemed to have very little left to live for.

 

So, I lingered at the reception for a while because, well, how was I – a young man supposed to find my way around a country club for old men. When a waitress stopped to ask “How can I help you, sir?” I was tempted to ask her if they sold ageing cream on the menu so I could fit in. But I quickly applied brakes and instead asked her to point me to the lounge area.

 

After a few left and right turns, there it was, looking more glorious than 100 runs on a scoreboard. The dim light fell majestically on the lounge, setting the perfect ambience for a meeting. The music was soothing and soft. They kind that’s appropriate as a batsman is walking head earthward riveted back to the dressing room after a duck. Before I could call Justine to tell him that I was seated in the lounge, the one dim lit like Jinja Main street after an electricity blackout; I spotted him at the back of the lounge. Engrossed in what looked like a newspaper, stealing tea sips from a cup.

 

When I walked up to him, he greeted me with an ear to ear smile. Justine isn’t the type to laugh or smile only with his face like a batsman on the receiving end of sledges, he laughs with his heart and his eyes, that are often concealed under his thin-framed spectacles. But if you look closely you will see his nose skittle into a jovial state and his forehead wrinkle with joy.

I figured this is how people recently relieved from the burdensome position of CEO smile but also, I remembered that smile; it was the same smile he wore when greeting people, he meets. He wore the same cheerful face at press conferences and all cricket events, most recently at the ICC World Cricket League in Uganda. It’s true what they say, you can put a man out of his misery but you can never remove the smile from his face. Even when things were going wrong for Uganda Cricket, Justine always managed to smile. That day was no different.

So, we hit the ground running, or to use a more apt cricket analogy, we got off to a flier. But first, he asked, “How long did you say this interview is?” I reluctantly say, not long I hope. He says, “well, lets get on with it,” always wearing his CEO hat Justine.

When I asked him how cricket came to be part of his life, he sunk deep into his seat. This question seemed like the perfect icebreaker. And indeed, he answered it as such until he remembered the true backstory. When he said his parents always encouraged him and his siblings to take on sports, he was immediately engulfed by a cloud of grief.

 

Suddenly the question didn’t feel like an icebreaker anymore. Quite the opposite actually. It felt insensitive. I was well aware of the tragedy that had befallen the Ligyalingi that dreadful evening in Maga Maga. I know big boys don’t cry but how about grieving CEOs? But what do you expect when someone loses both parents at a go? Nobody knows how to deal with such grief, certainly not a CEO.

But he proceeded to answer, “I got converted to cricket when I joined Busoga College Mwiri as a student.”I couldn’t risk a follow-up question so instead, I asked him to describe Cricket in one word. He described it as fun but his face said a lot more than his mouth. It was clear this game meant more to him.

What wasn’t clear though was if it was more fun for him a player or as the CEO.

So, I asked “What was you lowest moment playing Cricket?”

Justine said it was when he dislocated his shoulder while fielding, an injury that ended his active playing career and perhaps set him on the path of management.

By the time the injury hit, Justine had already represented Uganda, taking his tenacity and skill to cricket ovals around Africa and beyond. But it was his plunder in Tanzania, representing the Cricket Cranes in his S6 vacation that stayed with him to this day. When he speaks about it he doesn’t stutter, he speaks of it with pride and childish sweetness.The interview had made a much-desired turn, it was no longer an interview. It had become a conversation and we were cackling like two-year-old. So, I asked again,“Who’s the most ferocious bowler you’ve faced?”

He didn’t hesitate to respond. Whereas I expected him to say Shoaib Akhtar or Makaya Ntini, Justine said he found his very own Dale Steyn in the stern presence of Lumumba Wapakhabulo. It wasn’t just the name that told me how much feared this bowler, it was also how he said his name. He spoke of Lumumba like a 5-year-old speaks of their worst nightmare.

When I asked Justine to name the most prolific batsman he’s bowled at, it was like I had offered him a rope from down a deep abyss of fear. He shot out quickly, “Atul Bedadi.” Of course, I had no idea who this Atul guy was but like anybody with a pound of grey matter upstairs, I looked him up. Very soon I discovered Justine’s choice was justified. With 3136 runs from just 64 first-class appearances for India, this Atul Bedadi guy was a crease bully.

After suffering a serious injury, Justine took a coaching role at Busoga College Mwiri. His tenure sprouted talents like Henry Osinde and Kenneth Kamyuka. And whereas these give him a sense of pride, Justine walks around with a chip on his shoulders.

A chip made of talented players he wishes hadn’t dumped cricket after life threw lemons at them.“Guy Kimbowa, Isaac Mungoma, Duncan Mugabe, Ronald Semanda, Jimmy Okello, Farouk Ochimi, Yakub and Emmanuel Nyakana, Uganda lost talent when these men and boys hang their cricket gear,” he said with a tinge of regret in his voice.

When were done with his playing and coaching days we sauntered gingerly into more treacherous waters, yet also a time of his life that Justine spoke about with fulfillment.In 2010 Justine became CEO of the Uganda Cricket Association.

When I asked him to describe his tenure in one word, it was easy for him to simply say “Challenging.”Justine didn’t come into the job without a plan. In fact, he had an agenda.

 

He wanted to make a sizeable contribution to Uganda Cricket. But when I asked him to rate himself against his agenda, Justine did something no Ugandan politician can do, he said “my agenda was to make a contribution to the development of the game and I will leave the stakeholders to do the rating across the various parameters.” When he spoke of his contributions, he did so with rare confidence and belief, if it were sand he was selling and I was a Persian prince, I would have bought dunes.

“I have been fortunate to work with a good team(s) and together with these teams can sight bringing unity in the Association, growing women’s cricket and grassroots programs, creating partnerships, setting up functioning structures, building the cricket brand and most importantly growing our ICC scorecard across the various parameters.

Resigning after 8 years didn’t come as a surprise to Justine, otherwise what kind of CEO would that make him? “After 8 years it was time to move on and allow somebody else to breath new ideas into the Organization,” he said.

After marketing Uganda Cricket for 8 years, nobody can claim to know the dynamics of Uganda Cricket better than Justine. It seemed appropriate to ask him why Cricket is not nearly as popular as football in Uganda? To which he answered, “Cricket was only revived in Uganda in the 1980's. However, it’s a journey which is on track with good initiatives in place to drive numbers towards this. In addition, ICC has set a global ambitious target/vision in this direction.

 

It was difficult to talk about cricket and not reminisce about the days when Schools Cricket Week still had its bite, gathered mammoth crowds and gave rise to young promising talent. Looking at what it is today, the forefathers of Uganda cricket must be rolling in their graves out of disgust.

 

So, when I posed the question, “Why has quality of Cricket in Schools deteriorated?” Justine galloped a chunk of saliva before saying, “A good subject for discussion.” He collected his breath and continued, “Currently there is more emphasis on academics at expense of sports and also there is less investment in school sports. This cuts across most sports disciplines. As an Association, work needs to go in strategizing around this.”

So, what are some of the Milestones Uganda Cricket has had in your tenure, I asked. There it was again, the sense of pride and achievement before he spoke.

He was not shy to reiterate to what he had already hinted on. He spoke of the relationship built, the exciting cricket event launched and executed, the structures created, the opportunities for women in cricket created, uniting the cricket fraternity and ultimately honing a cricket brand worthy of national endearment.

For the duration of the interview, there was an elephant in the room. A question I looked forward to asking, yet again, I was certain Justine would dread to answer. So, when I asked what went wrong in the ICC DIV 3 World Cricket League last year? I didn’t take him by surprise if anything he seemed shocked I hadn’t asked it sooner. He said, “2017 is a year we will want to quickly forget because of the near miss by both the Men’s and boys’ U-19 teams after lapses in performance at the crucial stage. However, we take important key lessons from these events as prepare for the next events.”

Because it was a question too good to pass up I asked, “At a time when Uganda has just been relegated to DIV 4, aren’t you a captain jumping off a sinking ship? This he denied vehemently saying, “No. You will recall...I did indicate in 2016 that this would be my last term with UCA. So, I have only kept my word. WCL Div. 4 tournament took place last year.”As we drew closer to the end of the question, it was time to go a lot more personal.

When I asked him if he had any regrets as the CEO of Uganda Cricket. It’s last year failures by both Men and U-19 boys that leave an ache in his heart that he will carry long after his resignation.

I asked again. “What needs to be done to see Uganda Cricket soar? Justine responded like he was still CEO, saying, “My view is to invest in dedicated grassroots programs/pipelinessupporting talent nurturing and retention.

 

In simple terms, we need to continue to put more resources towards supporting the talent coming through from the various levels of the grassroots programs and support it all the way to the high-performance levels.Before furnishing us with his retirement plans of returning to his ancestral village in Magoola he named his all-time Uganda II, he struggled but eventually settled for;

 

1. Roger Mukasa 2. Yona Wapkhabulo 3. Paul Nsibuka, 4. Nehal Bibodi,  5.Sam Walusimbi, 6.Benjamin Musoke,7.Joel Olwenyi, 8. Junior Kwebiha, 9.Kenneth Kamyuka,  10.Frank Nsubuga,  11 Henry Osinde