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Alex Muhabi praised as he quits, but who are Uganda’s best referees of all time?

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Alex Muhabi

When experienced FIFA referee Alex Muhabi announced retirement from officiating the beautiful game of football, bringing an end to 2 decades of service to football, with a reputation so out sounding in Ugandan football, we all realised that the country had lost one of the best referees and it would be so hard to get to replace him.

A medical doctor by profession, Muhabi who qualified for a FUFA badge in the year 2000 had served Ugandan football for over 21-years, 16-years of which were in the Uganda Premier League. He earned the FIFA badge in 2015 which he had held for seven years.

Following a difficult season, stained further by injuries, it is not yet clear as to why Muhabi decided to put an end to his refereeing career. He will now turn full attention to his other profession as an orthopaedist.

While footballers dream of playing for the great clubs in the world and winning major tournaments, a referees dream is always to raise their national flags and officiating at major tournaments.

With many of best calling it time our in recent years, the Touchline Sports takes a look back at some of the best referees Uganda has procured over the years.

Ali Tomusange

Albert Luque of Spain argues with Assistant Referees Ali Tomusange and Michael Ragoonath after the FIFA World Cup Finals 2002 Quarter Finals match between Spain and South Korea played at the Gwangju World Cup Stadium, in Gwangju, South Korea on June 22, 2002. The match ended in a 0-0 draw after extra-time, with South Korea winning on penalties 5-3. DIGITAL IMAGE. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Tomusange is rated as the best referee ever from Uganda according to the achievements he attained in his career on the African continent and the world at large.

Tomusange who started his career in the late ’80s qualified as a senior referee in 1987 and attained the FIFA badge just six years later in 1993.
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. 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 continent, he went on to officiate 4 matches in the 2000 FIFA Club World Cup in Brazil. Then officiated five games in the Sydney (Australia) hosted Olympic Games. He was also called upon to handle five games in Mali when they hosted the Nations Cup in 2002.

He was one of the African match officials who were selected for the 2002 FIFA World Cup held in Japan and South Korea. Tomusange was 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

Retired Masembe with Vipers’ chairman Lawrence Mulindwa

Charles Masembe is regarded as Uganda best all-time centre referee as far as achievements are concerned. Masembe came to the forefront in the late 80s as an impartial grade one referee but kept on improving 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 to 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 referee-instructor, the late Dan Nkata in the early ’60s. 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 tricky encounters, especially those involving Express FC which were always marred by violence.

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 in his father’s footsteps in 1990 and secured a FIFA badge later but called it a day recently.

Muhamed Ssegonga

A former footballer with Nsambya FC and Coffee FC, Ssegonga took up refereeing in 1994 and 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 was 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 that year, he was the referee when Bayelsa United (Nigeria) played against ES Sétif (Algeria) in the semifinal of the Africa Confederations Cup.

Ssegonga retired from refereeing in 2011, a move FUFA president Moses Magogo described as a big blow to Ugandan football.

Chris M. Yolisigira

Chris M. Yolisigira leading out the two teams at the game played at Nakivubo Stadium in 1995. | Coutsey Photo

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.

The list may seem to be endless as we have a couple of names who performed a great job in the referees department, the likes of Ahmed Rajab Kisekka, George Wamala, Ali Kalyango and Fred Mufta some of the few.

*Part of the information has been drawn from The Observer written by veteran sports journalist Hassan Badru Zziwa.

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