Leo Lwabwogo: The unsung hero
He is one of Uganda’s legends but for some reason, his achievements were always overshadowed by other events. When Leo L ...
By James Bakama
He is one of Uganda’s legends but for some reason, his achievements were always overshadowed by other events. When Leo Lwabwogo won Uganda’s first Olympic medal-a boxing bronze at the 1968 Mexico games, his feat was shortly afterwards downplayed by a silver medal attained by team-mate Eridad Mukwanga.
Determined to command the spotlight, the flyweight from Kabarole district in western Uganda went to the next games in Munich aiming even higher. Rwabwogo’s dreams were indeed answered. He won silver.
Recounting Munich, coach grace Seruwagi, who was in Rwabwogo’s corner, insists that his fi ghter should have that time won gold hadn’t it been for an injured right hand. The Munich silver elevated rwabwogo to that exclusive club of athletes with more than one medal.
But hardly had Ugandans finished toasting to Rwabwogo’s achievement, than the attention was again shifted elsewhere. John Akii-bua thrust Uganda into the international headlines with the country’s only gold medal.
The tall policeman from the Lango clocked a 47.82 world record in the Munich Olympic stadium. To date, the name Akii-bua is what comes up on many Ugandan minds at the mention of the 1972 games.
Few people know that before Akii-bua blazed to gold, a sturdy boxer from the Rwenzori ranges had not only set the pace with Uganda’s first Olympic medal, but had also shot to that exclusive orbit of multiple medal winners.
His seating room in Mbagane village was a museum of sorts. Rows of medals lined the wall together with photographs of some of his great moments. Years later, Rwabwogo confided with new vision that he felt cheated.
“Some of us risked our lives for this nation, but at the end of the day, all we had to show were only medals,” he complained. But even after quitting active boxing, he remained active as a coach and referee. “i always had the passion to pass on my skills. It is unfortunate that medals are rare today,” said Rwabwogo before passing on in 2009.
Sports journalists under their umbrella body USPA recognized his accomplishments. In 2006, they decorated him with the legendary award. The international Olympic committee (IOC) also followed USPA with an award shortly afterwards.
There was also a political side of Rwabwogo in 1981 while still in Kilembe, he was one of the grassroots mobilizers, who ensured that Dr. Crispus Kiyonga became an MP. He was later an NRM mobiliser.
But even with these awards, Rwabwogo kept looking back at lost opportunities. Shortly after Munich, he was given a lucrative offer to turn professional in USA. “Sports officials in Uganda convinced me against the idea insisting that i take up a local job.”
“Perhaps if i had taken up the offer, i would have ended up much better off,” noted Rwabwogo from his mud and wattle house. After serving as a sports officer at kilembe mines, Rwabwogo eked out a living as a peasant farmer.
He collapsed and died while digging in his garden. His funeral turned out as a platform for politicians to not only shower the fallen hero with praises, but also a promise to pass a motion in parliament officially declaring him a national hero.
three years on, nothing has been done for the boxing legend.