By Safra Bahumura

Unpredictable, multifaceted, and structured, these are a few words that come to mind when I think of Usher Komugisha. A sports journalist, foodie, and travel enthusiast, Usher’s confidence and success is capturing but also seemed obvious. 

Background 

‘I wouldn’t trade my childhood for anything 

Usher, now 34 years, recalls that she was always athletic and heavily supported to play in every aspect, whether with friends in the neighborhood or at school. This helped her to express herself from a very young age. ‘I was very aware that I had options. We didn’t have a lot of sports facilities but we always worked with what we had’

She recalls her excitement to ring the bell at break time (10.30am in her school) because that meant playing dodge ball, locally known as ‘kwepena’. She remembers her friends fighting for her to be on their teams and doing elaborate tricks on bicycles. 

Usher attended Kibuli high school, which she believes was the best at the time in balancing sports and education. Although she was only one of two children from schools upcountry, she fit in quickly. ‘Nancy Kacungira was our head girl when I’d just joined S.1, and we were on the same women’s football team’

She narrates that she got into basketball because of its cool reputation, and the multiple tournaments which would mean leaving the boarding school gates. We were trained by Eric Malinga. a legend, she adds. 

I realized that one of the most important things about sports is how it helped me to express myself. 

‘If you lose possession in basketball, you have to go back and play defense, you cannot sit there and cry about losing the ball, and that’s how u approach life.’

‘While at Makerere University, I joined the basketball team. First, Makerere cubs which you had to join first before joining the Sparks. I later left and joined UCU canons and won a few leagues. 

Journalism. How it all started

I was watching traffic on a hot afternoon when someone sat next to me. I engaged him because I did not want to be rude. He turned out to work for Power FM which is affiliated to Watoto church and told me I had a great voice for radio. I was hesitant until I told my family which oozed with excitement about ‘Touchdown’, which they claimed was the best sports show around. Growing up, my family intentionally didn’t have a TV, it was more important to spend time with people than to spend time indoors watching TV. So I listened to a lot of radio when I was young. predominantly capital FM. I went to the offices after a couple of weeks.
Later on, I was reading purpose-driven life, and praying, trying to find my direction, when Joseph Kabuleta spoke to me about writing. Being heavily influenced by Nigerian literature such as the work of Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe even before she was 8 years old, Usher was excited by this advice. She started working in New Vision where they were about 20 sportswriters, all men, as the only lady had just left. 

Growth and achievements 

After searching for two young reporters from each continent across the world, Usher was chosen by the International University Sports Federation (FISU), which had partnered with the International Sports Press Association (AIPS), to go to the world university games in China in 2011. It was her first time flying and she met a lot of big names. She was introduced to colour commentary, which she described as human interest stories. ‘I wrote one of the best stories I have ever written and it was about food.’

Usher recalls that seeing all these people from different countries could lead one to get intimidated. When asked how she deals with this feeling, Usher said that she learned to block out the noise. She was thought to be one of the best at the end of the program, leading her to be chosen to cover the London 2012 world Olympics (at 24). I never imagined this could happen. I was interviewing all my role models; Serena Williams, Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Roger Federer, and Usain Bolt. I was there as these world records were being made. I saw it with my own eyes.

I remember entering the press conference rooms and all these people were looking at me like who are you and what are you doing here. You have to be a senior journalist to cover the Olympics. It was a great experience. When I came back to Uganda, I didn’t go back to New Vision because they never embraced digital journalism.

Usher then did a lot of free lancing before landing a role as a sports editor in Rwanda.
Thereafter, I worked for SuperSport and I kept expanding my horizons. I got a lot of offers in Rwanda because they invest a lot in sports. I was hired to do communications for the African nations cup. That is when I decided to enter African football as a journalist. I worked to be an expert at African football with or without the Uganda cranes. When Uganda qualified for AFCON later that year, it opened up more doors for me. My boss prepared a budget for me to go to Gabon which was unheard of at supersport. Not to brag but right now, I am an expert on women’s football in Africa.

One of the achievements I am proudest of is when I created the hashtag ‘no name’ last year to highlight women in the Olympics. The hashtag garnered a lot of traction and gave me a whole new experience of how to tell stories.

Through all her achievements, Usher insists that she is simply honoured to be part of an eco-system where she can express herself and celebrate women, and be paid to do a hobby. ‘that’s what I wish for everyone. If I feel like I should move on from something, bye!’

The best part about the job

The way I was raised prepared me to be a journalist. As a child, I used to get the tape (my parents had a recording studio) and put it in the radio and play the song one sentence at a time to write out the lyrics. I would go to school with the lyric book and people would pass it around to copy them. what they call the plug these days. I also used to read the atlas and knew, still do capital cities of every country in the world. I told myself before 40, I would have traveled to every country in the atlas, later I realized sport does that for me. I also read the dictionary and learned phonetics. All this was in primary because by all means, I had to be the one who knows things other people didn’t. Not lugambo, I’m irritated by small talk. I want to be able to talk about any and every topic. 

Usher was given encyclopaedias every day with her cousins to read, summarise and present. She says that it is important to expose children to a lot of information so that they can decide what it is they want to do. ‘Other kids would be having their holidays while us were busy reading.’ 

‘I love storytelling and I love to travel. it helps you to be open minded and patient. You know that saying, if u don’t travel you think your mums the best cook! She laughs. 

Obstacles faced

I grew up knowing that I was fighting on the fairground. I always strived to do my best. However, sometimes I have encountered people who assume you do not know what you are doing at first sight. I have mastered the art of letting my work speak for itself. I do not try to prove myself. I do is clear and in the end, some come and apologize for having thought I was making up numbers. So it has always been important for me to prepare and be thorough, and when I fail, to take the failure on my chin, make corrections and move on to the next assignment.

How have you seen Africans and Africa depicted in sport

I meet some people who think they can look down on us because of what they have heard about us on TV. I make sure to remind them that the continent is more than going on safari to see lions or sick children standing by the roadside. As media, it is important that we tell to own stories because we have context about

who we are. Sometimes it feels like our stories are written by people sitting in offices across the ocean who have never been on this continent. 

Advice for those who look up to you

Be yourself and trust the process. There are absolutely no shortcuts to success. Be consistent and truthful to yourself. Also, forgive yourself when you make mistakes and allow yourself to grow. Be open-minded and do not block opportunities because you are conservative. Believe in yourself and work hard, it Is a cliché but the truth of the matter is that you have to work your socks off. Do everything possible to outdo yourself so that every time you think about your dreams, they scare you so much that you cannot sleep because you cannot believe you think that!

If you weren’t a sports journalist

I used to think I would be a war reporter but on second thought, no. I saw the impact it had on someone I know. I would be into fashion.

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