Hope came in with a new sport for Kisenyi, the largest Kampala slum that has for long been notorious as a violent enclave for drug distribution and abuse, prostitution as well as all forms of thuggery.
The noisy chatter, tired unplanned cribs, smelly drainage and dusty narrow roads is the signature tune of the shanty town. But this place, also known as ‘Little Mogadishu’, is what Somali refugees in Uganda call home.
This setting though has given birth to the home of the International Futsal courts, a family venture run by three brothers headed by their elder Yahye Esse.
Having spent the past eight years in Uganda since he came for his honeymoon, Esse is a vibrant businessman with a heart for his people.
“The Somali people here resort to drugs out of depression or for just being idle,” said Esse in an interview.
After refusing to take his bride to Mogadishu, he started operating a forex bureau, Bbeso General Trading, at King Fahd Plaza. He left it to rot saying handling people’s money doesn’t guarantee any freedom.
“While it may be night in Uganda, elsewhere it will be morning, lunchtime or any other time someone feels convenient. I had to be on the phone all the time to ensure people have received their money. In the end I had to quit this business because it was not flexible at all,” he said.
But he doesn’t regret either saying business is not his thing and prefers to be identified as a chemist. He graduated with a degree in Applied Chemistry at the International University of Africa in Sudan and obtained Masters in Analytical Chemistry at Kampala University. He plans to start pursuing a doctorate at Makerere University soon.
“Business is in my blood but I think chemistry teaches me to be practical and that’s why I manage to operate businesses,” he said.
Esse also runs the Mogadishu Peace Park, the only amusement place in the war-torn Mogadishu sitting on 4 acres a stone throw from the State House.
But in Kisenyi, he runs the International Futsal Courts, a booming venture that has fired up the Futsal Super League on its maiden season.
“Almost 70% of the work here is done and I hope we shall be fully operational next year,” Esse, who claims to have spent in excess of Shs.1bn for the project, said.
The half an acre land where he established the project was leased from the Aids Information Centre for ten years.
He charges Shs. 70,000 per hour to hire the facility where action goes on until 2 a.m. Due to the growing popularity of people seeking to play ball on floodlights, he taps into that potential as most of his clients use that opportunity to avoid traffic jam. But he stated this is a business at the heart of the Somali refugees.
“I am trying to engage youths to avoid drugs by offering them an opportunity to play during the off peak hours. Their response was poor at the start but many are coming frequently,” Esse notes.
The Somali people’s reputation was cast a dark shadow by the 2009-10 Kampala bombings a time Esse says there was some persecution with the Somali people as the main target. But he says Kampala is more peaceful than Kenya and that’s why it’s a preferred destination for most Somali refugees.
He adds the transformation would help secure the community’s future and keep the youths from drugs. Esse says Kisenyi is a prime spot for redevelopment from the real estate industry and the newfound vibrancy will prompt more opportunities.
The 5-aside games on the twin pitches at the facility which he plans to develop into a complete health sport club, has helped to break down the stereotypes and given the Somali people a chance to organise themselves and take advantage of this opportunity.
Among his plans is to introduce futsal in Somalia and organise a friendly game with Uganda to be played at the venue. The first game will be played today.
“Uganda is already organised and I have already contacted the football federation in Somalia to help introduce futsal. But what I know is that most players on the national team will be picked from Kisenyi,” he added.
Last week, a Somali Community League played among the five states conluded with galmudug emerging champions.
The International Futsal Courts have become the new face of Kisenyi slum with local leaders saying its presence has increased security in the area.
Now several corporate persons make it a date to appear for the futsal games every Thursday night.
“We have small parking space but for the past few weeks of the league I have ensured maximum security for the vehicles such that the patrons may continue coming again,” Esse says.
It’s just a matter of time that futsal makes its presence in Uganda solid since it was introduced in 2015, but Esse who plans a holiday Kids League for the U14 players is hopeful the little known sport of futsal will transform Kisenyi’s Little Mogadishu residents so quickly.