When Abukar Ali Mohamed came to Uganda 14 years ago, he was fleeing war in Somalia. Mohamed was passionate about football, described as one of the best Somali players in the Kisenyi community, yet he was not confident enough to tell others what to do.
But now he is fully entrenched in futsal as a referee and no longer afraid to make big calls as he aims at finding success in the five-a-side indoor version of football.
Mohamed came to Uganda in 2008 from the capital Mogadishu where he studied his ordinary level.
According to the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), between 2008 and 2017 the number of registered Somali refugees in the country soared from 8,239 to 41,234, with 43 per cent of the total registered in Kampala and the rest in Nakivale refugee settlement.
Those in Kisenyi keep the bond through playing futsal and football.
“I am really excited to be the first refugee referee in Uganda, especially considering I came from Somalia not knowing any English,” Mohamed said.
Mohamed, 30, could only communicate in Somali, which made his circle narrow. But after learning English, he is happy that he is recognised as a top referee.
Making his bow
This will be his first year officiating in the Futsal Super League after he was on the list of referee appointments for matchday nine and 10.
He was a timekeeper in the opening game of the day between Kisenyi and Kabowa before he handled the game between newcomers Luzira and Talent Bridge alongside Majid.
Mohamed started early acting as the referee during Somali games and was the head referee during the Ramadan Cup. When the Futsal League was introduced at the International Futsal Courts (IFCU) in Kisenyi – Mengo, he instead officiated Somali Sports Association of Uganda games organised by former chairman Omar Ali. He did not take further steps to get his badges.
But when Fifa organised a futsal refereeing course in May, he was nominated to attend with Abukar Abdi Hirabe. The course attracted 16 entries.
Outside futsal, Mohamed is involved in daily hustles of survival linking Somali traders based in South Sudan yet he would like to get advanced certification with an eye on the Fifa futsal games.
Before his refereeing took off, Mohamed was playing football and futsal for the Somali refugee team but Omar gave him some helpful advice.
“Omarios told me to concentrate on refereeing. I now have an opportunity to help my country when peace finally prevails,” he said.
The power of sports
The immense power of sports in unifying communities cannot be more evident in Uganda than in futsal’s attractive offers to Somali community. With most of them settling in Kisenyi slums whenever they touch base, theirs is a life of earning every bread and coin the hard way. Many of them face a hard time getting recognition in the wider communities but in futsal, even refugees who fail to nail their place with local football clubs have been finding salvation and turning point.