In the latest episode of African Voices Playmakers, CNN’s Larry Madowo learns how three rugby players from Kenya, Uganda, and South Africa are elevating the sport across the continent and inspiring others to follow in their footsteps.
Dennis Ombachi, a retired rugby player who represented Kenya for over ten years, participated in the Rugby World Cup sevens, the Commonwealth Games and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. However, he admits that the first time he played rugby, he didn’t really like it. “I just liked the fact that if I was in the team, I was excused from some duties, like mopping the dormitory,” he says.
He was later called up to the Kenya Sevens national team with the support of Kenyan rugby legend Humphrey Kayange. Ombachi expresses his gratitude for Kayange’s support, “It was incredible. Humbling. I hope someday I will be able to repay it back to someone else as well.” The pair played alongside each other in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
According to Ombachi, one of his top career accomplishments was scoring the try against Zimbabwe that qualified Kenya for the games. Ombachi tells Madowo, “Rugby taught me a lot of lessons. The first one is always be disciplined; discipline will take you a long way. We had this South African coach called Paul. He used to tell us that ability to unlearn old ideas and pick up new ideas is crucial.”
During his career, he acquired multiple injuries and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2018. He tells CNN, “Mental health is not a destination, it’s a journey. It took me a while for me to accept that I’m bipolar.” Ombachi shares that he often used cooking to get him through difficult times, and after filming videos during the pandemic, later became an internet sensation as The Roaming Chef. His videos earned him the 2022 TikTok Award for Top Creator in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The programme also meets Michael Wokorach, captain of the Uganda rugby sevens team. His career highlights include winning three Africa Cups, playing in four Commonwealth Games and taking The Cranes to two World Cups. He was made captain one year after joining the Uganda Sevens Team, and at 32-years-old, mentoring his peers on and off the pitch is how he wants his captainship to be remembered at both national and club level.
“It’s very important for me to mentor the young players because in the next few years, maybe I’ll be retiring, and I want to have someone who has really mentored to step into my shoes. So, the credit they give me is worth it because I have been a leader for most of my rugby-playing career,” he says. Wokorach says that motivating others is important because, despite being one of the most popular sports in Uganda, the sport faces economic challenges.
Looking forward, Wokorach says, “I still want to achieve more and I want to leave a legacy where when I’m done with the sport, people say he has done all he can and we are really proud of him if he’s ever to retire. We will hold the future and motivate so many other players to come and follow in our footsteps.”
‘African Voices Changemakers’ airs on Saturday 20th May at 1400 SAST on CNN International
The show also airs at the following times:
Sunday 21st May 2023 at 0430 SAST and 1930 SAST
Monday 22nd May 2023 at 0400 SAST
Saturday 27th May 2023 at 1230 SAST
Sunday 28th May 2023 at 0430 SAST and 1930 SAST
Monday 29th May 2023 at 0400 SAST
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