Editor: Brenda Mwaniki

Most success stories are built on a hunger for something . A hunger to learn, to succeed and a hunger for greatness. It is always a matter of how badly you want it, and how far you are willing to push yourself to get to that goal. Zainah Lokwamer Angellah is a household name in Ugandan basketball. She possesses that hunger and desire in her. She grew up in a family of ballers. Her elder sister, Moru Bena, was a force to reckon with in Ugandan Womens’ Basketball. Her other siblings, elder brother Moses Loumo, youngest brother Osama Arion now playing for Power Basketball Club , Ayere Brenda playing for UMU Ravens and Nakiru Patricia playing for Duaga, are taking the family tradition to the next level. Zainah embraced her passion for basketball at an early age, and the game didn’t disappoint; it grew in her. A game, she says, has given her life a sense of value. She comes from the Karamoja region of Uganda, where a unique tribe known as the Karamojong hail from. They are rich in culture and gifted with extraordinary athleticism. However, for a woman, it is a challenge to break cultural barriers and pursue both sports and education. Zainah’s star is shining bright against all the odds. Her hunger to succeed fuels her ambition, driving her nowhere but to the top of the food chain. The summit, where champions dine.

Zainah with the Zone V Club Championship trophy, after JKL defeated KPA in the finals 
Photo courtesy: JKL media

Zainah is an alumnus of Nabisunsa Girls high school and later, Uganda Christian University (UCU), which is undeniably Uganda’s basketball breeding ground. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree and a Masters degree in Business Administration. Beautiful, brainy and a heck of a threat on the basketball court. As an athlete, Zainah has won multiple awards at different levels. In her high school years, she won the Uganda National Championship 5 times and in her senior year, the 6th one, she became MVP of the East Africa games. During her varsity years she has won three East African University Championships. An expert in the art of 3×3 basketball, she has taken part in various FIBA 3×3 tournaments both for UCU and her country. She is also a member of the Gazelles, Uganda’s National Women’s Basketball team, with whom she has won two bronze medals. Currently, Zainah is a member of the JKL Dolphins, the FUBA, NBL, and FIBA Zone V Women’s champions. She is a gifted player with a distinctive style of play who identifies as a small forward but can also play as a shooting guard and a stretch four, depending on how the coach chooses to use her on the floor. This has enabled her to dominate opponents with ease. Lokwamer Zainah Angellah is indeed a basketball cheat code. She has shared her story with th3 #Doctors report and this is her take.

1: Apart from Lokwamer Zainah , what other names do they call you in Uganda? 

I have a couple of nicknames: Ziggy, black Lokwa or even Local Mary

2: What motivates you to be a better athlete? Why do you play the way you do? What drives you?

My motivation is trying to push the limits to be the best version of myself, that’s what drives me. It gives me a chance to compete at the highest level. I love the game and that’s why I chose it, it teaches discipline and is also a teacher of life. Basketball has taught me hard work, patience, winning, losing and how to react to all of it. It also got me through school through the University Scholarship

3: You are a Karamojong. Can you tell us about the basketball culture in the karamoja region?

In karamoja, the people are not exposed to sports. The game is not deeply rooted yet. The schools are few and don’t have the necessary facilities. We have a community basketball court in the Boma ground in Moroto District. An Italian Organization, Don Victoria, in Moroto put up the facility. That’s where we started introducing ourselves to basketball then they started bringing in some kits and sometimes coaches from Kampala. It is always about meeting someone tall and encouraging them to come to the court then the senior guys try to help with a few skills here and there. We started organizing friendly games with nearby regions like Lodwar in Kenya and Soroti. There has been some significant growth and recently there has been a FUBA Regional League where we are the reigning  champions in the Eastern region.

4: For a girl child in the Karamoja region, how challenging is it to become an athlete ?

It’s not easy at all. There is a cultural hurdle we need to overcome. We have issues like early marriages that prevent the girl child from prospering and chasing her dreams. There are are some parents who don’t want their children exposed to the city life as its associated with being spoilt and being exposed to bad behaviors. This is a huge hinderance towards the spread of the game and anything good that comes with it.

5: Karamojong are gifted in terms of athletic abilities. If you could say something to the parents there, what would you advise them in matters of sports? Should they be more open and accepting of  sports as a good thing, keeping in mind what it has done for you?

Our parents need to accept sports. They need to support their kids and give them a chance to try them out. Honestly, university scholarships are a big deal. I have benefited from them and as you know education is key to success. Basketball can take us there as a region if we accept and embrace it.

Zainah Lokwameri Angellah, representing Uganda in the 3×3 Africa Cup in Kampala, Uganda 2019
Photo courtesy:FIBA 

6: Should FUBA and other basketball stakeholders do more to sell the beauty and benefits of basketball in the region? We definitely need more players like you?

They should. With the many scholarships becoming available, young kids should be encouraged to play basketball and get chances to get scholarships in the central schools. Basketball is a tool to get good education, so more should be done. Basketball is not as popular as football in Karamoja so we have to reach out to everyone and sell the game and its benefits. FUBA should also come up with grassroot programs for the Karamoja region. The regional league should have more games and be consistent. 
We have good talent that hasn’t yet been tapped. 

7: How did you end up in UCU? What was the recruitment process like?

One of my former teammates from high school, Nabukeera Munnah recommended me to the coach of UCU then, Okello Boniface, so I joined the team midway that year, 2014. Coach Nicholas Natuhereza later finalized my scholarship since he had seen me play in high school

8: You have worked with so many players from different countries.  What have you learned from the Vilmas, Cisses,  and the Puritys that you have interacted with as a player?

I have picked up so many great virtues from different players. For a player like Cisse, she was so skilled, she understood her role well as a point guard. She was one of the best point guards I worked with. Then there was the humility of Purity Odhiambo, a powerhouse athlete. She had her post moves and she was difficult to guard. Velma and I are very close. She was one of the best rebounders and scorers I have played with. So I learnt a lot in regards to basketball and life.

9: Coach Nicholas Natuhereza is a great basketball mind. How has he impacted your basketball career and life ?

Coach Nick is not only a coach, he is a parental figure to all the athletes that have passed through his hands. He cares about his players a lot on both academics, basketball and also conduct off the court. He has been a mentor and has always offered me good advice. Coach Nick pushed me into pursuing my masters. We always have conversations about my future as a player. He is a disciplinarian too and has tremendous knowledge about the game of basketball.

10: So we can confidently say he is the mastermind of the success we see at UCU in terms of basketball?

Yes, that’s absolutely true. Coach Nick makes a player believe and understand that hard work and commitment to the course can yield fruits. He is one of the most committed people that I have worked with; a very principled coach. His impact in the lives of UCU athletes and those who passed through the university is huge. I picked up some great life skills from him like how I should communicate with my colleagues and people in authority. In basketball, he improves one’s game. He is a great teacher of the game and he makes sure we become great students of basketball.

Zainah in Action against Egypt in the Zone V Afrobasket qualifiers 2019 in Kampala, Uganda.
Photo courtesy: Tsauba Stone

11: Looking at the massive talent that has come out of UCU, do you agree that UCU is the hub of women’s basketball in Uganda ?

Yeah, strongly. Most players in the league are from UCU. From JKL to KCCA to A1 Challenge etc. All these teams have many former UCU players some prime examples being: Judith Ayoo, Nansobya, Ritah Imanishimwe, Maureen Amoding, Flirsh Flavia Oketcho, Namirimu Angela, Nakittende Brenda, Atuhire Ruth, Kusaba Grace and Ruth Kirungi Peace. 

12: I know there are players who have a positive impact in the development of your game. Who are some of your role models ?

I look up to a few players like Lamunu Claire, Flirsh Flavia Oketcho, Francease Nabuloobi and Amoding Maureen. I can say they have inspired me to be who I am now.

13: Uganda has quite a number of great female athletes. What is your take on women’s basketball and is there significant growth?

There is a lot of growth. There are many ongoing grassroots projects that are really yielding some results. Projects like Score Beyond and IHoops are among many organizations that are engaging young girls in sports. Right now, girls are playing actively in the high school competitions and some of these ladies play in the league. I think the future is really bright in women’s sports in Uganda. Keep in mind we also have a couple of players on athletic scholarships in the USA. That exposure is great for them to be able to help the National Team in the future and give back when needed. There is a new breed of players taking over and there is a lot of encouragement from the veteran players who are now taking on management positions.

14: What more do we need to do to improve the standard of women’s basketball and take it even higher? 

The competition is between very few clubs and people can easily predict how  the whole season will go before it even begins. I think sponsors should pay attention to women’s basketball too. When you bring in the aspect of sponsorship, most clubs are owned by individuals so it’s not easy to give players everything they need and what is necessary and this hinders our growth. We can become more competitive if the players are paid some money to help them and motivate them.
I also think if money is involved then some foreigners can come into the country and that will bring in more competition.

15: There has always been a competitive rivalry between Ugandan basketball and Kenyan basketball both at the club and national level.  How healthy is that for basketball in East Africa?

Zainah attacks her former teammate Judith Nansobya of KCCA Leopards in a playoffs semifinals match in 2019
Photo courtesy: Tsauba Stone

Very true, not only on both those levels but even in high school competitions. The rivalry is huge.
It’s a great thing for the growth of basketball. I think it’s healthy because it challenges players in both countries to really put in the work. That only makes us better. We need more of that in the region. Healthy competition is welcome. 

16: Still on rivalries, there is one between UCU and KCCA, which for a long time was one of the biggest basketball rivalry in Uganda. Could you give us an insight on that?

The UCU-KCCA rivalry cones from way back, I found it there and I’m  sure I have left it there. 
It originated from the two teams being in the finals for many years, so it has been a sea-saw of winning championships until UCU had a three-peat from 2015 through to 2017. That gave us (UCU) an edge over (KCCA) till now 🤣. For 2018 and 2019 we met them in semis and we beat them. They were the better team on paper though.

17: The last two seasons we have seen a new rivalry building up between UCU and JKL. Having suited up for both teams, would you care to shed some light on this?

UCU  and JKL beef is a simple one.
UCU want their championship and dominance back and JKL is not having any of that. So it’s escalating to be one rivalry to watch in the next few years. Remember most JKL players are former UCU players, that’s also a factor that contributes to that fierce basketball rivalry.

18: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your life, or the basketball career you have had ?

No, I wouldn’t change anything. I am doing it my way and that’s the most beautiful thing about life. You get one chance to do something so you do it well. YOLO 

19: What advice would you give to a 12 year old you?

I would tell 12 year Zainah to put in more time acquiring skills and learning more about the game and to concentrate on her school work because there is a life after basketball. I’d tell her to be ready patient and be ready for obstacles along the way. Nothing is given.

From left: Zainah Lokwameri Angellah, Brenda Ekone, Rita Imanishimwe, Hope Akello pose for a photo at the FIBA 3×3 Africa cup 2019
Photo courtesy: FIBA 
Zainah Lokwameri in action against Nigeria at the FIBA 3×3 Africa Cup in her home country Uganda. 
Zainah Lokwameri (left) lifts the FIBA Zone V Championship trophy with her teammates. In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania 2019.
Photo courtesy: JKL media 

In a world where life is a battle against odds that automatically make you an underdog, Zainah Lokwamer has proven that nothing can deter her progress. What are odds when you have the heart of a warrior and a desire to succeed. A winner both on and off the basketball court, she is clear proof that anyone can go against norms and traditions and still be able to distinguish themselves and chase their dreams. The Karamoja star keeps shining, with no intent to dim down. With an obsession of being the best she is still growing and developing her game. Zainah is moulding herself into the woman she dreamt of becoming. Just like the saying goes, she remembered who she was and the game changed. Her secret has been self discipline, striving to be better at life and basketball. Zainah has put her faith in the process that every single day she has to better an aspect of her life. As long as her heart is still beating she vows to continue to pursue her purpose against all odds.

By Ariel Okall


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