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Chris Okong'o-Okwelle: First black player to lift the Enterprise Cup 1969 and 1970

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The Kampala RUFC team during their match in 1972 at the Impala grounds in Nairobi. Chris Okong'o-Okwelle, the first black player to lift the Enterprise Cup 1969 and 1970, is on the extreme left on the front row.

Photo credit: Pool

Chris Okong’o-Okwelle was a scrum-half apprentice and part time back row player who tackled hard and ran like a battering ram.

In addition to his prolific goal kicking’ recalled Kampala RFC’s 1969 captain Trevor John Wilson in a 2021 interview with this writer.

Chris became the first black African player to lift the Enterprise Cup in East Africa with Kampala RFC on 16/8/1969 and again in 1970.

A scrumhalf and wing forward first at Masindi Senior Secondary School, Chris was first called up for the Uganda School’s 15’s side that took part in the Tanzanian national festival played at the Dar-es-Salaam National stadium 2 July 1964.

The tournament in Dar-es-Salaam was played to mark the political union between Tanganyika and the Island of Zanzibar that gave birth to Tanzania.

The team was tutored by former Uganda fly half Joe O’Neill. Chris played at scrum-half having been selected from Masindi reported the Uganda Argus.

Later that year Kampala RFC visited Masindi for the first time and with Okwelle in imperious form Masindi beat Kampala 14-6 their first ever win against the 1956 Enterprise Cup champions.

He was subsequently capped severally for Uganda Schools who were engaged in regular royal battles against their Kenya counterparts.

Chris subsequently proceeded to Makerere University where he also played rugby as he studied for a Bachelor of Arts degree and eventually joined Kampala RFC in the heart of Kampala where he first made the grade with Kampala RFC in 1969.

Kampala RFC won the 1968 edition of the Enterprise Cup after defeating Nondescripts at Lugogo Grounds in Kampala.

They went all out to retain it in 1969 and hired the Caribou aircraft operated by the Uganda Police Air Wing.

“One panic-stricken prop caused the first delay when he had to rush back to Kampala for his forgotten passport, before the flight took off from Entebbe Airport,” recalled captain Trevor Wilson but they still got to Wilson Airport in Nairobi, on time.

The Enterprise Cup was first played in 1930 but up to 1968 no black player had ever played in the final.

All that changed on Saturday 16 August 1969 when defending champions Kampala RFC took on Kenya Harlequin at the RFUEA Grounds in Nairobi for the 33 rd final.

Chris Okong’o-Okwelle was the first black indigenous player to grace the final.

Herbert Tobias of Quins could have made the final but, unfortunately for him, he was red-carded after kicking an opponent in the semi-final against Dar-es-Salaam RFC the week end before.

Quins had appealed his red-card but the RFUEA upheld the suspension.

Kampala retained the Cup winning 17-16 at the RFUEA Grounds in Nairobi.

Chris Okong’o-Okwelle was a member of the Kampala side and he went into history books lifting the Cup Playing for Kampala Hornets the Kampala split side in the Uganda Cup they narrowly lost to Kampala Wasps in the Uganda Cup final at Lugogo Grounds in September 1969, reported the Uganda Argus.

On 8 August, 1970, Okong’o-Okwelle was an integral member of the Kampala side that retained the Enterprise Cup.

This time the final was played at Kampala Sports Club-Kampala, Uganda and he kicked 11 points in the 26-3 win against Nairobi’s Impala.

On 15 August 1970 he was capped in the Uganda Cranes 15’s team that clashed with the Kenya 15’s side at the RFUEA Grounds in Nairobi, Kenya.

Chris potted a penalty and conversion for the visitors in the 8-29 defeat.

Always a prolific point’s scorer for club or country as his educated boot ensured the score board was kept ticking.

He toured Holland and England with Kampala RFC in December of 1971.

That tour continued into January 1972.

“Playing against Speed birds of BOAC, Chris Okwelle had an outstanding game and almost opened the score in the first five minutes. The hosts went ahead but Okwelle reduced the arrears with an easy penalty,” read the match report in the Daily Nation.

Chris was a member of the Kampala team that took part in the 1971 and 1972 Kenya Cup and they almost had a chance of victory in 1972 losing the Kenya Cup final defending champion’s Impala on 12 August 1972 at the Impala Club in Nairobi.

“Impala went on to win scoring 32 points against 10 but the reds were made to fight all the way by a ‘determined and accomplished’ Kampala who were intent on denying them their third successive Kenya Cup win,” remembered Kevin Lilis 1972 Impala skipper.

Martin Watson his 1970 Captain at Kampala added: “Chris was from a Northern tribe – Acholi? He was a tall, slender lad with great ball skills. He was a skilled soccer player and adapted easily to rugby, where his handling, kicking, running skills were superb.

“I quite often played fly half to Chris at scrum half and his service was excellent. He soon developed an instinct for the best time to pass, run or kick and he was a fearless tackler.”

Rugby from the colonial days was always about the colour bar and white supremacy.

It was the likes of Chris Okong’o-Okwelle who opened doors the trickle before the torrent.