Meet Kawalya, the IT graduate who opted to follow his passion for sports into journalism

When Brian Kawalya, 30, completed his course in Information Technology from Makerere University, he had one thing on his head, sports.

Being born and bred in Masaka, Kawalya only came to Kampala for his primary seven at Namasuba Primary School before joining Winston Standard Secondary School in Najjanankumbi for his secondary education and later Makerere University.

However, despite all this, one thing stuck into his head and this was sports, and in particular football.

“I was a huge fan of sports and football in particular while growing up. I watched a lot of Premier League and Series A in the early 2000s even before coming to Kampala, thanks to the people I grew up with,” Kawalya says of his love for sports.

He says he attended a couple of local football games while still in the village involving Masaka Local Council Football Club that once played in the Ugandan topflight league.

“When I moved to Kampala, the habit grew. As a student at Winston Standard Secondary School, I could watch al games at Wankulukuku since this was the stadium our school was using for inter-house competitions.”

With this, Kawalya became a common face at the stadium that even when he grew up and graduated, he would show up for matches for local club, Express FC and would use his social media platforms, especially Facebook to relay to his followers the games as they unfolded.

Unknown to him, the information he was relaying had caught the attention of some of his followers.

Lady luck strikes

“One day, I was called at Express to help out the person who was running the club social media handles. I started doing minute-by-minute updates on the club’s Facebook and Twitter pages. I was also asked to become the stadium announcer on match days,” he says.

Unknown to his then bosses, this gave him an opportunity not to only watch games free of charge but also grow his love for the game.

“I started getting close to many sports journalists at the time and some could give me calls to explain to them some events for games they were not able to attend. I continued writing match reports after games that I posted on my Facebook.”

This attracted the attention of many journalists that one time, one of them, Stephen Muneza approached him and asked him to give an account of a game between Express FC and Kirinya Jinja SS.

The piece was published in one of the local websites and that way, he never looked back as he started contributing stories for the website

He says he was later poached to join yet another sports website which was just starting out and here he wrote mainly basketball.

To be able to do it, Kawalya would skip lectures at Makerere University to go watch basketball games at YMCA.

He however says his first salary here was shs50,000.

“I remember my editor; Jacobs Seaman had a fulltime job in Rwanda and could see my stories late in the evening and many a times, it was late. This way I could end the month with a few stories published.”

Kawalya would later with the help of a friend, Joel Muyita join Chimp Reports, another website as one of their writers and as they say, the rest is history.

“I worked for Chimp Reports for a good time. They had a good following, and I was able to get known plus connections I acquired,” he says.

Going solo

The 30-year-old sports journalist says he later left the website after his demands were not met by the bosses.

He decided to start his own website.

“I got many calls for opportunities, but I had made up my mind on starting something my own despite not having enough money,” Kawalya says.

He says by then he was surviving on small monies paid to him as an influencer and since he had just relocated to another house and had two sisters he was taking care of, that period was a difficult one but he never gave up.

Kawalya says he remained focused on his dream of owning a sports website and to this he approached a person he had worked with as an influencer on one of the World Cup campaigns in 2018 to help him design a website.

“He asked for a lot of money but I convinced him that I would pay in installments and I gave him the option of co-owning the website in case I failed to pay,” he says.

He says that he had earlier been given an offer to contribute stories for a certain sports website and would be paid Shs 500,000 a month.

He accepted it and used the first payment to pay the website designer the first installment.

“Around February 2018, The-SportsNation website went up. I gave it that name in reference to the Bryanation and Live from ground taglines I had been using on my personal Facebook pages. In the first days, I could write stories right from the field using my phone and upload them since I didn’t have a computer then,” he says.

He says the start was a difficult one as he had to endure working alone on the website for stories in all sports disciplines.

“I concentrated on breaking news first. I could write over 10 stories each day. Slowly by slowly, the-Sports Nation started breaking through and we got some good recognition in football, basketball and other sports circles. Less than a year, we could break some stories and write some good exclusives,” he says.

Kawalya says he was later joined by a few other journalists including Richard Ssekyanzi, Bagala Peace Diane, Shaban Lubega, Timothy Kuteesa, Nelson Ssengooba, Joseph Kabenge, Hassan Zaki and Elizabeth Kisolo.

“Most of them were not on payroll because the website was not making any coin at the time, until when we got some advertisers.”

He says currently, he has a team of five writers including John Paul Ntege, Brian Inke, Isaac Wasswa, Edwin Waiswa and Alisharan Kirandha as well as other contributors in different capacities including a graphics designer.

Proud for his contribution

Kawalya says he is happy about his contribution to sports in the country.

“I am driven by passion for sports and determination to succeed in life. It has been a long journey of ups and downs, especially running a sports website in a country where sports is taken as leisure. We have made many enemies along the journey especially with sports administrators who think we shouldn’t put out their wrong doings in public, and of course the financial constraints that leave the writers frustrated, most advertisers do not pay on time and this destabilizes company plans. Despite all these, I am proud of my contribution,” Kawalya says.

He says being named the 2017 best Breakthrough Sports Journalist of the Year in the sport journalists’ choice awards as well as other nominations also make him proud of the job he has done.

“In the next five years I envisage seeing the Sports Nation grow into a bigger brand as we continue serving the country in terms of sports journalism. We have sister website called The BuzzNation that is into entertainment that we think will also continue to grow. All in all, I am proud of my contribution to the country,” he says.

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