Soccer legend Kadenge’s Uganda connection

Many Ugandans may not be aware that the word Kadenge meaning police car comes from the deadly Kenyan striker who plied his trade with Express Football Club in Kampala around independence time.

Yes, Kenya may not be the football powerhouse of East Africa but the country produced arguably the region’s most outstanding midfielder of all time. Joe Kadenge, who breathed his last on Sunday 7th July 2019 in Nairobi at the age of 84, was enticed to come to Uganda by Express founder, Jolly Joe Kiwanuka.

Kadenge was already famous player in Kenya at a time when the region’s best goalkeeper was another Joseph, Uganda’s Masajjage who was in Express. With Masajjage between the posts, the Express goal was like an impenetrable wall, except when Kadenge was playing in the other team. Kadenge was the only man known in the region who could score against Masajjage with ease. Being an astute businessman, Jolly Joe figured the best thing was to put Masajjage and Kadenge in the same team and stop worrying about losing a match. Sparing no expenses, Jolly Joe brought Kadenge to Uganda.

However Uganda’s peace did not last long after independence and Kadenge returned to Kenya. But not before entering the nation’s vocabulary forever. The word ‘kadenge’ for a fast police car – these days a VIP lead car but originally high speed patrol car for chasing criminals – came from the Express striker.

In his later years, the modest Kadenge drove a cab based at Jommo Kenyatta International Airport. A certain class of clients always sought him out. But Uganda remained in his heart. In the early 2000s, he traveled to Kampala to see the Cranes play. It was an international match in Nambole against Rwanda. The match turned out to be the longest ever played in this country, lasting several hours. It was also a great shame for Uganda and a disappointment to the visiting legend who watched incognito in the stalls. The Cranes players were messed up by the Rwandans’ psychology when Rwanda’s keeper tied a black piece of cloth on the goal post. The Ugandans stopped playing, saying the Rwandan keeper was casting a spell on them. After a lot of haggling, the Rwanda keeper removed the small cloth and the match resumed. When Ugandans started mounting pressure, the Rwanda tied his ‘handkerchief’ back on the post. The Ugandans stopped playing. The argument re-started and it took a while to convince the Rwandan keeper to remove the cloth, for the match to resume. The circus was repeated over and over again.

By the time the match ended, it was time for music lovers to hit the night scene. Joe Kadenge never went to his hotel room. Instead he ended up in Club Obligatto where Afrigo band was playing. And trust Afrigo band leader Moses Matovu, once a Cranes player himself, to spot Kadenge in the crowd. He called the legend to the stage and asked him to say a word to the crowd.

Speaking in Kiswahilli Kadenge had one message for Ugandans: Stop fearing witchcraft (uchawi).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *