The #MTNMarathon in Kampala, Uganda: We can do better!

The Genesis

Suddenly, no major city was complete without its own Marathon and a lot of minor cities got in on the act too. Inclusiveness was the watchword, as many cities tried using Marathons to boost their tourist industries. In a marked turn-around from pre-New York days (1979), women, as well as men, were welcome. – The Experts’s Guide To Marathon Training, Hugh Jones, 2003.

The Essence

The #MTNMarathon Kampala is, without a doubt, the highlight marathon and/or athletics event on the Ugandan calendar, at least in contemporary times. It attracts participants from all walks of life and from all corners of both the country and the world. It is an opportunity to bring people together, to participate in an event which they all believe – or are made to believe – will help contribute to making another person’s life much better. It was before the Kampala City Festival, and will hopefully be in the future.

As such, it is more than just important that we pay particular attention to every little attention that pertains to it. Here is probably why…


Some of the participants in Kampala’s #MTNMarathon.

The Calendar

Africa is postulated as a continent of holiday or vacation – thus, travel. East Africa, on the other hand, is as a region that gives birth to the world’s best runners. Be they popular or elite or otherwise, when they travel from one city to another, for the major marathons in the region, they are marathon tourists.

The marathons calendar for the region, which is Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro Marathon every February, Rwanda’s Kigali Peace Marathon every May, Kenya’s Standard Chartered Nairobi Marathon every October, and Uganda’s MTN Marathon Kampala every November. Irrespective of the host city, when they travel from one to the other, their expectations of each are as high as they ought to be.

The Region

It begs the question, is Kampala aware of what is happening elsewhere or, rather, does Kampala live up to the most basic expectations, especially after making a name as one of the most disorganised marathons in the region?

2015, for example, was such a mess that it is intriguing to imagine that I even found the time to write about it. Thankfully, I concurrently noted what I thought was wanting and what improvements I hoped we could make.

In that article, I highlighted and detailed thirteen pointers, those which I believed could help Uganda organise a better marathon. Have they been able to make any improvements?

The Improvements

The only way we can tell if there have been any improvements made, is if we juxtapose them against what transpired during the most previous year.

  1. Registration

Information on registration this year was as wanting, and where not, as confusing as last year. Even for a difference of UGX 2000, it was impressive that they enabled a Mobile Money payment system as an option available o the participants. However, it took inquiring from a couple of ICT geeks on how to make the most of it as that knowledge was not publicly available. It did not help that a service provider at the service station I went to did not help me save that UGX 2000, and made me pay the full fee, just like I had not used my Mobile Money function.

The limited number of registration points meant that the queues were long, even on the deadline day, which brought with it an expected rush.

  1. Literature

Literature detailed for the benefit of the participants is still as good as nonexistent. While registering for a team of visiting foreigners, I asked the lady who attended to me why the kit did not include at least a map of the routes. She responded that “they would tell us when we go to Kololo – the starting point.”

It took my own efforts, later, to search for and find the map, the assembly and start times on images that were left on Twitter.

  1. Kit

On receiving my kit, I was convinced that, with the benefit of hindsight, the best thing about it would be the squeeze bottle which came with what was the kit. It was smaller and chic, and rightly fit in my backpack. I hoped that it would not be. This year’s kit did not include anything significantly special from last year.


Felix Ombura (Kenya), Dennis Mugambi (Kenya), and Alexander Twinokwesiga (Uganda) before their 21K run.

  1. Races

2016 was different. It had only three races; the 10K, the 21K and the 42K. It did not have the Fun Run, or the 5K, or the Corporate Run. As a matter of course, I did not know what informed that decision, but when we ran, I thought that running past a panting CEO of the Vision Group, Mr. Kabushenga Robert, was not a bad idea, although he could have paid a lot more than the rest of us to run together with equally big spending corporate runners.

This year’s races had the same assembly times and the same start times. The text messages which were sent out on the eve of the marathon did not specify at what times which races would start. It was left to us to find out for ourselves where and when we would start. A phone call from a visitor, who said they were “up here”, to mean Upper Kololo Terrace, did not help direct us any better as we did not know where that is or was and as the directions there were, for an international or city marathon, being made in Luganda.

  1. The tracks/routes

Just like last year, this one had the same old obstructions of traffic including boda-bodas, cars, and non-runners along the route. To runners, it is burdensome to split your mind in an attempt to compete for space with such unnecessary obstructions.

  1. Toilets, water, first aid, and massage points.

That one big tent, which I only noticed when I walked further from the stage in order to find a quiet spot to make a call, could be “split” into several units along the route. If so, it would, for example, help that one runner.

  1. Volunteers

It was impressive of the organisers to place marshals at different, key points along the route. With the exception of those who simply sat by the roadside, or those who lost concentration at the Garden City roundabout, to the point that runners had to abuse one of them in order to remind her to do her job, they did really well. The addition of cones, and policemen along the way was a great, notable improvement from last year.

  1. The aftermath

As compared to the rest of the region, the Kampala marathon has been characterised as one people go to only if they are assured of access to a food and drinks availing tent after the marathon. I heard that before registration and after the marathon. That did not change. The music, the show, too, was as loud as ever before.


Dennis Mugambi (Kenya), Chrispus Mutabuuza (Uganda), Maggie Kembabazi (Uganda), Timothy Kariuki (Kenya), Felix Ombura (Kenya), and Alexander Twinokwesiga (Uganda) after their different races.

  1. Name

Even with the knowledge that the hash tag #MTNMarathon applies to other marathons in countries where MTN is present, the folks in Kampala have refused to change it something more specific, like my suggestion of Kampala Marathon, from last year. I still believe that it would not be a bad one to consider.

  1. Internationally recognised standards

I read a pre-marathon article, one which boasted that the 2016 #MTNMarathon Kampala was/is the first and only digitally timed marathon in Uganda. That is, sadly, true, but have we imagined how much better we could be.

When we started off, we did not run over a timing board. The only timing devices I noticed along the 21K route were the one atop a vehicle which was leading the 42K runners, and at the finish line. Whether they worked well or otherwise is not certain. I am certain that most did not pay attention to them.

As far as everyone can see, the #MTNMarathon Kampala is not yet an AIMs or an IAAF certified marathon. Like I opined last year, I still believe that we should get there, especially if we set our sights on attracting more marathon tourists. Until we do, our attempts at organising a marathon will remain a public demonstration of our incessant mediocrity.


Timothy Kariuki (Kenya) and Joy (Kenya) who traveled to Kampala to participate in their first Kampala #MTNMarathon, with Felix Ombura (Kenya), who was running his third, and Alexander Twinokwesiga (Uganda) who was running his first 21K race of the Kampala #MTNMarathion.

  1. Results and rewards

The organisers have not yet thought about medals for all 21K or 42K finishers. They might think that that is out of reach, but here is an idea within their reach; instead of handing out peakless caps before the marathon, they could design them in a close fitting way, add the word FINSIHER onto them and hand them over to whoever crosses the finish line. A different colour or print for each race – 10K, 21k, 42K – would not be that difficult to do either.

  1. Fees

It is never that easy to put a figure to a convenient registration fee, but I did talk to people who noted that some people are not willing to pay UGX 25,000 to run. That UGX 25,000 is still below my suggestion of UGX 30,000 or UGX 40,000. That is still a decision that they would need to make in the future.

  1. National Appeal

The #MTNMarathon Kampala is Uganda’s highlight marathon, one that happens once a year. However, it is marketed as a “RUN FOR KAMPALA” event. It is my fervent hope that they will, someday, find and make use of my suggestion to go national. Only then, would those who cannot make it to Kampala get an opportunity to participate. Rotary tried and successfully did it with their 2016 CANCER RUN, which took place on the same day and in different towns.

In 2016

  1. The service providers who attended to me when I registered were characteristically slow, disorganised, and unbothered.
  2. It is safe to assume that the route is not mapped. That assumption will occur to you especially when you approach the very last stretch, right after the Jinja Road roundabout and run towards Lugogo Mall.
  3. Whether they were riding after the leading 42K runners – somewhere outside Fang Fang Hotel or interrupting runners when crossing the roads – from Industrial Area into the Nakesero area, the bloody boda-boda bastards were an unnecessary obstruction all over the route.
  4. The role of KCCA is yet to be determined. What do they really do in contribution to the #MTNMarathon Kampala? They “own” the roads, and, thus, have the control and/or management over them, which should extend to closing them for the few hours that the marathon is happening. Using cones to create a smaller section of the road for the benefit of the runners, who use it in the same flow of traffic, has proven insufficient and ineffective.

In Conclusion

The organisers might not know, but it is bothering to be running while you are pissed off at things that could have been avoided if attention was paid to detail. As runners, especially those who travel to different laces to do so and invite others to Kampala to do the same, we have high expectations of the essentials that pertain to the actual running. When they are not catered to, we cannot be blamed for blacklisting that particular marathon. If the 2016 #MTNMarathon in Kampala is anything is anything to go by, we did it for the love of Kampala, and, importantly, to complete the region’s athletics calendar.

On the bright side, it was both challenging and thrilling. Of all the Kampala #MTNMarathons that I had done, this was my forst 21K. It was tough, but familiarity with the route, from the Lions Clubs Marathon earlier this year, made it easier to navigate. The improvement from the unfathomable disorganization of last year was noted and generally fair enough. It is my fervent hope that Hikes And Runs East Africa will encourage and enable more marathoners to visit and tun in Kampala in years to come.


After crossing the finish line in the last of eleven East African marathons in the year 2016.





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