Ugandan striker, Emmanuel Okwi: “People thought I have this mohawk because I use witchcraft”

This week we bring you an exclusive with Ugandan international, Emmanuel Okwi who shares awesome stories of how God has blessed his feet on the pitch!

Who was your footballing role model as you were growing up?

I always wanted to be Thierry Henry, I grew up wearing number fourteen just because of him. He is really someone I would love to meet one day, he is great.


So you are back playing your football in Uganda, is it good to be home?

Yes it’s really nice to be back home because I get to see my family more, I am closer to my parents and friends. It has been a long time since I was last home so I am enjoying being back among my people. It’s not something that I wanted because I want to move up in my career but sometimes in life you have to take steps backwards, you never know what God has prepared for you. You have to move backwards before you can take another step which is much higher.

How much did you enjoy your time playing in Denmark?

It is always nice to know a different culture and to meet new people, in terms of football though it was really tough. You will find that their footballing culture is very different to what I am used to over here, it is very physical and tactical in Denmark. Also it is a very cold country which made it hard for me.


What would be your dream move?

If I had a choice, it would be Arsenal. I am a big Arsenal fan and we actually get divorced every time that they lose a game. It’s really hard, whenever I see them losing games because I feel like I can help them. I support them because of Thierry Henry and because I love their style of football, in the past they were winning trophies and playing well. Arsenal have always been the love of my life. Following them is like watching a TV series, you always know how it is going to end!

My favourite player now is Alexis Sanchez, not just because he is very good but because he is such a hard worker. He works so hard for the team and he is a winner, he is so sad when the team loses or draws. I am like him, in wanting to win every game, even in training.


What are you like as a striker?

I am just like Sanchez, although he us technically better than me, I am the type of player who works so hard for everything.

You play for Uganda, do you remember where you were when you got your first call up?

Back then I was playing for Simba in Tanzania, we went to play against Sudan in 2010 and it was a friendly which we won 2-0. I didn’t score but it was a very good moment for me, I had always wanted to play for my national team. I remember when I was a kid, watching the national team play, I was sitting with a friend of mine and I told him that one day I really want to represent Uganda. I met him some years back, maybe three years ago and he reminded me that I got what I had wanted, I had forgotten that I had said that. I was surprised because I suppose maybe God said, let me give this boy what he has wished for. He gave me that wish and I am really so proud, it is something that makes me get goose bumps. It is amazing.


You’ve got a decent goal scoring record for Uganda, 18 in 42, is that when you play your best football?

I actually think that I still have a lot to offer to Uganda because I have played much of my best football in Simba, Tanzania. I love being around the Uganda players because I grew up with a lot of them, there is a real passion. I always play so hard so that we don’t disappoint the fans, it is not a rich country so the people are very poor. However they pay lots of money to come and watch us play and I always feel for them, their pain and what they go through. I always want to make them happy because for some of them, this is the only thing that makes them happy.


If you could play upfront with any striker in world football, who would you choose?

Luis Suarez, he works his socks off and is just prolific in front of goal. I would learn a lot from him because he is just so good.


Could you tell us how you came to know God for yourself?

I grew up in a Catholic family, but when we grew up, our mum became a born-again Christian. She took us towards faith in God, she used to tell us things about him all of the time and so I grew in love for him too. I believe that without God we are nothing and that everything, to this moment, that I have achieved, is because God is always there to help me and look out for me. There are so many stories that I could tell you, where it’s not been me, it’s been God doing things for me. Our mum did a lot for us in helping us know God even more because with Christianity you learn about Jesus Christ.

God has given you the platform that you have today, how do you use that to point people back to him through football?

Taking to people is really difficult because not so many footballers here in Uganda, or over in Denmark where I was know Jesus. It’s hard to talk to them about knowing God but I always try to be a good role model. Every time I score a goal I raise my hands up to the skies to show people that it’s God who does that for me. I hope that I will inspire someone, somehow.


Being a Christian, have you met any opposition or criticism?

There was a situation that came up in Tanzania, which is a country which believes so much in witchcraft. Now at one time they thought that I was using witchcraft to do whatever I was doing on the pitch to score the goals. Even some people, back home in Uganda still think that, they ask me what I’ve done to make it in Tanzania. I am more popular there than in my home country. People ask me, they think I was using witchcraft but I tell them to listen, I am so prayerful, I pray to God and he helps me.

I have a mohawk and the media started asking me questions and said that people thought I have this mohawk because I use witchcraft. I told them, listen this is just a hairstyle, I am a big believer in God. So you can see how much people thought I used witchcraft in Tanzania, it’s so bizarre but I give thanks to God.


Do you have any examples of how God has really blessed your football?

I remember one day I went to play in a big game in Tanzania, I had not scored in that derby before and even my own Simba fans started turning against me. They started saying that perhaps I was getting money from the officials. Before the game, I fasted and prayed to God, telling him that this was my moment. This is what I am going to do, I am going to score goals today and believe me, we won that game 5-0 and I scored two goals and created three penalties. That is how amazing God is.

After that I scored so many goals against that rival and everyone finally realised that I wasn’t getting money from people.


Do you have a favourite book or verse of the bible that encourages you?

I read Psalm 3 and 4, Psalm 3 I read every morning and psalm 4 every evening before I go to sleep. I need God’s protection when I am going to sleep, he watches over me, also when I wake up I need to thank him.

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