By Agatha N. Biira
Last year, a video of Desire Ayera at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, United Kingdom (UK), made the rounds on Twitter. In the video, the player, also known as “DJ Fufu,” is seen dancing and taking over the DJ booth after the Uganda Rugby Sevens had won the game against Sri Lanka by 38-19.
One of the commentators is heard saying, “Uganda, you have been a real crowd Viber here. This is Desire Ayera on the decks at halftime. The reason why this crowd loves Uganda is personified in what you see here.”
Growing up watching his brother, Alema Ruhweza, play rugby, Ayera never picked up on the game immediately. He first tried football, which he was not very good at, and then went on to basketball before playing rugby. “My height let me down. Rugby is a game for people of all heights and sizes. It was the sport that let me express myself,” he said.
Ayera started playing rugby when he was in S2 at Makerere College School (MACOS) in 2012. While playing against S4, Ayera made a tackle that marked the start of a journey that has seen him go places and become one of the best on his team.
“Usually the big boys would give us a run for our money, but I made a tackle on this one guy, and people started screaming. I was the talk of that night’s prep,” he said with a smile. “It was exhilarating.”
From watching his brother play, Ayera and Ruhweza now play on the same team, the Stanbic Black Pirates. “I taught him the game, but he has successfully surpassed the teacher,” Ruhweza said.
Playing a sport considered for the rowdies, Ayera recalls his team at the time engaging in community work to gain favor from the school administration. “You would enter the class, and teachers are already biased against you because of the game. So, we had to prove that we were actually good students,” he said.
From MACOS, Ayera played for the Sailors Rugby Club for a year in 2016 before joining the Stanley Black Pirates in 2017. When he joined Uganda Christian University (UCU) to pursue a Bachelor of Business Administration in 2017, he played on the university team.
Still, in 2017, he was summoned for the Uganda National 7s team, but he did not make the cut. He later joined the team in 2018.
Now playing for the Stanbic Black Pirates and the Uganda National 7s and 15s rugby teams, Ayera says rugby is what has kept him in line. “For the times when I didn’t have a job, rugby kept me busy. I had no time to be the devil’s workshop,” he said.
Tolbert Onyango, the head coach of the national team, describes Ayera as someone with a good mix of seriousness and enjoyment of life. “He is certainly one of the most jovial people I have met. He is very good on attack, ball retention, and taking us forward as a team,” Onyango said.
As one of the youngest players on the team, Ayera has been both an inspiration and a threat. Mubarak Wandera, his teammate on the national 7s team and the Stanbic Black Pirates, says he has been a good mentor to him. “As a new member of the national team, Ayera has encouraged me to keep doing better each time,” Wandera said.
William Mark Lukwago, a player for Entebbe Mongers, and one of the people who have played against Ayera say he always looks out for him during games. “He is a very big threat. I enjoy playing against him because you can only get better when you play against the best,” he said.
After over a decade of playing the game, Ayera has represented Uganda in several games, such as the Commonwealth Games (2018 and 2022), Rugby World Cup Sevens in South Africa, and the HSBC World Rugby 7s Series in Dubai and Cape Town (2017 and 2022).
He was unable to join the team in Chile for the World Rugby 7s Challenger Series in 2022 because of an injury he had sustained during a game against Tonga at the Commonwealth Games that same year.
In an attempt to make a turnover, he injured his knee. “It was lonely watching my teammates leave for the Challenger Series.” The pain and worry of not playing in the World Cup ate me up,” Ayera said.
Being the second time he had injured the same knee, Ayera knew what needed to be done to ensure a fast recovery. The first was at the Dubai Rugby 7s in 2017 during the Uganda vs. Canada game, which saw him returning home before the games could end.
Close to three weeks after the injury at the Commonwealth Games, Ayera played in the World Cup with heavy strapping on his knee. Besides the injuries and the pain, rugby has given Ayera, among other things, an opportunity to travel the world. “I have been to every continent,” he said.
Being an athlete comes with challenges. With results expected from both the sport and his work, it gets hard to balance the two. However, he says, “I have great colleagues at Stanbic. The bank allows me to get sports leave as long as I give them the calendar for the year. With guidance from both sides, you know which tournaments to go for and which not to,” Ayera said.
Ayera is also a family man, and despite his busy schedule, he needs to make time for his son. “I am young and vibrant. So, I need to play with him while I still have the chance,” he said.
Alex Aturinda, his teammate, says he is always happy. “I admire the way he plays. He always brings the A game that we all need,” he added.
William Nkore, another one of his teammates, describes him as a very hardworking person. “He has a work-life balance. The way he plays on the pitch is the way he is off the pitch. He is committed to his work, and he comes to training on time,” he said.