Jonesia Rukya Kabakama is one of the foremost African women match officials and is currently at the Total Women’s Africa Cup of Nations Ghana 2018.
This is her second appearance at the flagship women’s competition on the continent, and she has so far officiated two matches; Mali vs Cameroon (group stage) and South Africa vs Mali (semi-final).
In her native Tanzania, she is very famous for officiating the biggest derby in the East African country, between eternal rivals Young Africans and Simba, which also counts amongst the most talked about on the continent. And she has done it not once but three times, and all devoid of controversies.
Born in Kagera, located in the north-western part of Tanzania, CAFOnline.com caught with her to tell her story and share her experiences as the Total Women’s Africa Cup of Nations Ghana 2018 winds down. Below are excerpts;
**Cafonline.com: When and how did you become a referee?
Jonesia Rukya Kabakama:** It was in 2006. Initially, I was a player but women’s football was very unpopular in my neighbourhood (Kagera). Football is my passion and I liked to see men play. After seeing no real opportunities at playing, I turned to refereeing, and have loved it ever since.
**How did your family take your decision to become a referee?
**It was only my grandmother who supported my decision. She told me to always stand for what I believed in and fight for it. Other family members were not for it, but I moved on. Surprisingly, even the surrounding community did not support it as they had a perception that refereeing is not attractive not to talk of women being a part of.
**With such negative comments, what motivated your desire to continue?
**I had to continue because of my love for refereeing. I’m really obsessed with refereeing. My grandmother supported me and she used to say ‘if I continue with it, I will be able to change the negative perception about it’. And this will help other women to get chance to practice it too. I’m happy that today most women see that refereeing provides an opportunity in football.
**When was your promotion to the Tanzania Premier League?
**In 2006, I was handling games in the lower division. I did that for five years and in 2011, I was promoted to the First Division League. After one season, I was promoted again, this time to the Premier League. My first game in the elite division was between AFC and Rhino Rangers played in Arusha. I was a bit nervous but my colleagues helped me a lot and also encouraged me because at the time there were just few women referees.
**You have become a regular face with the biggest derby in Tanzania and one of the most talked about in Africa, Young Africans vs Simba. How did you feel after your first appointment for the big game?
**I have officiated three derbies so far. My first was in 2014; it was a friendly match between Young Africans and Simba, they used to call it Mtani Jembe. The appointment for the derby was a big boost for me because at that time not many believed a woman could handle such a game, but I had to change that perception. Gracefully, I have done it well to silence the critics and doubters. I have done two more including the last derby on 30 September 2018 which ended barren.
**What do you do when not refereeing?
**I am a teacher and also an entrepreneur. I split my time between the two and manage it well. It is a bit challenging as I also need to train to stay fit for local and international matches.