Built by the British in the 1920s, Luzira is the most famous prison in Uganda, Uganda’s only maximum security facility on the southern edge of Kampala, the capital. From its creation to the turn of the 2000’s, Luzira has gone with the reputation of a violent and squalid place. The dread that it created for quiet a while is rooted in the souvenir of punishment cells, deliberately flooded with water to make them uninhabitable during colonial times, in the violence and the torture which were commun under Idi Amin’s eccentric and brutal dictatorship and during the never-ending grueling civil war that followed his fall.
In 1999, the high commissioner of the Ugandan Prison Service, Joseph Etima, a progressive who also opposed the death penalty, declared an open-door policy to the outside world. Immediately afterwards, thanks to the change in the policy of the authorities, football teams are created in Luzira. In 2003, the disparate clubs are finally organized within the UPSA - the Upper Prison Sports Association, an organization created by the inmates with the assent of the administration.
The way in which the clubs are run is now strictly regulated by the UPSA constitution. They must have their own constitutions, a chairman, coach, secretary and treasurer, a minimum of 16 registered players and a maximum of 25. The UPSA bans the black market which, in the beginning, allow the poaching of the best players of others teams, using means close to corruption and threat. Since three years, UPSA has introduced a system of Mercato, two short periods throughout the year, during which the transfer can be done.
Highly influenced by the British Premiere League, the majority of the clubs are named Liverpool, Manchester United, Everton, Chelsea, Arsenal and Newcastle United. One can even find Barcelona, the Juventus or Hannover 96… They meet regularly during tournament organized in Boma A, the central courtyard of the Upper part of Luzira, the men quarters, where 3.500 inmates live in a space designed for 500.
Today, Luzira is certainly the siege of what can be considered as the most elaborated jail Football League in the world and a model of the power of transformation of people by the sport. It has a recidivism rate of less than 30%, better than its counterparts in the UK, France or the United States.