On Thursday 12 November 2021, the Kenyan Sports, Culture and Heritage Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed disbanded the Federation of Kenya Football (FKF) over corruption allegations. A 15-member caretaker committee led by retired judge Aaron Ringera was appointed to hold office for the next six months pending new elections.
Earlier in the week, FKF had been fined KSh6 million for failing to enforce a transfer ban on Gor Mahia. The club had been banned between February and September 2021, but despite the ban it proceeded to register new players between 10 and 22 September. FIFA had indicated that the suspension would last until FKF had paid all the personnel their dues.
CS Amina Mohammed took action following investigations into FKF’s failure to account for funds received from the government and other sponsors. In July 2021, the Auditor-General had raised queries about an irregular payment of KSh11 million made to FKF President Nick Mwendwa. There were also questions regarding allowances and bonuses made to the national team and the technical bench that were not in line with the government-approved rates announced in the run-up to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations held in Egypt.
Immediately after taking office, the caretaker committee issued a press statement suspending all top-tier football leagues for a period of two weeks.
The Kenyan football scene faces controversy every three to four years. This is especially the case when the organisation is about to go into an election or immediately following an election as the officials try to gain credibility, particularly those individuals of questionable character and who are wanting on the ethical and transparency fronts.
We shall seek to understand the history of football in Kenya, the past and present chairmen, their legacies and take a brief look at caretaker committees in the game, as well as what led to the current impasse and how the situation may be remedied.
FIFA’s love of the game
Despite political interference and financial mismanagement, football remains the most popular sport in Kenya as it is in many countries across the world. The game is managed internationally by FIFA, which runs a tight ship that ensures minimal government interference with national football federations. The international body is quoted saying, “As a matter of fact, we deem fit to highlight that all FIFA member associations, including the FKF are statutorily required to manage their affairs independently and without interference of any third parties”
FIFA provides the global framework for the management of football at the country level through the national football management teams or federations. These federations make up the FIFA Congress that brings together delegates from over 210 member countries.
Interestingly in Kenya’s case, FIFA had sent its own officials to take part in the investigations conducted by the government via the Football Kenya Federation Inspection Committee, which recommended disbandment and the holding of new elections as prescribed by the Minister of Sport. FIFA had also offered to mediate between the Federation and the Ministry of Sports “to address any concern both sides may have and, all together, to decide on a way forward for the sake of Kenyan football”.
Politics in Kenyan football
Football was introduced to Kenya by British colonialists. In its expansionist strategy, the British had established outposts in different parts of Africa, initially through religion and education, and then through a military presence that is still visible to date.
Before colonization, local communities had distinct cultural beliefs and sporting activities that took place at different times and seasons. These included boat racing, dancing, hunting, spear throwing and wrestling. Most of these practices were declared pagan when Christian missionaries landed on the East African coast.
On the military front, the King’s African Rifles were formed in the early 1900s as an inter-racial military unit in East Africa, with the rank-and-file under British and Asian officers. The cultural and political mix brought out many differences which were bridged by the game of football, as described by Anthony Clayton in Sport and African Soldiers: The Military Diffusion of Western Sport throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.
Clayton notes that football was initially introduced by the colonialists in the urban areas and in elite schools and was used as another tool of segregation and social control. Football clubs were eventually tolerated by the colonial masters as one of the few African-run organizations. The game was enthusiastically picked up by the Luhya and Luo of Western Kenya and by the Miji Kenda of the Coast.
Football union in Kenya?
Competitive football was started in 1923 with the formation of the Arab and African Sports Association and, in 1924, a multi-racial Kenyan team toured key towns within East Africa. A subsequent tournament in 1926 led to the inauguration of the Gossage Cup with the participation of Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, and Zanzibar — the precursor to the East and Central Africa Senior Challenge Cup.
An example of a community club developed in pre-colonial times is the Luo Union Football Club (later renamed Re-Union) which was formed in 1957 by the Luo community around the shores of Lake Victoria. It started off as a welfare club of the Luo Union of East Africa and comprised players working with the then Tanganyika Plantation Company in Mwanza. It would record regional success in the mid-1970s.
Football was initially introduced by the colonialists in the urban areas and in the elite schools and was used as another tool of segregation and social control.
Fredrick Lugard’s The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa (1922) emphasises the importance of sport and education in building Africans’ constitutions both physical and moral — through games like athletics, cricket and football. The educationists of the time believed that character is formed “by the public opinion of the school-boy world in which a boy moves”. Lugard continues and notes that it is in a boarding school that (a boy) “learns to be less self-centred, and to take pride in the corporate body of which he is a member — the school, the ‘house’, or the sports ‘team’ — and to understand the meaning of ‘playing the game’ of loyalty, and of co-operation as a common ambition and a united effort.”
The opening of schools by the missionaries and settlers led to the development of various centres of excellence in different regions including Alliance High School and Kagumo in Central Kenya, Maseno and St Mary’s Yala in Nyanza, and St Patrick’s in Iten. These schools became academic powerhouses and centres of sporting excellence, equipped as they were with sports infrastructure for games like volleyball, netball, athletics and football.
With a vibrant football culture building up, the Kenya Football Association was initially founded in 1956 to promote local competitions as well as the participation of the national team at the regional level. The association was formed as an initiative of the colonial settlers and local football leaders. It involved cup competitions such as the Remington Cup at club level and the Gossage Cup at regional level. The Kenya Football Association became a member of FIFA in 1960 and formed the now fully national football league in 1963.
The Kenya Independence Tournament was organized in the run-up to independence, pitting Kenya against its neighbours, Tanganyika, Uganda and a select team of Scottish expatriates. The tournament’s winning team would be awarded the Uhuru Cup. It is during this tournament that Kenya’s future football stars such as Joe Kadenge, Elijah Lidonde, James Sianga, Ali Kajo and Alu Sungura came to the fore. The games were played at the Donholm Road Stadium, now known as City Stadium.
The independence government allowed community clubs to emerge and thrive. These included major clubs such as Abaluhya United (an amalgamation of teams from Western Kenya), Gor Mahia (born out of the merger of Luo Union and Luo Sports Club and drawn from the Luo community of the Nyanza region) and later Shabana FC (from the Gusii community).
1960s and 70s – The early days
The football league formed in 1963 had 10 clubs from Kenya’s three main cities, with Nairobi represented by seven teams—Luo Union, Maragoli United, Marama, Nairobi Heroes, Bunyore, Kakamega and Samia Union. The Coast was represented by two teams—Mwenge (formerly Liverpool) and Feisal while the Rift Valley had one—Nakuru All-Stars.
The first chairman of the Kenya Football Association was Isaac Lugonzo. A budding sports administrator who had officiated in the 1962 Africa Cup of Nations, he helped develop the first nationwide league in Kenya. He held office for just over a year before plunging into politics and becoming the Mayor of Nairobi in 1967, taking over from Charles Rubia who had served as Nairobi’s first African mayor.
The involvement of football administrators in politics had started off in earnest. The second team in office was led by John Kasyoka, a multi-talented sportsman who also served as chair of the Kenya Table Tennis Federation. A pharmacist by day, his interest in sports saw him manage the game of football for the next five years until 1968.
Kasyoka’s would be the first football management team to be disbanded and taken over by a caretaker committee. Ronald Ngala, the then Minister of Co-operatives and Social Services—under which Sports was domiciled—dissolved the Kenya Football Association and suspended the league for alleged mismanagement. The caretaker team was led by one Jonathan Njenga (then a Member of Parliament for Limuru).
In 1969, Martin Shikuku was elected chair of the Kenya Football Association. His reign was as dramatic as his maverick career in politics. On taking office, he became the centre of a controversy arising from penalizing Gor Mahia and expelling four of its players along with renowned referee Ben Mwangi. Shikuku is also alleged to have been involved in corrupt backroom dealings favouring Abaluhya FC (from Western Kenya, Shikuku’s home region).
The Kenya Football Association became a member of FIFA in 1960 and formed the now fully national football league in 1963.
The poor performance of Harambee Stars at the CECAFA tournament led the then Minister of Co-operatives and Social Services, Masinde Muliro, to once again dissolve the Association and appoint a second caretaker committee with Bill Martin as Chair, Joab Omino as Secretary and H. Ramogo as Treasurer.
Under Bill Martin—who had served as the Nairobi Provincial Commissioner—Harambee Stars qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations before playing in the World Cup qualifiers in 1974.
Elections were held in 1973 and William Ngaah of Kenya Railways was elected to serve for a term of one year. Running in the same election was the brilliant and well-oiled Kenneth Matiba who upon losing, chose to walk out and form the Kenya Football Federation.
The fall of KFA and rise of KFF
The newly formed KFF was supported by 80 clubs. Matiba, a major shareholder in many blue-chip companies including Kenya Breweries, sought to model Kenya’s football along the lines of the English and other European leagues. His influence at Kenya Breweries led to the formation of the Kenya Breweries FC that broke the two-way championship challenge of AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia. The team competed at the continental level, reaching the semi-finals in the then Africa Cup Winners’ Cup (now Champions League).
The emergence of the KFF led to the slow death of the Kenya Football Association as all the major teams, including AFC Leopards, joined the new federation. The period between 1973 and 1978 would mark a significant move towards commercialization of the game. It is also during this time that the national team, Harambee Stars, won its first major tournament in the East and Central African Championships (CECAFA).
Matiba went into politics and did not run in the 1978 elections in which Dan Owino became the next chairman. Owino’s reign was characterized by misappropriation of funds and maladministration, leading to the formation of the third caretaker committee.
Into the 80s and 90s
The 1980s were a period of turmoil for the Kenya Football Federation which was dissolved twice. A caretaker committee led by Chris Obure took over in 1981 and Joab Omino was elected chairman in 1985.
Interestingly, it is in this same decade that the Kenyan clubs and the national team won top honours in the CECAFA Club Championships and the Senior Challenge Cup, respectively. In 1987, while hosting the All-African Games, Kenya narrowly missed the top honours, losing the final game to The Pharaohs from Egypt.
The involvement of football administrators in politics had started off in earnest.
Building on the successes of the 1980s, KFF put in a bid to host the Africa Cup of Nations in the early 1990s. While the government of the day pledged to develop a second international stadium and the necessary infrastructure, politics saw off the country’s best chance to bring the rest of Africa to Kenya. KFF Chairman Joab Omino was in the opposition and the government did not actively support him and the Federation’s bid to host the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations. In 1995, with KFF’s bid looking dim, CAF banned Kenya for two consecutive tournaments.
In 1992, yet another caretaker committee was formed, with educationist Dr Matthew Karauri appointed to head the team. He was in office when Harambee Stars qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations for only the second time. But the team was humiliated in Morocco, losing all 3 group matches. However, the administration of football would run smoothly until the early 2000s.
2000s - New millennium, same old same old?
The turn of the century also brought with it more corporate types—Peter Kenneth from 1996 to 2000 and Maina Kariuki 2001-2004. While the former ran a fairly stable and controversy-free term, the latter was known for mismanagement, corruption and court wrangles that saw the government dissolve the federation followed by 3-month ban by FIFA.
Between 1996 and 2002, stability in the administration of Kenya’s football helped bring some level of success to the game. In 1996, Kenya played Algeria in Nairobi, beating them 3-1 before an aggregate of 3-2 saw Harambee Stars eliminate the Desert Foxes from the 1998 World Cup qualifiers. Kenya played Nigeria—the reigning Olympic gold medallists— in 1997, holding them to a 1-1 draw at the Kasarani stadium, in one of the most memorable games of the decade.
In 2002, a caretaker committee chaired by Philip Kisia held the brief for a few months before Maina Kariuki was reinstated as KFF Chair. A year later, 11 top clubs left the KFF to form the Kenya Premier Football Group Limited. A FIFA/KFF normalization committee was formed which changed the name to the Kenya Premier League Limited under a new constitution.
Shikuku is also alleged to have been involved in corrupt backroom dealings favouring Abaluhya FC
Dr Alfred Sambu was elected chair in 2004 and called upon to restore the game to its former glory. However, even he could not save the game from the politics and divisions of fellow officials Sammy Obingo and Mohammed Hatimy. FIFA’s blessings eventually fell on Hatimy who became the KFF Chairman, getting a taste of his own medicine when, shortly after his appointment, Sam Nyamweya obtained a court injunction preventing him from running football affairs.
In 2005, KFF agreed that the Kenya Premier League Limited would manage the 2005-6 Premier League.
Football Kenya Federation comes into being
The wrangles between Mohammed Hatimy and Sam Nyamweya saw the latter form the Federation of Kenyan Football (FKF). This was after the two ran parallel leagues for almost one year before FIFA intervened, seeking a unified election to restore order to the game. In 2011, Sam Nyamweya beat the more favoured Hussein Mohammed and the Federation of Kenya Football emerged.
A few months into office, Nyamweya would lose one of the biggest and most popular national football competitions—the Sakata Ball challenge—after the FKF demanded 20 per cent of the total sponsorship package from the sponsors, Safaricom. The then CEO Bob Collymore said in a statement, “We have been holding discussions with FKF for the last four months and we have written commitments from them expressing their support for this event and our contribution to local football development generally including the possibility of sponsoring FKF leagues in future.”
Nyamweya’s reign went from bad to worse as he pushed out his vice chair, Sammy Shollei, and the Nairobi branch chair Dan Shikanda. Both officials had filed a court case against the FKF which Nyamweya flipped and in turn suspended them before seeking FIFA’s approval to ban them indefinitely.
A little earlier, in 2003, the Kenya Premier League Limited had been formed under the Kenya Company’s Act as a private company with 18 teams. It was well structured, with a secretariat that ran its affairs under a CEO, voting rights for each of the 18 teams, a Board of Directors, as well as representation from the Kenya Football Coaches Association and Kenya Football Referees Association.
In 2015, the FKF and KPL signed an agreement for the KPL to run the Premier League. The KPL was able to attract major corporate sponsorship and sold media rights to pan-African payTV powerhouse, SuperSport. They were also able to sign up Puma as official ball suppliers and East African Breweries as title sponsors through its flagship brand, Tusker. A good number of the clubs also secured corporate sponsorship. There was also a semblance of order and professionalism, with the necessary infrastructure to run and manage a national league in place.
At the national level, the team won the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup in 2017 while hosting it in three different cities. However, the periods before and after the event were characterised by lack of proper planning, unpaid bills, and lockouts for some of the national teams. The international games were poorly organised, with the national team mostly depending on benevolence to pay for flight tickets or when these were available, arriving at the venues just in the nick of time.
The 1980s were a period of turmoil for the Kenya Football Federation which was dissolved twice.
During Nyamweya’s time in office, a young man by the name of Nick Mwendwa had risen through the ranks after bringing a Nairobi-based team, Kariobangi Sharks, into the top-tier league. His ownership of the club helped propel his fortunes and he was seen as a potential future leader capable of changing the game’s fortunes in Kenya.
Mwendwa was appointed to run the FKF Premier League that was developed as a rival national league to the KPL’s Premier League. The creation of the FKF league was mooted in 2015 as the federation sought to expand the league to 18 teams from the 16-team KPL format in a bid to promote teams from the National Super League. FIFA and the Sports Ministry intervened and the two parties were forced to form a joint league.
Mwendwa’s abrasiveness and tendency to invoke FIFA and CAF provisions concerning the management of the parallel leagues mentioned above gave SuperSport (which was then holding broadcasting rights) legal wiggle room to terminate the 5-year contract which had just been signed with the Kenya Premier League.
Exit Nyamweya, enter Nick
Nyamweya had hoped to defend his seat in the 2016 FKF elections. However, there were allegations of misappropriation of funds and a court order stopped his candidacy. This left Gor Mahia Chairman Ambrose Rachier to battle it out with Nick Mwendwa, who won with a comfortable 50 out of 77 votes cast in February 2016, heralding the dawn of a new era, or so people thought. . .
In July 2016, the FKF developed a draft constitution in consultation with football stakeholders across the country, building consensus and bringing together all parties to develop a watertight and all-inclusive document to manage football affairs.
The appointed legal and constitutional committee met with the newly elected president in the first of several meetings and in December 2016, the final draft was circulated to the National Executive Council (NEC). In mid-2017, the NEC met to discuss the draft document, and again in October 2017 to table and adopt the constitution prepared by the legal and constitutional committee. Observers noticed that the draft had been completely watered-down, with critical clauses missing or revised, including the provision that the president and his deputy would only serve a maximum of two four-year terms in compliance with the Sports Act; the new draft increased the terms to three. The date on which the Annual Congress would take place was no longer specified while the number of members allowed to attend the General Assembly was limited to 94. Moreover, all clauses on accountability, including the public disclosure of NEC sitting allowances, remuneration and salaries, were removed.
With the removal of the clauses mentioned above, Mwendwa had effectively neutered those raising the accountability and transparency concerns that had plagued the administration of the game. The amendments allowing unlimited membership left the door open to cronyism, favouritism, and backroom deals.
The controversy surrounding Nick Mwendwa did not stop there. During the 2018 World Cup qualifiers where Kenya faced Cape Verde in Praia in 2016, over US$170,000 was unaccounted for. In the same year, national coach Bobby Williamson was hastily replaced by Stanley Okumbi who had not coached or tested at the national level. Williamson’s wrongful dismissal cost the federation US$500,000 awarded by the courts. Adel Amrouche, who had also been unceremoniously sacked, was awarded US$37,500. These incidents brought to light the mismanagement and the secrecy under which the federation had started operating.
Nick Mwendwa sought to procure an outside broadcasting (OB) van for the federation for use during local matches and for leasing out to other events to bring in some income for FKF. The proposed OB van had been part of a fleet operated by broadcast partner SuperSport before it closed shop. The van ended up sinking US$1.25 million, initially making its way to FKF’s offices at Kandanda House in Kasarani before it was repossessed, with the president remaining mum about the issue.
In March 2021, FIFA fined FKF US$1.03 million as part of the cost of the arbitration procedure for Adel Amrouche’s wrongful dismissal. In July, the Auditor-General called to question payments made between 25 April and 29 November 2019. These included direct payments of US$100,000 and US$518,180 made to the national team and the technical staff during the Africa Cup of Nations. Another US$1 million was flagged as approved for disbursement to cater for accommodation and team allowances. In light of the clauses removed from the constitution, it was clear that there was rampant financial misappropriation sanctioned by the highest office.
The international games were poorly organised, with the team mostly depending on benevolence to pay for flight tickets.
In 2019, Mwendwa was reelected during a special General Meeting, garnering 77 votes against Lordvick Aduda’s five and Herbert Mwachiro’s three.
SportPesa had in 2015 signed a major sponsorship deal worth KSh450 million over four years. In 2019, the betting firm pulled the plug on sponsorship of the Premier League and traditional arch-rivals AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia, bringing the gravy train to a halt.
In 2020, betting firm BetKing signed a KSh1.2 billion five-year contract to become the title sponsor of the Premier League. The Nigerian-based company pulled out after just one year, citing tough economic times and the tax regime imposed by the Kenyan authorities.
Nick Mwendwa’s regular bouts of foot-in-mouth and chest thumping at media conferences did not help matters. Recent decisions concerning the national team and its poor showing put the government on high alert as the country failed to quality for another major tournament.
Before the start of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, the federation dropped local coach Jacob Mulee, ending his fifth term, and hired a foreign manager, Turkish-born Engin Firat. Firat came from Moldova with a questionable record, having lost 9 of the 11 games he had managed. The new manager lost his opening game, losing 5-0 to Mali. Mwendwa berated the national team on live television for losing 6-0 to Mali in the 2022 World Cup African qualifiers, saying that Kenya did not have enough football talent and that not even “Mourinho or Arteta could save Harambee Stars without quality players”.
Chickens come home to Roost
Nick Mwendwa has tendered his resignation and recommended the appointment of Vice President Doris Petra as the acting president of the disbanded Football Kenya Federation. How this will affect the court’s proceedings, the caretaker committee and football administration remains to be seen.
The van ended up sinking US$1.25 million, initially making its way to FKF’s offices at Kandanda House in Kasarani before it was repossessed.
Whether or not the current impasse between the government and FIFA is resolved, there are many questions that need to be answered. Can there be a better way of identifying, electing, and ensuring the right football officials are put in office? Can nationally elected officials focus on rebuilding the game beyond the boardroom instead of playing politics? Can the federation agree to cast aside its selfish interests and allow a purely professional management to run the top-tier leagues? How many caretaker committees will it take to get the game of football operating at an optimal level and bring back glory and repute to the country? For how long will the selfish interests of a few individuals hold the country to ransom yet talent needs nurturing and growing to its full potential? Can our footballers be allowed to play the game without worrying about where their next meal will come from?
Federation of Kenya Football states that its main objective is “to improve the game of football constantly and promote, regulate and control it throughout the territory of Kenya in the spirit of fair play and its unifying educational, cultural and humanitarian values...”
Can the next administration aim to live by this objective?