Emotions are still raw after the country suffered the shame of being stripped of rights to host the 2018 African Nations Championship. The chance of hosting some of the big names in African football — Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Morocco et al — went up in smoke, just like that.
Meanwhile, our beloved national team Harambee Stars was long knocked out of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, meaning Kenya was condemned to little or no competitive international football on its soil until the second round of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. Their next fixture is in March against Ghana.
It all looked gloom and doom until the Council of East and Central Africa Football Associations (Cecafa) endorsed Kenya as hosts of the 2017 Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup. What a godsend!
In fact, Kenya has long been associated with the Senior Challenge Cup going back to the Gossage Cup days of the 1920s when it was a two team affair between Harambee Stars and Uganda Cranes before Tanganyika and then Zanzibar joined the fray in the 1940s. Now it is a 12-nation affair.
The Senior Challenge Cup, Africa’s oldest regional football competition, has over the years helped member nations develop their football and Harambee Stars build their reputation, and that is the spirit that Football Kenya Federation, under the sometimes belligerent Nick Mwenda, should embrace.
I remember in 2010 in Luanda, Angola, during the Confederation of African Football (Caf) Congress, former Fifa President Sepp Blatter praised Cecafa for their outstanding contribution to African football. The Council had gone 10 years in a row staging three tournaments annually and attracting huge sponsorships across the region – GTV, SuperSport, EABL, just to name a few of the big corporations.
Things though started going south in Cecafa two years ago when wrangles and schemes to stage a leadership coup played negatively against the Council.
Secretary General Nicholas Musonye, who has been at the centre of action in Cecafa activities since 1999, went underground as daggers were drawn all over the region. He appeared at Caf functions and made little comment on Cecafa matters. When the Council failed to organise a single event in 2016, there was fear that the long serving Secretary General was no longer interested in the regional organisation and Cecafa was on its death bed. But then, there were other forces pulling in different directions.
However, Musonye, a former sports journalist, said late last year that Cecafa members should learn to protect their property. “When it was down and virtually dead in the late 90s, some of us saw the need to revive it because it is the only organisation that holds our region together with passion,” he said.
The plain, painful truth is that most of the teams in the zone do not qualify for Fifa and Caf final events and it is only Cecafa that can stage competitions at this level and keep the players in the region active internationally.
Early this year, some members met in Kampala ostensibly to chat about development. But the meeting was not seen in the right lenses by the Cecafa Executive Committee. Attempt by some members to overhaul the leadership failed.
LULL IN ACTIVITY
There seemed to be a lull in activity until three weeks ago when the Council held an Extra Ordinary General Assembly in Khartoum, Sudan and resolved to re-ignite the Cecafa spirit of staging competitions annually. The General Assembly subsequently endorsed one of their founder members, Kenya, to host the 2017 Challenge Cup.
The Assembly felt Kenya, East Africa’s biggest economy, deserved something after Caf denied them the rights to host Chan next year.
Cecafa has lined up two other competitions this year running back to back. The Under-17 will be staged in Burundi while Rwanda will organise the Women’s Championship.
The region will also stage 2019 Afcon Under-17 finals in Tanzania. Musonye is confident that the members will remain active and honour their obligations.
In a show of “good” co-operation from erstwhile adversaries, Musonye and Mwendwa visited Western and Nyanza last week to promote Cecafa in Kakamega and Kisumu. When visiting Kakamega, the two football administrators were seen for the first time sharing a platform, perhaps a sign of better working relationship.
They visited Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya who stated the county’s desired to host The Cecafa Cup. The Cecafa and FKF delegation toured the refurbished Bukhungu stadium and expressed confidence that the venue will be ready for Cecafa.
It will be positive for our football if Musonye and Mwendwa work for a successful tournament if only to show Kenya does have what it takes, and also relive the golden memories of Harambee Stars’ heady success in this age-old tournament.
Nyende is a Sub Editor at Nation Media Group’s sports desk. [email protected]