Four years after Nicholas Kithuku Mwendwa was elected Football Kenya Federation (FKF) president, all indicators suggest he is beginning to feel the strain that comes with the responsibilities of this role.
This past fortnight, the 40-year-old joined several other federation heads to train guns at Sports Principal Secretary Kirimi Kaberia.
While addressing the media and also appearing before the Sports Committee of National Assembly chaired by Machakos Town MP Victor Munyaka, Mwendwa appeared angry and frustrated.
He accused Kaberia of deliberately refusing to fund both Harambee Stars and Harambee Starlets preparations ahead of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations and 2020 Tokyo Olympic qualifiers.
The government is required by law to fund all national teams and athletes competing in international engagements.
"I have tried everything to handle this situation diplomatically but the PS just refuses to respond to all my letters and phone calls. I was left with no choice because these teams have to play. The boys and girls are on my case," Mwendwa told Nation Sport.
Also, the youthful football manager is facing a headache of containing and repaying a ballooning debt by the federation totalling Sh350 million.
Of these monies, Sh160 million is owed to former Harambee Stars’ coaches Bobby Williamson and Adel Amrouche.
The remaining amount is payable as taxes to Kenya Revenue Authority, legal fees, to service providers and a host of other former employees who have since moved to court.
Mwendwa said he inherited most of these debts from his predecessor Sam Nyamweya who has, however, responded calmly.
"I thought he [Mwendwa] knows when one marries a widow, he has to also take responsibility of raising her children from the previous marriage," says Nyamweya.
And while this is happening, the season of football politics is here with us with delegates expected to vote in a new FKF president and other officials on December 7.
There is a thin difference between the intrigues and drama in football and national politics, so we already are witnessing a myriad of legal battles, flying accusations at press conferences, and “boycotts,” as FKF's Electoral Board, led by Professor Edwin Wamukoya, says Mwendwa and his deputy Doris Petra are unopposed heading towards the election.
Other challengers seeking the presidency including Nyamweya, seasoned politicians Moses Akaranga and Alex Ole Magelo, plus Nairobi businessman Steve Mburu, claim the incumbent has erected hurdles in form of “draconian” rules aimed at barring them from contesting.
This stand-off has in turn resulted in three court cases on the matter lodged at the High Court and Sports Disputes Tribunal challenging the electoral process.
And finally, there are increased calls for the scrutiny of FKF's expenditure and specifically the hundreds of millions of shillings the football body receives from international affiliates such as Fifa and the Confederation of African football.
Specifically, Mwendwa and his team have been put to task to account for Sh244 million received from government to prepare Harambee Stars for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt earlier this year.
He is also hard pressed to account for the whereabouts of an Outside Broadcasting Van the federation bought with funds from world governing body Fifa to the tune of Sh135 million.
"These [allegations] are all about politics David," Mwendwa begins to explain as we settle for an interview inside his Kasarani-based Kandanda House office this past week. "We have been in office for 45 months. I have worked with three Cabinet secretaries and none of them has questioned our expenditure. My National Executive Committee has also approved all our funding."
SIMPLE DRESS CODE
Popularly known us “Nick” in football circles, Mwendwa is a talkative fellow, one likely to express himself more than anyone at a round table.
He prefers a simple dress code.
Those who claim to know him better say he is made some good money offering system-based solutions to corporates and government.
He also has deep political and business connections, they say.
Make no mistake, he can be friendly and unfriendly in a nutshell, depending on who the customer is. What cannot be argued is his passion for football.
The father of three says he has been involved in the beautiful game from his time in High School and at the grassroots level for the better part of the last decade and a half while serving in various capacities, including as a coach.
His passion most often comes out when he is stressing a point.
He also suggests these strong feelings contributed to his achievements in office during his first term.
These include Starlets’ qualification for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon for the first time in the country's history.
The team is now three games away from qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics. They drew 2-2 with Zambia on Saturday in their penultimate fixture, and play the second leg in Lusaka on Monday requiring a win to face either Cameroon or Cote d’Ivoire in the final round.
The national football men’s team Harambee Stars won the 2017 Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup in Kenya, and also qualified for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt for the first time in 15 years under Mwendwa’s watch.
He has also overseen the formation of the Under-15 national teams dubbed the “Centre of Excellence,” the Under-17 team, women’s youth team, and women’s Premier League.
Amid a cool breeze and the penetrating rays from the evening sunlight, Mwendwa also reveals he has trained 2,000 coaches and 350 referees, setting them up for 'employment opportunities'.
"I have accounted for all monies I have received not only from government, but also from Fifa," he says with an aura of confidence.
Mwendwa has documents that show Sh17 million of the Sh244 million Africa Cup of Nations budget was used to prepare the Under-23 team for a two-leg 2020 Olympics qualification match between Kenya and Sudan.
These monies had initially been located towards a friendly match against Togo in Lome which did not happen.
Another Sh25 million was used to facilitate Harambee Stars final qualification match for the 2019 Africa Nations Cup away to Ghana in Accra.
About Sh42 million was spent on the men national team's camp in France as the team was preparing for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
Some Sh50 million was used to pay the players allowances promised to them by Deputy President William Ruto for making it to the continental competition, he says. He says each of the 35-players pocketed between Sh250,000 and Sh950,000, depending on how many matches of the qualification campaign one had participated in.
Other monies were used in preparing for two international friendlies against Madagascar and DR Congo in Paris and Madrid.
"We camped at the same facility the Portuguese national team used when it won the Uefa Euro 2016.
“Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed came there and was impressed by the training camp.
“We treated Brian Mandela after he got injured in camp. We procured the training kit and uniforms our teams used in Egypt."
Mwendwa said then Harambee Stars’ coach Sebastian Migne encouraged the federation to work with the One Goal Agency to plan for the camp.
"We had to work with his agency, he didn't trust anyone else with his training tactics. Fifa approved the agency because it is registered."
Other funds received by Fifa to the tune of Sh100 million each year, are channelled towards payment of staff salaries and PAYE at a cost of Sh7 million a month, plus training of referees and coaches, partly funding the youth teams at the recent Cecafa Under-15 and Under-20 Championship. This cash also facilitates the women premier league, among other expenses.
"Accountability is when you use monies for the intended purpose."
So what does the future hold for Kenyan football? Mwendwa is confident of re-election. He says he will build two football pitches within Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, which will be exclusively used for training by national teams.
He also plans to put up hostels within the FKF secretariat to be used for camping by national teams. "We are in talks with sponsors. The plan is to eventually reduce the reliability on government for funds.
“We have had less noise and complaints from our members and officials. We have a vision to qualify for the next stage which is the World Cup in 2022 or 2026. Our ladies could make it to the Olympics. We want to take Kenyan football to the next level."
He has also ruled out any 'handshake' deal with his opponents both pre or post elections.
"We will win the [electoral related] court cases because those challenging us are not football members.
“Opposition leader Raila Odinga managed to do a handshake with the President (Uhuru Kenyatta) because he has a constituency. Our opponents have no support. I can prove that. We are unopposed in all our National Executive Committee seats and in 35 of the 45 counties."
"Our Under-15 and Under-20 football teams are the best in the region judging from the results. These players will form our next senior national team. We have our eyes on competing in the (Fifa) 2022 or 2026 World Cup."
A soon to be announced Sh35 million sponsorship deal between betting firm Betika and FKF for the second-tier National Super League promises better tidings.
Being FKF president comes with a myriad of goodies including the mandate to control an estimated Sh1.2 billion annual football budget provided for by the government, corporates and via gate collections.
About 15 percent of this budget is received as grants from the sport's world governing body Fifa and continental affiliate Caf and only remains accountable to those two entities.
TOURING THE WORLD
The FKF president is also in charge of supervising the development of football talents even as he or she manages the various national teams including Harambee Stars.
As the local football boss, the incumbent is also accorded the luxury of touring the world to represent Kenya at Fifa and Caf Congresses, from where he gets to join a team of 200-plus Football Association (FA) presidents in creating policies and regulations governing the sport while pocketing handsome per diems.
He or she also is an invited VIP guest in the opening and final matches of most international tournaments including the Africa Cup of Nations and Fifa World Cup.
But it is the FKF president's supporting cast consisting of football delegates scattered across all the 47-counties in the country which perhaps makes him appeal to influential politicians who crave for such grassroots support.
My interview with Mwendwa is eventually cut short by a long telephone call and the emergence of a smiling Barry Otieno who now acts as FKF's general secretary.
The future of Kenyan football, for now, is in the hands of these two.
Four months after the Africa Cup of Nations debacle in Cairo, the spotlight is now on Nick Mwendwa’s office regarding the national team’s expenditure during the competition. Read an exclusive Special Report on the federation’s financial intrigues in Monday's Daily Nation.