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Mahallon Danga among rare breed of selfless officials

Friday May 22 2020
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Gor Mahia secretary Mahallon Danga at his office. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By ROY GACHUHI

I miss public spirited officials like him in a Kenyan football scene that today resembles a fire department that has been taken over by arsonists.

Mahallon Danga was a founding official of Gor Mahia Football Club. I came into sports journalism when he was the secretary of the club.

We soon became both friends and sparring partners because I kept my professional distance from him.

He was the embodiment of loyal and competent service to his club, consistently giving over and above what would be expected of a public official.

Gor Mahia was his club and he treated it as he would his own family.

They nicknamed him “Diallo Teli” after the Guinean who was the first secretary general of the Organization of African Unity, the precursor of today’s African Union.

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That spoke volumes: Danga personified the character of a natural civil servant.

He was so skilled in the art of politics that he could pull strings and perform deft acrobatics while still appearing to remain above the fray.

But at all times, his intentions were above question: the good of the club was his constant north.

SPIRITED OFFICIAL

I miss public spirited officials like him in a Kenyan football scene that today resembles a fire department that has been taken over by arsonists.

In January 1982, Danga approached me with a manuscript of his book titled “The Formation of the Mighty Gor Mahia Football Club.”

He said to me: “I have been wrestling with this book for a long time. I am not a writer and I thought about you. Could you please edit it for me? Be as critical as you wish.”

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Gor Mahia FC chairman Peter Anyumba (left) with the club’s secretary Mahallon Danga celebrate after the club was awarded the Orbitsports monthly award in the 1980s. Gor Mahia was Danga’s club and he treated it as he would his own family. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Such was the man’s commitment. Not only had he taken part in the founding of his club and dutifully administered its affairs, but now he had actually chronicled its story.

Tell me where to find such people today.

I promised Danga I would give his manuscript a look over, at no cost. After doing so, I sent him a five-page, double-spaced type-written report, a copy of which I still keep.

It is dated January 14, 1982. (My head took a gentle spin when I saw that I had signed it off from “Nation Sports Desk.” I chuckled at the thought of today’s journalists banging away at typewriters inside those twin towers.)

I wrote in the introduction: “Mahallon Danga is a well-known and able football administrator in Kenya. His comments on the country’s football scene, therefore, deserve attention and more so when he elects to tackle as his subject the development of the football club which is known to more Kenyans than any other and which has curved for itself a name in the African football map.

“The Formation of the Mighty Gor Mahia Football Club” is a book on this club from its formation in 1968 to the present. It is a very informative book and goes beyond anything that has been written on a similar subject.

“It is a book of hard facts, from the beginning to the end. Gor Mahia, as Mr Danga rightly points out, is a household name in Kenya football.

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Gor Mahia secretary Mahallon Danga (left) during a club function where they received a set of uniforms and footballs worth Sh2,165 from D. M. Otieno, a manager with American Life Insurance Company. Danga was a selfless football administrator. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

“It has a big, diversified and fanatical following. Its supporters cut across the class and ethnic divides of many Kenyans. Thus, cabinet ministers and ordinary men and women, some of them jobless and others earning no more than a casual labourer’s daily wage, mingle at the Nairobi City Stadium whenever Gor Mahia is faced with a big match.”

I found a lot of merit in the book but in retrospect, I think I was far too hard in my appraisal of its weaknesses.

My critical comments could have discouraged a less committed person but fortunately, Danga was not such a man.

He took it his stride, did some revisions, and went ahead to publish the book.

For all its weaknesses, there wasn’t anything else to compare and thus he left something for posterity, immortalizing his name in the annals of his club.

PRAGMATIC MAN

Danga was not a dreamer. He was a pragmatic man.

If he believed that Gor Mahia would become African champion in his time, it was because he could figure out a pathway to such a destination.

Such a course required a common vision. It required seamless unity of purpose between the players, the technical bench, the officials and the fans.

It has always been a club where opinions are expressed very strongly and loudly and here there are no ambiguities; you hear everything.

To manage such an enterprise required the immense skills I mentioned earlier.

In mid-1980, the club was riven by a great crisis and the danger of a permanent rupture loomed. Everybody appeared to be fighting everybody and the crisis dominated our pages.

At home, I bumped into my neighbour, a great Gor Mahia fan, at the common parking lot and he looked as stricken as a man coming from a wake.

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Walter Masiga (centre) addresses journalists when he announced he would oppose Job Omino for the post of Kenya Football Federation chairman in 1984. With him are Mahallon Danga (left) and Naftali Mogere. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Running his right hand gently over his stomach, he told me sorrowfully: “I can’t eat anymore. I am losing weight because of these problems.”

And Eunice Adhiambo, the fabled “Mama Gor” of cherished memory, phoned me to say all she was doing those days was listening to the tape recording of that year’s radio commentary of the Cecafa Club final between Gor Mahia and Abaluhya (AFC Leopards) in Malawi.

It was an epic match won 3-2 by Gor Mahia and their fans had gone over the moon.

And now this. “I am consoling myself by staying in bed all day long while listening to the tape over and over again. I don’t have strength to get up,” she wearily told me.

Only Danga seemed cool. Whenever you met him, the only thing that betrayed his stress was the absence of his ready smile.

His voice never went a decibel higher. He approached the problems matter-of-factly.

MEND FENCES

If he belonged to any faction, that was not for public consumption. All he cared was to mend fences or, to use today’s language, to build bridges. His head remained above the raging storm.

Danga only infrequently called me to react to the stories I wrote concerning him. But one piece made this quiet man of restrained emotions talk with the nearest thing to excitement.

It was a story written in my old column in The Standard entitled “Off the Pitch” that peered into the distant future.

In it I imagined both of us, long retired from our daily labours and only reluctantly bearing the speed, noise and chaos of Nairobi.

I am reasonably good at keeping my records and I know where to find information that I am looking for, Google or no Google.

That I cannot lay my hands on that piece is a source of great frustration to me and I still cannot accept that I can’t find it. I blame coronavirus.

The future I imagined in that story partly happened for Danga’s retirement because I had written that he would be travelling to Kisumu City, which sounded exotic, but which was declared by President Moi years later. (He declared a few more cities before rescinding his decision after somebody told him cities are not thrown around like confetti, or so I gathered.)

In my case, it has turned out differently. I said I would bid Danga farewell and board a bullet train to Nyeri City.

Well, today I hear they are trying to rehabilitate the old meter gauge railway. Good luck to them. If you visit some stations such as Sagana, Karatina and Kiganjo, you will break down and weep while asking the Almighty what you did to deserve such a fate.

Danga loved the story concept.

It led to one of only the very few times that we socially shared a cup of tea. (Needless to say, it was not necessary to do social distancing and we didn’t wear masks.)

We talked a lot of football and I asked him how long he expected to endure the heat of that kitchen. He said that he didn’t know and it is then that I noticed that he seemed to be getting tired. Body language sometimes speaks a lot more loudly than words.

He told me he liked my writing even when I was faulting his work. He asked me whether I was a Gor Mahia or Abaluhya supporter.

“Pass,” I said and we enjoyed a hearty laugh.

“You are a Gor Mahia supporter,” he told me. “It is obvious from how you write.”

“No comment,” I said and we enjoyed another good laugh.

We returned to the subject of his book and he made it clear to me that that was his first and last attempt at writing.

“You are so lucky,” he said, “because you enjoy such a hard thing.”

I told him that wasn’t exactly the case. I often found it impossibly grueling and only enjoyed it after I’d finished. He didn’t seem convinced.

(I have sworn many times that I am done with writing but I keep coming back. Remember that story that Bitange Ndemo attributed to Chinua Achebe in one of his blogs? When Achebe was asked why he writes, he gave the story of a madman in the village square who kept banging his head violently on a wall. When people asked him why he does such a painful thing, he replied: “Because I feel good when I stop.” As writing goes, I am not different from that madman.)

CITY STADIUM

This week, I read in Nation Sport about how Nairobi City Stadium, Mahallon Danga’s old haunt, had gone to seed.

What a shame.

It started after Kenya defeated Zimbabwe 1-0 in the final of the 1983 Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup at the Nyayo National Stadium.

When captain Elly Adero lifted the Cup high up in the grandstand of the newly-opened stadium, his broad smile seemed to symbolize the start of a new era and the burying of an old one, symbolized by the old City Stadium.

But it was an era into uncertainty and the nostalgic memories of all the great African stars who played at the City Stadium would soon begin to haunt us.

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Part of the dilapidated playing surface at the Nairobi City Stadium on May 20, 2020. PHOTO | DAVID KWALIMWA |

This new place had an eerie stiffness to it, a certain coldness even on the hottest day. The convivial atmosphere of the City Stadium seemed to emanate intrinsically from all of us, regardless of the team we supported.

We flooded the place in our thousands and let our spirits soar and fall with the rhythm of the play of the great stars we worshipped.

The City Stadium was the shrine of our football culture.

The new stadium, with its rough surface, had a psychological hardness suited to a parade ground for the military drills that it would soon become synonymous with.

As we wait out coronavirus, let the great football administrators of yore like Mahallon Danga, who never needed appointments with the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, rest in peace.

Roy Gachuhi, a former Nation Media Group sports reporter, is a writer with The Content House. [email protected]

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