There was an era when Kenya was the most feared hunting ground in Africa. That was the time when even giants like Cameroon, Egypt, Nigeria and many other African countries both at national and club level feared visiting Kenya.
And during that eventful era of the late 70s and 80s the late President Daniel Arap Moi thrived on the successes of Harambee Stars, Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards to emerge as one of the biggest sports loving presidents in Africa.
He was in the league of the late Mobutu Sese Seko of former Zaire (now DR Congo), Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia among others.
It was during this period that Moi would attend matches at the famous Nyayo National Stadium every weekend and it was a must that he had to greet the players before kick off at the centre of the pitch.
I had the privilege as a youthful reporter at Kenya Times and later at Nation that I encountered with Mzee Moi on many occasions. At the height of Gor and AFC Leopards supremacy both in Kenya and in East and Central Africa (Cecafa), the media would give both teams full centre spread coverage and Moi would not miss to be captured in those pages.
With success assured by the two giants, visiting State House was one of the best tours for most us in the sports media.
After Kenya under Marshall Mulwa won the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup three years in a row 1981-83, Moi invited the all conquering Stars to State House where he dished out goodies to the players and the technical bench.
Then when Gor Mahiia and AFC Leopards dominated the Cecafa Club championship exchanging it among themselves between 1979-1985, Moi invited the two giants to State House and allocated them land in Kasarani where he advised them to build their own stadiums, club houses and even hotels.
Unfortunately, the two teams never seized that opportunity to follow -up on the land allocations.
Moi in his true element as Kenya's Number one sportsman was at his best in 1987 — the year, Harambee Stars, Gor and AFC Leopards strode the African terrain like raging elephants. This was the year, Mzee Moi became a close friend of sports writers in Kenya.
Kenya hosted one of the best All Africa Games in August of that year. It was the same year, Gor made history by winning the Africa Cup Winners Cup and Leopards reached the quarter finals of the African Club Champions Cup. Going to State House and being hosted by Mzee Moi had become a matter of routine.
During the All African Games, Moi suspended all other state functions and committed himself to attending matches involving Harambee Stars and other disciplines rotating between Nyayo Stadium, Moi Sports Centre, Kasarani for volleyball, KICC for boxing contests, Gymkhana for tennis and City Park for hockey matches.
Energetic and tireless, Moi led his cabinet, politicians and business men in cementing Kenya’s name as a sporting power house in Africa. The All Africa Games inspired some sense of nationalism in Kenya with Moi stealing the show.
He was all over and we were there in his entourage during these two eventful weeks. The climax of it all was the football final at MISC when Kenya played Egypt in the final and indeed, there has never been a bigger crowd like that in the history of Kenyan football.
In one of his surprises, Gor were scheduled to play El Mereikh of Sudan in Khartoum in 1985 and because of instability in that country, Moi instructed Kenya's ambassador in Khartoum to ensure that the team was hosted in his residence.
It should be noted that after independence, Kenya had only one stadium — City Stadium in Nairobi. But after assuming the presidency in 1978, Moi inaugurated Nyayo National Stadium in 1982 which was completed in 1983 and hosted the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup the same year.
As a smart politician who knew the power of sports and more specifically football, the late President inaugurated the spectacular MISC which has remained an iconic sport feature in the region.
As Kenya football began to fade in the 90s, Moi still attended matches involving Gor and Leopards, while at the same time swinging to Nyayo and Kasarani to attend athletics, volleyball and other disciplines.
Moi was a genuine sportsman in the true sense of the word.
The writer is a journalist and Secretary General of Cecafa