Kenya Harambee Stars Loss: A President’s Misfortune and a National Tragedy

Published on 5th August 2014

Harambee Stars
Kenya’s national football team, the Harambee Stars, recently got knocked out of the running of the premier continental championships, the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in the 2nd round of preliminaries to ‘minnows’ Lesotho. A shame, if not a tragedy, for a country currently ranked 95th in the world and 24th in Africa compared to Lesotho, ranked 131 in the world and 40th in the continent. They in effect could not make the Group stage of the qualifying rounds to the penultimate games slated for Morocco in 2015. Prior to this match, Kenya ‘struggled’ to overcome a determined Comoros in their first qualifier, scrapping through by a slim 2-1 margin. Comoros are ranked 172 in the world and 47th in Africa.

Rankings may not determine the realities on the football pitch on match day, but they do provide an indication of the status of one’s team against another and in effect raise much expectations for easing through ‘minnows’. Kudos to Comoros and Lesotho respectively for raising the bar in the standards of football in their countries with their record against the higher ranked Kenya, but where on the other hand, the latter’s showing is but symbolic of its dwindled, rather than dwindling, status.

There was much hope for Kenya to showcase itself at AFCON 2015 after an 11 year absence with its bevy of high profile European based professionals and be amongst Africa’s best. Expectations were therefore on a high that the team would breeze through not only the qualifiers but also through their Group stage against Angola, Burkina Faso and Gabon in Group ‘C.’ Reports indicated that this was probably the Stars' best chance to grace the Africa Cup of Nations finals.’

The senior men’s national football team is a far cry from its dominant status it once enjoyed in the East and Central African region and even Africa where it commanded respect from many a team. In fact it took the Stars 11 years to win back the regional crown last year, a tournament that has been dominated by Uganda (with 13 titles compared to Kenya’s 6).

Reclaiming this title raised much hope that the Head of State made true to a promise to bequeath members of the national team a dream trip to watch the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. As a gesture of goodwill meant to not only encourage and motivate talented members of the national team but also inspire them towards global greatness, the President contributed Sh10.4 million (~US$ 120,000) for the 6 day trip for 13 players and 3 team officials, while the team’s main sponsors, East African Breweries Limited, contributed a further Sh3.48 million (~US$ 40,000). It was the hope of the Head of State that the trip would aid the players “emulate whatever good thing they will see in Brazil.” Indeed this was the first time in the country’s history that the nation’s President would sponsor a national team to grace an international tournament in which it is not competing.

Given the President’s personal commitment and symbolic leadership to see the success of the national football team through his kind gesture and in fulfilment of a pledge, it would have been appropriate and most opportune for his Excellency to have extended his displeasure at the spectacle of the dwindled fortune of the ‘Stars’ with a state address that very night the team lost out to Lesotho and in effect declare a national tragedy!

The pain and sorrow caused by this elimination to many a fan is no different to any calamity that has befallen the country. This loss is a national tragedy and the President should have made this loud and clear and call for all relevant stakeholders to put their heads and acts together and foresee how this may be avoided once and for all. This call would have equally shown the seriousness of the matter given the President’s expensive goodwill for the national football team with a fully paid trip to ‘Copacabana.’

It is a tragedy that the players did not live up to the expectations of the Head of State to “emulate whatever good thing they will see in Brazil.” It is a tragedy as well in the allocation of much needed and scare financial resource to the senior men’s team for a luxurious trip when such could have been allocated to projects aimed at for instance, nurturing talents. Indeed reports indicate mixed reactions on the President’s goodwill gesture with calls made on social media suggesting that such ‘available’ money could have supported the national Under-17 football team which had to withdraw from the Africa Youth Championships qualifying round on the felt basis of lack of funds. Kenya’s withdrawal in turn handed an automatic qualification to South Sudan who are set to play fancied Ghana in the next round of the competition. Kenya’s dwindled football status and the President’s misfortune in this respect indeed makes for a national tragedy!

By Satwinder Rehal

Professor, Helena Z. Benitez School of International Relations and Diplomacy,The Philippine Women’s University, Manila, The Philippines.

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