Kenya Sevens team celebrates after beating South Africa

Kenya Sevens team celebrates after beating South Africa 17-12 to lift the Rugby Africa Sevens trophy and qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.


Faith Kipyegon and Shujaa show us that we can succeed without Ruto or Raila

President William Ruto and opposition chief Raila Odinga were both quick to send congratulatory messages on the Kenya Rugby Sevens stunning victory over South Africa to seal a Paris 2024 Olympic Games berth.

That could easily be taken as just the routine reaction expected of any politician keen to share in the glory of any event, probably composed and posted on social media by an aide without his knowledge.

However, the eternal optimist in me would also in those simple actions something much more profound.

The achievement of the 7’s team after a few years in the doldrums culminating in relegation from the World Series core teams, or the exploits of running track superstar Faith Kipyegon and other athletics heroes, bring out the things that fill us all with pride and patriotism.

Without consulting or even being aware of it, President Ruto and Mr Odinga were united by Shujaa, the Kenya 7’s team. Everybody else in Kenya — irrespective of political, ethnic, religious or any other divide — would be similarly elated by victory in the sporting arena or any other field of human endeavour.

The lesson is that despite political rivalries, ethnic competition for power and resources, corruption, nepotism, and arrogant, foul-mouthed leaders, we should still be able to bring out and place the things that unite us above the ones that divide us.

One country

If feuding politicians will all too often drive Kenya to the brink of the precipice, it will be good to remember that despite them, we will still be one country, united by Shujaa and Faith, and sharing common goals and aspirations towards a peaceful and secure existence where all have equal opportunity to realise their dreams.

We are reminded that our loyalties are to this country, and not merely to Ruto or Raila. We can exist without domineering politicians and instead see salvation in what we can do for ourselves, taking inspiration from the ordinary men and women who bring us so much glory without ever needing a push from politicians. In that regard we must make it our business to ensure that the ongoing national dialogue is a true Kenyan conversation rather than haggling between two politicians.

The dialogue committee is presently constituted of politicians representing President Ruto and Mr Odinga, but we have opportunity to push for a wider and more representative team that is not tied to the coattails of their respective sponsors.

Kenya politics is too often based on blind loyalty and obedience to a political principal. If the national dialogue is populated by sycophants owing direct and total loyalty to either the president or his opposition rival, it will not deliver to expectations.

The participants will be focused directly on achieving the best deal for their respective boss, rather than what is good for the people of Kenya. It must be elevated beyond creating the Office of Official Opposition for Mr Odinga, legalizing the presumably illegal office of Prime Cabinet Secretary for Mr Musalia Mudavadi or formalising political slush funds for Members of Parliament under the guise of development or oversight funds.

The talks also cannot be centered on the narrow issues of cost of living or the disputed 2022 presidential election results.

Bigger picture

We need to take the bigger view and the bigger picture. That is around building a Kenya that works for all rather than just the parasitic classes in political leadership.

Our approach must be dictated first of all by patriotism, love for country, and love for fellow men and women. If we think of it that way, President Ruto and Mr Odinga actually become irrelevant to the equation. None of them contributed an iota to the success of Shujaa or Faith. Like the rest of us, they were spectators, cheering on for the stands or the living room couch, and of course happy to bask in the glory.

And indeed, we all bask in the glory. We must take great pride in the accomplishments of our sporting stars, but never delude ourselves that we are responsible for their success. They get there through personal sacrifice. It is a journey of blood, sweat and tears to the winning podium, to which there are no shortcuts or a helping hand from some political patron.

What it takes for our sporting ambassadors to rule the world is a lesson that we will never succeed in our chosen fields without hard work, commitment, sacrifice and discipline. We will never get anywhere simply by following Ruto or Raila, waging war on their behalf, or feeding on the crumbs from their tables.

[email protected]    @MachariaGaitho