Taiwo’s dream debut for Stars highly unlikely

US-based striker Taiwo Opiyo during a training session at Nairobi's Moi International Sports Centre. Photo/CHRIS OMOLLO

US-based striker Taiwo Atieno can only receive a Kenyan passport after he renounces his British citizenry, Immigration minister Otieno Kajwang said on Wednesday.

“The young man is a Kenyan by descent. But he has chosen to be British. We will give him a Kenyan passport but he has to give up his British citizenship. He cannot have both and that is the law,” Kajwang said on Wednesday.

Atieno, born of a Kenyan father, Moussa Awuonda, and English mother, Bridget Mary Glaisher, was called up to the national team, the Harambee Stars, early this month for their World Cup qualifier against Tunisia on March 28.

But the expected debut of the Rochester Rhinos (United Soccer Leagues, First Division) player, who has impressed in training at Kasarani, has hit a snag because of his British nationality.

According to Fifa rules, he can only play for the Harambee Stars if he is a passport-holding Kenyan citizen. Reached for comment, Atieno was non-committal about renouncing his current nationality.

“I just want to focus on football and play for the country of my father. I hope to get my Kenyan passport by March 28. Whatever the case, I will support Kenya in their preparations for the match. We all want to win,” the 23-year-old Harambee Stars aspirant said.

Atieno was born in Brixton, London, and started his club football career at the age of 15. In previous interviews with the Press, he expressed his dreams of playing international football for Kenya.

That dream moved closer to reality in December 2008 when he travelled to Kenya to plead his case and action videos he presented on his football career sufficiently impressed FKL technical director, Patrick Naggi, to give him a national call-up.

“We have lost so many of our nationals in sports to other countries like Bahrain, Qatar and Japan. Now we have people with Kenyan heritage wanting to represent Kenya. We will feel let down by the state if Atieno’s desires are not fulfilled,” Naggi said in an earlier interview.

International cricket

Atieno’s predicament brings into focus the issue of dual citizenship in the country that was included in the draft new constitution.

Many Kenyans, particularly sports men, have changed nationalities but for all practical purposes have continued to live like they were still nationals of their former country. The sportsmen compete for their new nation but maintain close social and economic contacts with their country of descend.

International cricket, which does not have stringent rules on citizenship, has seen Britons of Kenyan origin feature for Kenya. Ravindu Shah and Seren Walters are cases in point. Shah was a key figure in the successful Kenya team that reached the semi-finals of the 2003 Cricket World Cup.


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