Kenya’s failure to host 1996 Afcon a blot in Moi’s rich sporting legacy

President Moi is welcomed to Parliament Buildings by the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Job Omino. The late Omino was also chairman of the Kenya Football Federation in 1996 when Kenya was stripped of the rights to host that year’s Africa Cup of Nations football tournament. South Africa eventually hosted, and won, the competition. PHOTO | FILE |

What you need to know:

  • It was shocking that the former president watched as Kenya was awarded, and later on lost, the hosting rights for the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations that was then handed over to a gleeful South Africa

Former president Daniel arap Moi proudly carried the tag shabiki namba moja (fan number one).

This title was attributed to his passion and support for sports.

Mzee Moi enjoyed watching young athletes prosper on and off the pitch and also played his part in bringing success.

He toured stadiums and cheered on Kenyan athletes during local and international engagements, far more times than his predecessor and successors combined.

He was also instrumental in ensuring Kenya was a hub and at the centre of all sports in the region.

"In 1983 when (Confederation of East and Central Africa Football Associations) Cecafa was hobbling from Khartoum to Somalia owing to politics, Moi stepped in and worked hard to ensure the body's headquarters was transferred to Nairobi," recalls Cecafa secretary-general Nicholas Musonye.

"He offered Cecafa an office at Gill House where the Ministry of Sports was based. The secretariat was run by Kenyans.

“In 1985, he launched and closed the Cecafa Kagame Games when Gor Mahia faced AFC Leopards in the final, offering all the required support along the way."

With this background, it was shocking that the former president watched as Kenya was awarded, and later on lost, the hosting rights for the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations.

It is even more baffling to try and understand the circumstances behind the fiasco when you consider, only eight years earlier, the former president had pulled all stops to ensure Kenya successfully hosted the 1987 All Africa Games, even if the project entailed building state-of-the-art stadiums in Nairobi.

The Africa Cup of Nations is a more attractive tournament to host compared to the All Africa Games, even though the latter is logistically a far bigger event.

So what exactly happened in 1996?

CHANGED HIS MIND

Nation Sport has established that Moi personally wrote to the then Confederation of African (Caf) Football President Issa Hayatou to inform him he had changed his mind with regard to hosting the continent's premier football showpiece.

"The President (Daniel Moi) wrote to me saying Kenya was not ready. Morocco and South Africa were ready for the challenge and, eventually, we settled on South Africa. It was an amazing tournament inspired by the late President Nelson Mandela," explained Hayatou, who has since been replaced by Ahmad Ahmad. As a result, Kenya was banned from the next two Africa Cup of Nations tournaments.

It took eight years for Harambee Stars to make a return to the Nations Cup in Morocco and then a further 15 years for Stars to play in the same tournament in Egypt last year.

"Football and politics mixed and, as a result, the tournament did not happen (in Kenya)," recalls Cecafa secretary-general Nicholas Musonye.

"The main people tasked to organise the competition were from the opposition, the likes of Job Omino. To the establishment, they were seen as promoting the opposition. It (the tournament) had to go. That development left the Confederation of African Football in a bad fix."

Understandably, perhaps, Moi is said to have been informed that constructing new football stadiums in the opposition strongholds of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and Kakamega would empower his direct political rivals, at a time his influence among the leaders and locals in those regions was fast fading.

Analysts believe Kenya has never recovered from the setback of not hosting the tournament considering South Africa, Kenya's replacement, won the tournament and also qualified to compete at the Fifa World Cup two years later.

ACTIVELY INVESTED IN FOOTBALL

And in 2010, South Africa, still building on the experience of hosting the Nations Cup, were handed the historic chance to host the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
"We had a good crop of players at that time and Kenya was a big name in African football.

“Harambee Stars qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations in 1988, 1990 and 1992 and hosting the tournament was to take us to the next level just like happened with South Africa, Mali, and Burkina Faso," opines former Harambee Stars coach James Nandwa.

This move also denied Kenyans a chance to watch some of the world's great football stars in flesh.

They include Ghanaian Abedi Pele and George Weah who is the current President of Liberia. Others are Nigerian Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha and Zambian maestro Kalusha Bwalya.

Despite the setback, Mzee Moi still supported football and sports.

"His contribution to the growth of football is significant. Especially when you consider how parastatals and corporates supported football during his administration. It is the structures that he put in place that we are still banking on to develop the game," says Football Kenya Federation president Nick Mwendwa.

Some of the corporates and parastatals that actively invested in football during President Moi's tenure are Hedex, Coca-Cola, Crown Paints, Kenya Breweries Limited (whose team made it to the final of the Cup Winners Cup tournament in 1994).

Others are Sony Sugar, Panpaper, Kenya Pipeline, Chemelil Sugar, Mumias Sugar, Nzoia Sugar, Kimbo, Nakuru Police, Brooke Bond, Telkom, Utawala, Oserian, Barclays Bank, Ministry of Works, Bandari and Kenya Defence Forces (KDF).

SHOWCASING THEIR POTENTIAL

Through the companies, hundreds of youths were employed just for being talented and had an opportunity to earn a living simply by showcasing their potential on the pitch.

Interestingly, this hosting rights saga would replay full circle in 2018 when Kenya, under President Uhuru Kenyatta, lost out on an opportunity to host the 2018 Africa Nations Championship (CHAN) despite receiving the greenlight from the tournament organisers to host the tournament.

And, just like in 1996, Caf explained that Kenya was not ready to host the tournament.

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